The death of Democratic Gov. Wesley Bolin here over the weekend threatens to throw both political parties into turmoil just as the campaign season starts for the fall state elections.
Bolin, 69, died of an apparent heart attack early Saturday in his North Phoenix home.
State Attorney General Bruce Babbitt was sworn in later that day as Arizona's 16th governor and third in the past four months.
Leaders of both parties declined to speculate publicly on the political implications of Bolin's death.
State Republican Chairman Jim Colter said he was "too upset" to comment.
"The candidates don't know what they will do," said state Democratic Chairman Mat Wheeler. "It's inappropriate to comment now."
However, the announced candidates for governor in both parties huddled over the weekend with their chief political advisers.
One conclusion that uniformly emerged from those sessions, the words of one Democratic party leader, is that "Babbitt is the front-runner and, in some respects, a far more formidable opponent than his predecessor" Bolin, who was seeking a full term.
Babbitt, 39, is a graduate of Harvard Law School. A Democrat, he has assembled a tidy record as attorney general. Recently, his staff won key criminal prosecutions against the head of a fraudulent thrift association in Arizona and murder convictions in the bomb slaying of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles.
"Babbitt's hot, and he's riding high," said one state official.
Babbitt, who earlier had announced he'd run again for a Hurney general, refused Saturday to disclose whether he will run for a full term as governor in the September primary. "But if he doesn't run for governor now, he's a fool," said one party leader. "And Babbitt is no fool."
Babbitt, as the newly sworn governor, has severly crippled the chances of Dino DeConcini, brother of Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), to capture the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, leaders in both parties agreed.
Before Bolin's death, DeConcini had been the apparent front-runner. Bolin, a conservative, was seen by Democratic leaders as uncomfortably close to Republican politicians and programs in the state, and DeConcini, with the help of his Senator brother, secured early pledges of support from party workers.
Some of the DeConcini's attraction has been dulled by persistent charges that his family is attempting to build a political dynasty in the state.
Another problem party leaders cite is that DeConcini was the chief aide to former Gov. Raul Castro, one of the most unpopular chief executives in recent state history. Castro left office in December to become ambassador to Argentina and Bolin succeeded him.
DeConcini refused Saturday to comment on his political plans.
The other major Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, Phoenix apartment developer William Schulz, would not comment on his plans "at this time," but is expected to withdraw from the race.
The political implications of Bolin's death on the Republican Party also are unclear. GOP leaders say Babbitt would make a tougher candidate than either DeConcini or Bolin."Bruce is young and has a generally solid record as attorney general. But then again, he's far more liberal than Bolin was, so he'd be a better target for a good conservative Republican," said a GOP leader.
Both major announced Republican candidates -- Evan Mecham, a car dealer, and Jack Londen, a wealthy businessman -- are conservatives.
Bolin's death also may affect the 1980 race for the Senate seat held by Republican Barry Goldwater, Babbitt, among others, was known to be interested in that contest.
Whether Babbitt would leave the governor's post in midterm "is doubtful, but possible," said one Babbitt confidant. "Perhaps Dino will be available for that one."