With Gov. Jan Brewer blowing past her sole remaining primary challenge Tuesday, her showdown officially begins with Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard.
With her three major primary challengers dropping out in the wake of the national furor over SB 1070 - before a single ballot was cast - Brewer crushed self-proclaimed moderate Matt Jette, carrying about 80 percent of the vote from the minute the early votes were counted.
Brewer hasn't even bothered to engage Goddard, who did not have a primary election and has challenged her to a series of six debates - which she laughingly wished him luck getting last night.
But Goddard has been steadily ramping up his attacks on Brewer's leadership, saying "the unelected governor of Arizona has driven the state into economic disaster," and mocking her as a self-styled "truth teller" who makes up her own facts.
Brewer, whose campaign has called Goddard "Obama's apostle" and is making sure to remind voters at every chance that he was not supportive of 1070, swept into the party for the Pima County Republicans on Tuesday night before heading to Phoenix to greet supporters.
She told a backer she relied on the support of the whole nation after 1070. "They keep saying it's divisive. It's united people," she said in a meet-and-greet in the VIP room before her Tucson speech.
Indeed, the loudest applause came when Brewer said she acted to stop illegal immigration. When someone in the crowd yelled, "Jan Brewer, you rock!" Brewer continued to thunderous applause, "I think Washington has heard us, don't you?"
Goddard admitted 1070 played a huge role in the GOP primary, but he said that energy has shifted going into the general election.
With the law tied up in legal challenges, he said, the discussion now resides in a courtroom and not in the political framework.
"The question of whether you're for or against it is irrelevant at this time," he said. "Certainly there were a lot of state issues that surprised a lot of people and benefited Jan Brewer, and I think that's behind us. We can now focus on what's ailing the state."
Goddard has tried to shift the discussion to economy, jobs and the state's ailing budget, which at last check could be as high as $1.7 billion in the hole.
"She's been in charge for 20 months, and the state is effectively broke," he said, adding Brewer and state lawmakers relied on a host of gimmicks to balance the budget without addressing the state's structural deficit.
And, Goddard said, Brewer decimated tourism by closing rest areas, cutting state parks and making "irresponsible and hysterical comments about violence in Arizona, including comments about beheadings that still haven't been retracted."
Goddard said if he was governor, he would have called a special session to deal with the budget crisis as soon as the July numbers came out - and he'd start with looking at tax exemptions to see if there are loopholes that could be closed to capture new revenues.
"This is a stop-the-presses, all-hands-on-deck kind of problem that ought to be absolutely center stage - and she's trying her best to ignore it."
John Garcia, a political scientist at the University of Arizona who is retiring this month after 38 years, said Brewer is in a better position entering the race - not only because of immigration, but because Democrats are generally being blamed for the slow recovery.
And while Brewer has been at the helm as Arizona's economy continues to slog, Garcia said it's hard to blame Brewer when other states are also struggling. "It's not like you can say, 'Look, that state is doing great,'" he said.
Pollster Bruce Merrill agreed that Brewer is entering the race with an edge.
"You have to give her and her handlers credit," he said. Mere support of 1070 is one thing, he said, but when she went back to Washington and started defending Arizona, it morphed into a leadership issue."
Recent voter registration figures indicate Republicans were galvanized by 1070, while Democrats dipped in registration.
And Goddard, who was on the wrong side of 1070, Merrill said, is going to have to be more aggressive and visible to break through.
In the Libertarian primary, Barry Hess was the victor in a four-way contest. He pulled about 45 percent of the vote, besting Ron Cavanaugh, Bruce Olsen and Alvin Ray Yount. The general election also will feature Green Party candidate Larry Gist, a Tempe realtor.
Reporter Rob O'Dell contributed to this story. Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org