If Randy Parraz wins Arizona Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, he could face John McCain

There is one race to watch in Arizona's Tuesday primary.

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Randy Parraz is the only Latino Democrat in the entire country running for the U.S. Senate. If he defeats his Democratic opponent in today's primary, he could wind up facing longtime Republican senator and former presidential candidate John McCain in the general election.

"I could win the primary on the Latino vote alone,"  Parraz, 43, a union organizer and community activist, told me in a phone interview.

"That's something all Latinos across the country should be interested in," he added.

He was drafted to run after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, also running for office, signed SB1070, the controversial immigration law that has been partially put on hold.

"Arizona has become ground zero on immigration reform and ground zero on this whole discussion about 1070," Parraz told me.

He said his latest polls show him within two points of his Democratic competitor Tucson City Councilman Rodney Glassman.

Since Parraz entered the race in June, his campaign has raised more than $100,000 mostly through online donations.

Parraz paints himself as something of an outsider and he has never held political office before. He's feeling confident he can win even though he doesn't have many powerful political backers within the Democratic Party.

"The establishment Latinos are not behind my campaign," Parraz said. "But they will be once we win."

But he says his grass roots campaign has earned him "a lot of support from Latino workers, church goers, every day people."

He's admired by some for suing controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed "Arizona's toughest sheriff." Parraz founded Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability to challenge Arpaio's practices.

The sheriff conducts dragnets of undocumented immigrants in Arizona and also is facing a U.S. Justice Department investigation for his tactics.

In Parraz's case, he was arrested in 2008 simply for speaking out at a County Board of Supervisors meeting.

"They arrested me, shackled me, put me in jail all day and part of the night," Parraz said. "It took me 11 months to get vindicated. Now we have a cause of action against the county."

Parraz isn't afraid of Arpaio and he's ready to tackle McCain if he wins the primary. But McCain has a war chest and has spent more than $20 million on his primary race alone.

"John McCain already redid his whole political image in the likes of a radical far right person," Parraz said. "He's not in the mainstream. He's abandoned his position on immigration reform, his position on health care reform."

Still, McCain should be nervous. Parraz is charismatic, charming and smart. He has a master's degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He's worked on behalf of strawberry to construction workers.

Parraz is hoping people from all walks of life are upset about the anti-immigrant sentiment growing in Arizona and that they will turn out to vote. Latino voter registration is up in the state, he said.

"People understand that they cannot stay quiet and not vote and stay on the sidelines," Parraz said.

If Parraz wins, the nation will be watching this race for the U.S Senate. He strikes me as a Latino version of another young community organizer now President Barack Obama.

He certainly sounds like him.

"It's our time to organize. It's our time to raise our voice. It's our time to fight back," Parraz said.

Soon we will see if the people of Arizona agree.

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  • A ray of hope in the desert.

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