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With Gov. Babbitt retiring, Democrats face tough test in Republican Arizona

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Fast-growing Arizona has come of age, economically and politically, 74 years after it became a state. Change has been rapid in recent decades. Phoenix, the state capital, has become the ninth-largest city in the United States within the last 10 years, with a population of some 825,000. Statewide the population grew from 1.8 million in 1970 to 2.7 million in 1980, the date of the last census.

This year, change is the political keynote. As of next January, Arizona will have a new governor, a new US senator, and new leadership in the state House and Senate.

At the base of the state's political change is the fact that nearly two-thirds of its eligibile voters today are out-of-staters who moved to Arizona within the last 20 years.

With the new crop of Arizona voters have come ideas brought from other places.

Nowhere is the wind of change more apparent than in the campaign for governor. For nearly eight years, Democrat Bruce Babbitt has dominated state politics.

A middle-of-the-road Democrat, Mr. Babbitt has been perceived nationally as something of a political oddity in this mostly Republican state. But he is a fiscal conservative and has been able to work with the Republican-dominated Legislature by trading off one issue for another.

Even his political opponents give Babbitt credit for his political agility.

The governor could have run for a third term with good prospects for success, but he decided instead to take a run at the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. As a result, he has spent much of his last year in office traveling throughout the country to test his appeal.

He has not yet declared himself to be a candidate, however.

Babbitt has endorsed Phoenix attorney Tony Mason for the Democratic nomination for governor in the Sept. 9 primary. Mr. Mason's chief opposition comes from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Carolyn Warner.

Republicans have centered their attention on House majority leader Burton Barr as the candidate most likely, in their view, to regain the governor's chair for the GOP. A 20-year veteran of the state House of Representatives, Mr. Barr is regarded as the most powerful member of the Legislature.


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