During the 2010 gubernatorial contest, Democratic nominee Terry Goddard opposed SB 1070, but was still critical of the federal government's response to the state's border security problems, penning a letter to Pres. Obama criticizing the administration. During the election, SB 1070 was popular, but if Goddard had gone too far in favor of it, he would have risked alienating his base. But being perceived as too soft on border security would have lost him the support of moderates and independents. Finding a balance proved tough for Goddard, who ultimately lost by 13 points. In January, the number of independent voters exceeded the number of Democratic voters in Arizona for the first time. Republicans continue to claim the highest number of voters in the GOP-leaning state. Independent voters will no doubt be in play for Democrats in the general election, but the party is adding new voters at a slower clip, which isn't a good sign for Democrats trying to win a statewide race. The rising power of independents could help Democrats, should Republicans nominate a candidate from the far right. By the same token, a Democratic nominee deemed too liberal would be as a disadvantage in the general election as well. While it's difficult to predict how potent an issue immigration will be in the months leading up to November 2012, especially compared to the economy, there are no signs the issue is going away. Gov. Jan Brewer's (R) countersuit against the federal government last week is the latest development in the ongoing state-federal battle. The list of Democratic names being tossed around as possibilities in recent reporting includes Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke and Rep. Ed Pastor. While Napolitano's strong statewide name identification from her time as governor would be a boost, she -- more than any other Democrat -- would have to confront head-on the charge from opponents that the federal government has not done enough on the border security/immigration front in the state. The real Democratic wild card is Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was considered a top potential Senate candidate before a January shooting that nearly claimed her life. But with Giffords laboring to speak and outside specialists unclear about what functions in Giffords' mind were affected by the injuries she suffered, a Senate bid -- at least at this point -- appears to be an unlikely proposition.
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