A young political unknown believes she’s the answer to the Arizona Republican Party’s search for a gubernatorial candidate, a challenge declined by some of the state’s savviest politicians.
Scottsdale resident Teresa Ottesen, 25, plans to file paperwork this week to make it official for 2006, and will run a Clean Elections campaign. To qualify for public funds, she must gather at least 4,200 valid $5 contributions from voters.
With health insurance and education as her primary platforms, Ottesen exudes a youthful confidence in joining a race in which she has nothing to lose.
"I’ll be 27 when I take office," said Ottesen, noting that the state’s public campaign finance system is what’s making her run possible.
However, she faces stiff competition from Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, whose popularity may explain the lack of a clear Republican front-runner for the nomination. Two of the state’s betterknown Republicans, Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley and Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., have opted not to run.
Ottesen, a former publicist for the Boys and Girls Club of the East Valley’s Grant Woods branch in Mesa, works as a child care provider for Arizona State University’s child development laboratories.
She has no prior political experience.
"That makes me a better candidate," she said. "I have a better chance not being well-known."
That’s a notion that more experienced political observors find politically naive. Earl de Berge, research director for the Behavior Research Center in Phoenix, said Ottesen’s success will depend on name recognition and her ability to raise money.
"The reality is that it’s very costly to become a viable candidate for an office like that," he said. "It’s very expensive to run for governor."
Moreover, a telephone poll of 682 adults taken by the center April 12-17 showed 57 percent consider Napolitano to be doing an excellent or good job as governor.
Matt Salmon, state Republican Party chairman, expects more potential candidates to show interest this summer. Although he doesn’t know Ottesen, he has no problem with candidates who lack political experience.
"Sometimes that can be a breath of fresh air," he said.
Jim Pederson, chairman of Arizona Democratic Party, said the Republicans’ struggle to find a notable candidate reflects well on Napolitano.
"There’s plenty of time for the Republicans to get their act together and rally around one person," he said, adding that Ottesen has "an uphill battle to get known."
Ottesen considers herself more of a moderate Republican, and she says she has volunteers lined up to start a grass-roots campaign. She says she will target younger voters with a plan to implement four-year degrees at the state’s community colleges.
She also wants to ensure that more Arizonans, especially those at retirement age, have access to affordable health insurance.
Regardless of the outcome, Ottesen hopes her candidacy will get these issues into the spotlight and call attention to the governor’s shortcomings, she said.
Jeanine L’Ecuyer, press secretary for Napolitano, said Monday "the governor is not thinking about the election right now" as she focuses on legislative matters.
Ottesen, who has a 5-yearold son named William, said that balancing life as a single mother may be her biggest battle in the campaign.
However, facing off with an incumbent governor doesn’t intimidate Ottesen one bit.
"We need to talk about Arizona, and how we’re going to make a change in Arizona," she said. "Arizona is ready for a young Republican governor."
Sue Douglas, an administrator for the Mesa Arts Academy, has known Ottesen for about three years through her consistent volunteer work. Ottesen developed a reading enhancement program at the academy, clocking thousands of hours while mentoring and tutoring young Hispanic students.
"Teresa is a pioneer, so nothing that she does surprises me," Douglas said. "If she feels there’s an issue and she can make a difference, she will. She’s one of those people."
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Contact information: To learn more about Teresa Ottesen’s campaign, e-mail email@example.com or call (480) 303-2582.