- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 6, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - Gov. Jan Brewer will finally wade in the campaign to pick her replacement Thursday when she formally endorses former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith over five other Republicans seeking the GOP nomination in the Aug. 26 primary.

Smith has scheduled a “special event” Thursday at the Cubs Park in Mesa with Brewer and Smith supporters. A person close to the Smith campaign confirmed the planned endorsement to The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to confirm it on the record prior to the event.

Brewer’s spokesman wouldn’t confirm the endorsement.

The endorsement from the popular Republican governor has been highly sought-after by several of the six candidates seeking the GOP nomination in the Aug. 26 primary election. Smith, state Treasurer Doug Ducey and former Internet executive Christine Jones are widely considered the front-runners. All have met with the governor in the past couple of months as she considered whether to endorse in the race. Others in the race include Secretary of State Ken Bennett, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and former U.S. Rep. Frank Riggs.

Brewer’s nod is critical for Smith, who trails Jones and Ducey in fundraising and lacks the support of outside groups who back them with independent expenditures. While endorsements don’t normally make or break a candidate, Brewer’s carries great weight in Arizona because of her popularity and ability to bring together supporters who might otherwise back another candidate.

Just Monday, Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said it remained a question whether Brewer would sit out the primary without making an endorsement.

Longtime Brewer political adviser Chuck Coughlin strongly supports Smith and had been urging the governor to back his candidacy. He declined to speak about the issue Wednesday, but in earlier interviews said Smith needed the endorsement to move to the front of the pack.

“He needs the governor’s help, there’s no question about that in my mind,” Coughlin said late last month. In another interview early this week, Coughlin acknowledged time was running short for the endorsement to impact the race, since early ballots were mailed out last week.

But he said if Brewer endorsed anyone, it would have to be Smith, because he’s the only candidate who agrees with her positions on Medicaid expansion and the state’s new Common Core school standards. He’s also closely aligned with her philosophy on business growth strategies.

“She cares about the future and her legacy and how hard she’s fought to get the state to (its) position today,” Coughlin said. “She doesn’t want to lose those gains.”

Ducey has gathered support from many top Republicans, including former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and is way ahead of Smith in fundraising. He also has drawn support from independent groups running ads attacking Jones.

His spokeswoman didn’t directly address the endorsement Wednesday. Instead, Ducey’s campaign touted the endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who called the candidate “the private sector job creator and proven conservative leader that Arizona needs as its next governor.”

“Doug has built the broadest coalition in this race and he’s built it since Day 1,” spokeswoman Melissa DeLaney said. “It’s the broadest coalition in the race, and we’d be happy to add Jan Brewer to that list on Aug. 27.”

Jones, who is funding her campaign mainly from the personal wealth she earned while general counsel at GoDaddy, also has the support of her former boss, company founder Bob Parsons. Parsons acknowledged to The Arizona Republic this week that he is pumping some of his fortune into an independent expenditure group that is attacking Ducey.

Jones spokeswoman Anna Haberlein declined to discuss the endorsement’s impact in the primary Wednesday, saying only “we look forward to having Gov. Brewer’s support in the general election.”

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