And that raises a silly but inescapable question: Despite her smarts, humor, political savvy and rough charm, can Napolitano win a national election? Being single hasn’t been much of an issue in Arizona, though Napolitano’s opponents have tried to use "family values" against her. In her 2002 governor’s race, Napolitano faced a Republican ex-Congressman who "tried to highlight the fact that he was a family man and she was not," says Stephanie Sklar, former executive director of the Arizona League of Conservation Voters. "That has been a theme, not just in this state but in national elections, and it has helped men with families beat women without families. But he tried that here, and it didn’t work."
If family values aren’t Napolitano’s Achilles’ heel, maybe immigration will be. Bommersbach, the columnist, says many Democrats are shell-shocked by Napolitano’s willingness to sign the employer sanctions bill. "The whole party is looking at her and saying, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ This right turn was too much for many of them." But that’s changing fast: All of the Democratic presidential frontrunners now support employer sanctions. (Ultimately, all of them ended up voting for the wall too.)
For her part, Napolitano is betting that the controversy over sanctions will fizzle, or that the rest of the country will come to see the issue her way. While in Rome this past fall, celebrating her 50th birthday with friends and attending the opera in Verona, contributions to her PAC hit $50,000. What will she use it for? "Fifty is the new 30," the governor says merrily. "I have so much left I want to do."
Alexis Jetter teaches journalism at Dartmouth.
Originally published in MORE magazine, March 2008.