The last main rival to Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer suspended his campaign Tuesday, likely clearing the way for a GOP primary win for the incumbent whose popularity has risen sharply following her signing of the state's tough new immigration law.
Yavapai County businessman Buz Mills said he will stop campaigning for the Aug. 24 primary because the race has become focused on illegal immigration and border security, not the jobs and budget issues that initially made a run for the office appealing to him.
Brewer, who inherited the governor's job in January 2009 after former Gov. Janet Napolitano became Homeland Security secretary, struggled politically early in the year. But soon after signing SB1070 on April 23, Brewer became the public face of the controversial immigration law, defending it on a national stage amid protests and a federal lawsuit, which has boosted her popularity at home.
"SB1070 has regrettably taken the focus off of job creation and fixing the state budget. So even though the chasm between Brewer's policies and mine is dramatic, SB1070 has politically mitigated those issues," Mills said.
Brewer's campaign also gained momentum after voters' May 18 approval of a temporary state sales tax increase, a proposal that had drawn criticism from within the GOP.
Brewer issued a statement Tuesday saying a united Republican party "will provide the leadership to deliver Arizona to a better future."
"I welcome Mr. Mills' supporters to join me in continuing the Arizona comeback with a victory in November," she said.
Mills recently reported spending nearly $3.2 million on his campaign, mostly from his own wallet and most of it spent on television advertising.
It's already too late to remove Mills' name from the primary ballot, but their actions leave Brewer and political newcomer Matthew Jette as the only active campaigners for the nomination. State Treasurer Dean Martin also suspended his candidacy for governor Friday, and his name also will remain on the ballot.
Jette said he wasn't sure how Mills' decision affects his campaign because he, a self-described moderate, hasn't been going after the same conservative Republicans that other candidates targeted. As of the end of May, Jette had raised just $4,750 and had just over $500 on hand, according to his latest campaign finance report.
"I'm sad to see him go," Jette said of Mills. "I've met Buz several times and I think he's a wonderful man, and I know he's very passionate about the state."
Jette opposes the new immigration-enforcement law and says more money should be invested in public education and health care.
Two other prominent Republicans, former state party Chairman John Munger and former Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker, withdrew from the governor's race earlier.
The Republican nominee will face Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard in November.