'Best job in town' still belongs to Dupnik after his hardest race

2012-12-16T00:00:00Z 'Best job in town' still belongs to Dupnik after his hardest raceCarli Brosseau Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 16, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Thirty-two years into a career as Pima County's sheriff, Clarence Dupnik faced his toughest race yet to keep what he has called "the best job in town."

He spent every last cent of his campaign war chest and tracked returns closely on Election Night, which he hadn't done before..

He backed away from hasty victory claims, waiting until he was ahead by more than the number of votes still to be counted before declaring a win.

When the tally was final, Dupnik, a Democrat, had garnered about 51 percent of the vote, dominating in central Tucson precincts and on nearby American Indian reservations.

His Republican opponent, Mark Napier, a 21-year Tucson Police Department veteran, ended up with 46 percent, his support strongest in the right-leaning suburbs. About 3 percent of voters chose Green Party candidate Dave Croteau, whose platform largely centered on legalizing marijuana.

Dupnik, now in his mid-70s, declined an interview to talk about the results and his future plans. He has generally ducked the limelight since his comments following the Jan. 8, 2011, mass shooting prompted a recall attempt.

During a nationally televised news conference, Dupnik said Arizona had "become the mecca of prejudice and bigotry."

For Napier, the election, while disappointing, sparked a growing interest in public office. His specialty may be in public safety, but he said he might consider a run for another office - Congress, perhaps - and he won't rule out another try for sheriff.

Napier said he showed up at Democratic Party functions as well as Republican Party ones to point out that his stance was about public safety and policy, not politics.

"I didn't want people to vote against Dupnik. I wanted them to vote for me," he said. "I wanted to point out that I wasn't running to be the sheriff of the Republican Party."

Napier speculates that the small window between the end of the five-candidate primary "circus" and the mailing of early ballots hurt his chances with early voters, though they tend to lean Democratic anyway.

But he's proud of his strong performance among the rural voters actually served by the Sheriff's Department and contends he holds no bitterness, just ambition to run a better campaign next time.

Dupnik had advantages in name recognition, political connections and a financial edge from the start.

Donors look at those factors in deciding how to parcel out their support.

"My comment has always been that Sheriff Dupnik could get elected if he were not alive on Election Day," said Benny White, a Republican election observer and party data cruncher. "He's a known quantity."

Catalina Foothills precincts, which often favor Republican candidates, seemed to bear out that sentiment in blue ink.

But Republican Party Chairwoman Carolyn Cox said familiarity with Dupnik doesn't mean Napier got less support from the party.

"He had 100 percent of our support," she said, listing the variety of volunteer activities performed. "In fact, I thoroughly expected him to win. We need a sheriff who is visible."

The party doesn't coordinate financial donations, Cox said. "Those are individual decisions made by individual donors."

But Napier could have used more monetary help.

Campaign finance reports filed with the Pima County Elections Department show Dupnik had banked more than $12,000 from an earlier campaign. He went on to raise almost $27,000 more.

The new money came from just over 100 individual contributors, with the vast majority of donations topping $100. The average donation was $246.

Close to 40 donors maxed out their contributions at $430.

Many of the names of the top givers are familiar in Democratic circles and speak to Dupnik's connections: former Pima County Supervisor Dan Eckstrom, Nan and Dick Walden of Farmers Investment Co., and former Sen. Dennis DeConcini.

As a novice candidate, Napier wasn't already connected to the Republican donor or campaign network.

He raised and spent more money than Dupnik, but more than half came out of his own pocket.

Of the $70,000 flowing into his campaign, Napier funded about $39,000. About $30,000 came from individual donors, mostly in small amounts.

Napier had about 300 contributors. Only 16 gave the maximum amount.

By contrast, more than 200 gave less than $100. The average donation was about $90.

The donations came largely from areas outside of central Tucson, areas that typically vote more conservative and where Napier won by the largest margins.

He also received more individual donations from law enforcement officers.

Three Tucson police officers and one Pima County deputy donated to the campaign. No Pima County uniformed law enforcement officers made individual contributions to Dupnik's campaign, but he did receive about $8,000 in support from the Pima County Deputy Sheriff Association and was endorsed by other law enforcement groups.

Said Sgt. Joseph Cameron, the Sheriff Association's president, said of the sheriff: "We don't always agree with the things he says politically, but he runs a top-notch agency."

"He's fair, and he backs us up," the 26-year veteran said.

Contact reporter Carli Brosseau at cbrosseau@azstarnet.com or 573-4197. On Twitter @carlibrosseau.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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