What Role Will the "It" Factor Play in the Phoenix Mayoral Race?

The lone Democratic candidate is leading in the "non-partisan" (wink-wink) campaign for Phoenix mayor.

Of the six candidates running, five are Republican.  The only Democrat is Greg Stanton - who's leading the race, according to the survey his campaign released this week.  But more than half of the voters surveyed are still undecided whom they will vote for when early voting begins in less than a month - a symptom of the sluggish start to the mayoral contest.

So far, it's pretty much how pundits predicted it would play out:
Even though the election is supposed to be non-partisan, the five GOP candidates would initially battle for Republican votes, and Stanton would nail down his Democratic voter base.  Because the six candidates would divide the total votes, the experts forecast that none of them would have enough votes to win the August 4th election outright. That would force a run-off election in November ... most likely between two former council members, Stanton and Peggy Neely, who happen to be the two candidates with the most votes in the Stanton survey.

Playing it by the numbers, prognosticators believe that Neely, a Republican, will go on to attract the lion's share of GOP votes and then likely edge past Stanton in the November 8th election.  But history hasn't been kind to Republican candidates in Phoenix mayoral elections.  Since the sea change in mayoral elections in 1983, three of the last four mayors have been Democrats.

However, based on past voter performance, pundits have overlooked what has been an overriding intangible.

The Candidates' "It" Factor

Political practitioners -- like candidates, campaign managers, consultants and pollsters -- detest discussing intangibles. If something can't be quantified, they prefer to dismiss it.

Historically, Phoenix voters have liked their candidates for mayor to be exuberant, a certain immeasurable energy. Terry Goddard had it.  Paul Johnson and Skip Rimza possessed it, too. And before he went through his personal metamorphoses, Phil Gordon had that enthusiasm to which voters responded.

Greg Stanton has "it."

Stanton is passionate. Of the six mayoral candidates, he's the one who talks like a mayor, walks like a mayor ... and, yes, looks like a mayor.  That may sound superficial.  But try telling that to Phoenix voters.

The other candidates are campaigning in Stanton's political aura.  Former Councilwoman Peggy Neely looks and sounds like she's the blue ribbon winner in a Betty Crocker Bake-Off.  Political consultant Wes Gullett is more like a life insurance salesman than someone prepared to be mayor of the sixth largest city in the country. Claude Mattox makes a good city councilman.  And Anna Brennan, who manages her husband's medical practice, and Jennifer Wright, the Tea Party's pinup girl, are two attractive candidates who have little political presence.

Greg Stanton is fired up and ready to go to be the mayor.

Rooting For The Recall

Obviously, it will take more than congeniality and charisma for Greg Stanton to be elected the next mayor of Phoenix.

Stanton represented District 6 on the City Council from 2001-09.  It's the same seat that Sal DiCiccio occupies today. But maybe not for long if the well-funded effort now underway to recall him succeeds. A little more than 7,000 valid signatures are needed to force DiCiccio into a recall election. Coincidentally, the signatures must be filed the first week of August, the same time that early voting starts. A recall election would be held November 8th, the same time as the potential run-off election.

If Councilman DiCiccio is forced to defend his seat on the City Council, it could spell trouble for Stanton. DiCiccio would stop his relentless chirping from the sidelines and start campaigning for real throughout District 6, where voter turnout is traditionally high and where Stanton expects his own support to be heavy. DiCiccio could easily drown out Stanton's campaign in the district by dominating the political dialogue. Worse yet for Stanton, DiCiccio, who attracts media coverage like flies to roadkill, would likely influence the discussion of issues in the mayor's race ... even more than he already is.

For now, Sal DiCiccio is watching, waiting and continuing to wail about inefficient city government. Greg Stanton is pressing on with his campaign. And five Republicans are rooting for a recall election they hope will change the current course of the "non-partisan" election for mayor.