MESA, AZ - Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer weighed in on the crowded Republican primary race to replace her Thursday, throwing her support behind a relatively moderate Republican who has backed her positions on border security, Medicaid expansion and school standards.
The endorsement of former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith could transform the race and give a big boost to his candidacy, given the conservative governor's popularity among GOP primary voters and the large number of undecided voters in the race.
In the 24 hours since word got out that Smith would get the nod, he said his campaign took in $50,000.
Brewer is best known nationally as the governor who signed Arizona's anti-immigration crackdown and frequently tangled with President Barack Obama and his administration, but she has also bucked her party.
She expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, embraced the Common Core education standards and showed less willingness to get behind divisive measures once the business community revolted following the outcry over the immigration law.
Smith has backed her every step of the way on those issues, despite anger from more conservative members of his party.
"He knew just like I did that they weren't politically expedient things to do, but they were and are the best solutions for Arizona," Brewer said.
Smith, state Treasurer Doug Ducey and former Internet executive Christine Jones are widely considered the front-runners in the primary. All have met with the governor in the past couple of months as she considered an endorsement.
Others in the race include Secretary of State Ken Bennett, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and former U.S. Rep. Frank Riggs.
The race has been dominated by immigration amid the surge of children and families from Central America, some of whom were taken to a shelter in Nogales. Many candidates have adopted tough-on-immigration stances, including proposal to have satellites watch the U.S.-Mexico border.
Smith dismissed such ideas as unfeasible, and said as governor he would push the federal government to do its job and police the border.
Smith trails Jones and Ducey in fundraising and lacks the support of outside groups who back them with independent expenditures.
"We will win this election because we have the right message, at the right time, with the right support with the right people involved to move Arizona forward not backward, to create a better Arizona," Smith said.
But there are questions about whether Brewer got involved too late.
The election is just 19 days away, and the endorsement came nearly a week after ballots were sent to voters.
Ducey, the founder of Cold Stone Creamery, has gathered support from many top Republicans, including former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and is far ahead of Smith in fundraising. He also has drawn support from independent groups running ads attacking Jones.
His spokeswoman didn't directly address the endorsement Wednesday. Instead, his campaign touted the endorsement of ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Jones, who is funding her campaign mainly from the personal wealth she earned while general counsel at GoDaddy, also has the financial support of her former boss, company founder Bob Parsons.
Thursday's event was held at the new Chicago Cubs spring training stadium that Smith championed as Mesa mayor.
"In politics it's all about the timing, isn't it," Brewer said. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make Scott Smith the governor of the state of Arizona."