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AZ: McCain Ahead at Home; Dem. Race Tight

By Ann Scott Tyson
It is no surprise that Sen. John McCain has a strong lead in his home turf of Arizona, winning more than 40 percent of the Republican vote in recent polls. This despite strong criticism from some Arizona Republicans for his moderate position on immigration.

The question, according to state Republican Party officials, is not whether McCain will win but by how much. "I expect it will be in the double digits," said state Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen. McCain has remained well ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who is in the mid-20s in the polls, and Mike Huckabee who running in the single digits.

Still, opposition to McCain's views on immigration, in particular his support for legislation that would have placed millions of illegal immigrants on the road to citizenship, remains strong among party activists.

Pullen, who took issue with McCain's stance, says that the senator has "moderated his position" in response to a public outcry. "He got the message the border needs to be secured first," Pullen said in an interview.

With the economy a top issue for Arizona voters, Romney's business skills, have won him some support. But, either he nor Huckabee has advertised heavily in the state, local officials said.

Among Democratic contenders, Senator Hillary Clinton has maintained a lead over Sen. Barack Obama in Arizona, although that lead has narrowed in recent weeks, making Arizona a very tight race.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano endorsed Obama for president in mid-January, giving his campaign a significant boost. "Her endorsement was a tipping point," said David Waid, the former state Democratic Party chairman.

"She ultimately looked at his race as being the one that offered the most opportunity to get us past partisan gridlock in DC."

One factor that could impact the outcomes in both party primaries, albeit on the margins, is that Arizona has early polling. Voters began casting ballots on January 7, meaning that some will have voted for candidates who have already dropped out of the race.

By Washington Post editors  |  February 4, 2008; 7:08 PM ET
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