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Democrats can pick new AZ Senate candidate, quelling fears party couldn't win majority in chamber

After their candidate for state Senate withdrew from the race, Democrats in Tempe’s Legislative District 8 will have the opportunity to pick a replacement to appear on the primary ballot in July.

Rep. Melody Hernandez (D-Tempe) was the only Democrat who filed to run for state Senate in LD8 this year. But she dropped out of the Senate race last month, rather than fight a lawsuit alleging she did not collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Initially, Democrats in the safe blue district thought that meant they would have run a write-in candidate in the upcoming primary election. That complicated the race, because a Democratic write-in candidate can only advance to the general election if they earn at least 405 votes.

Republican Roxana Holzapfel, on the other hand, did qualify for the LD8 primary, essentially ensuring she will also appear on the general election ballot. The turn of events gave Republicans an opening to flip the safe Democratic seat, a result that would significantly hurt Democratic attempts to take control of the Arizona Senate in November.

But the Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that state law allows LD8 Democrats to select a new state Senate candidate to replace Hernandez on the primary ballot. That would ensure that a Democratic candidate will also appear on the general election ballot, virtually eliminating Republicans’ chances of flipping the seat in a district where registered Democrats hold a significant registration advantage over Republicans.

“As the filing officer, the Office of the Secretary of State affirms we will accept their nomination recommendation for ballot placement,” Aaron Thacker, a spokesman for the Secretary of State, said.

LD8 Democrats will hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to pick that replacement candidate, according to a letter published yesterday.

Former Tempe City Councilwoman Lauren Kuby and Rep. Deborah Nardozzi, who was appointed to the Arizona House of Representatives to fill a vacancy in April, both said they will seek the nomination. 

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.