Arizona's controversial immigration law has awakened a sleeping giant, with Hispanic groups staging massive protests throughout the state and across the country.
But when it comes to the state's own Democratic primary election for John McCain's Senate seat, it's Jewish candidate Rodney Glassman -- not Hispanic contender Randy Parraz -- who thus far has the support of Arizona's Hispanic political establishment.
(Click here to read a related HispanicBusiness.com story on the Democrats' chances of winning McCain's seat.)
The issue underscores how the state's Hispanics, despite a booming population -- in a decade it has surged from 25 percent to 30 percent of all people in Arizona -- have yet to mobilize a statewide candidate with establishment clout. They also haven't come to the polls in full force; despite their large presence, Hispanics make up just 12 percent of the state's electorate.
And while there are Hispanic politicians in Arizona, none has yet emerged as the kind of coalition builder necessary for attaining so high an office.
Michael Nowakowski, who, as the vice-mayor of Phoenix is one of the state's fastest rising Hispanic politicians, said 31-year-old Glassman is the first Democratic challenger in a long, long time who possesses not only the charisma but also the resources to take on a titan like McCain.
"In the past we've had individuals who were good-hearted people -- activist-protester kind of candidates -- but those individuals can't raise the revenue," he told HispanicBusiness.com.
Though just 31, Glassman has spent a decade cultivating important political ties. He was the vice-mayor of Tucson until early April, when the state's "Resign to Run" law compelled him to step down. He has worked for four years as a legislative aide to Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva, who represents a Hispanic-majority district. Perhaps most importantly, his campaign has raised an impressive $500,000, though that amounts to just half the war chest of J.D. Hayworth, the far-right challenger to Sen. John McCain, whose $5 million bank dwarfs all.
Recent polls indicate the stars may be aligning for Glassman in surprising ways: Hayworth is hot on McCain's heels, and polls show Glassman three points ahead of Hayworth.
Meanwhile, Parraz, a 42-year-old political organizer, is an unapologetic firebrand.
In September of 2008, Parraz was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing after leading a group of protesters who interrupted a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting. The group had been shouting and holding up signs blasting Joe Arpaio, the colorful sheriff of Maricopa County infamous for his brazen tactics in arresting illegal immigrants.
"They booked me, chain-shackled me and video-taped me," Parraz told HispanicBusiness.com. Parraz said he sat in jail for about 10 hours, and that the sheriff later dispatched the captain of the bomb and S.W.A.T. squad to gather intelligence on him.
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