GOP gubernatorial hopefuls in Flagstaff for forum

FLAGSTAFF, AZ - Four of the six Republican candidates for governor are gathering in Flagstaff for a forum focused on Northern Arizona issues.

Ken Bennett, Christine Jones, Frank Riggs and Scott Smith are scheduled to attend the forum Monday evening at Northern Arizona University. Doug Ducey and Andrew Thomas said they had prior commitments.

The forum comes the week before the Aug. 26 primary election. The winner in the Republican primary will face Democrat Fred DuVal in the November general election.

DuVal, Libertarian Barry Hess and John Mealer of Americans Elect also will be at the forum. Each candidate will be asked a series of questions selected from an online poll during 15-minute interviews. They'll have a chance to give a final two-minute statement once the interviews conclude.

The questions posed to the candidates will focus on public lands, the environment, education, the economy, development and natural resources, organizers said. They said other candidates can listen to the answers, but the forum won't become a debate.

Chelsea Byers, a spokeswoman for the organizers, said they're trying to avoid topics that have been common in the race, including immigration and Common Core standards in education.  "It should be pretty unique if they can stay focused on our questions," she said.

Jones, a former Internet executive, Ducey, the state treasurer, and Smith, the former mayor of Mesa, are widely viewed as the front-runners in the race. Jones and Ducey, and the outside groups supporting them, have poured millions of dollars into their campaigns. Smith has the endorsement of Gov. Jan Brewer, but he hasn't been able to raise as much money and is not as visible on the airwaves.

Bennett, the current secretary of state, also has a good shot. His campaign is publicly financed, and he has used the money to buy advertisements on radio and television. Thomas, the former Maricopa County attorney, and Riggs, a former U.S. representative, are seen as less likely to pull off a win.

The auditorium at NAU's Cline Library can seat about 420 people. NAZ Today, a local television news station, also is broadcasting the forum live on its website.

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