Longtime GOP senator quits race, leaves conservative rival unopposed

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- State Sen. John Nelson, R-Litchfield Park, announced Thursday that he's quitting politics after nearly 30 years in a move that will have a big impact on the political dynamics at the Capitol.  

The Republican senator said in a prepared statement that he's ending his campaign in Arizona's 12th Legislative District to spend more time with his family.

His decision cuts a clear path for fellow Republican Sen. Don Shooter who is the only other candidate running for the open seat.

Although they were both Republicans, the two candidates offered primary voters very different choices.

During his tenure at the Legislature, Nelson had a reputation of someone willing to vote against the conservative leadership of his party.

Shooter, on the other hand, is strongly identified with the conservative Tea Party movement which he used to win his first election to the Senate in 2010.

“I am proud of my service and the trust that the voters have placed in me over the years," Nelson said in a press release.

"I have been honored to serve the people of Arizona and stand by my legislative track record of supporting quality education, fostering job creation, and balancing the state budget during the most difficult economic downturn in a generation.”

In the same statement, Gov. Jan Brewer thanks Nelson for his years of public service, saying "his commitment to doing the right thing, listening to all sides of the issue, and protecting our military bases is unparalleled."

Nelson's announcement comes after his latest campaign finance reports show he was struggling to come up with cash. According to the report, Nelson raised about $2,000 over the first five months of the year.

Those same records also showed little activity from the campaign between January and the end of May. The only expenditure made during that time was $4,000 to a company that collects voter signatures for candidates to qualify for the ballot.

Nelson was forced into a tough primary fight after the legislative boundaries were redrawn this year. Shooter, who is from Yuma, described Nelson as a dedicated lawmaker and said, "I'll do the best I can to fill those shoes."

The freshman senator said he hadn’t spoken to Nelson before the news broke.

Before getting elected to the Legislature in 2001, Nelson spent years in city politics. In 1983 he was first elected to the Glendale City Council where he served four terms.