David Garcia, an Army veteran and education expert, won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday to challenge Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, giving him a chance to become the state’s first Latino chief executive in more than 40 years.
Garcia’s main competition in his party’s primary was Steve Farley, a state legislator. But operatives in both parties had long expected Garcia to triumph, and Republican groups have already spent millions of dollars attacking him, mostly on the issue of immigration.
The general election will pit Ducey’s well-funded re-election bid ― he and the Republican Governors Association have already reserved more than $9 million worth of airtime for the race, and he’s a longtime favorite of the Koch political network ― against grassroots anger over the state’s public schools.
Strategists in both parties agree Ducey, the former CEO of Coldstone Creamery, was in a strong position to win a second four-year term until teachers went on strike this spring. Teacher pay in Arizona has been among the lowest in the U.S., and, along with better pay, the educators sought increased classroom funding.
“People are really pissed about public education in the state, and that crosses party lines,” one Democratic strategist told HuffPost, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But there’s no universe that exists where we’re going to have anything close to parity with [Ducey] on spending.”
Garcia ― backed by the National Education Association, Latino Victory Fund, VoteVets and a host of other progressive groups ― is expected to try to mobilize Latino turnout in the state. Latino voters, like other minority groups, typically have lower turnout rates during midterm elections.
Garcia’s signature issue will be education. That focus will include stressing his support for two education-related referenda ― one that would hike taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year to fund higher teacher pay, the other that would reverse an expansive school voucher law passed by the state legislature.
If he wins, Garcia will be the first Latino elected statewide in Arizona since Raúl Castro ― no relation to the ruling family of Cuba ― in 1974. Castro resigned from the office in 1977 to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Argentina.
Garcia ran for state superintendent of schools in 2014, narrowly losing in a Republican wave year. At the time, he had the backing of business groups and was seen as a centrist. But this year, he has tacked to the left, calling for the abolishment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the establishment of Medicare-for-all.
His embrace of left-wing policies could hurt him in November. Republicans have already begun attacking him as a supporter of open borders, arguing his policies will lead to more crime.