Arizona's Secretary of State Ken Bennett is changing his stance on endorsements.
He is backing a Republican candidate in Southern Arizona's Congressional District 3, something he wouldn't do in the last election cycle.
In 2010, he was running for secretary of state after being appointed to the position the year before, and he said he didn't feel comfortable weighing in on races while he was running to be the state's top election official.
"I do not feel it's appropriate that I take a position on either the propositions that the voters will be voting on or endorsing candidates in elections," Bennett said in a 2010 episode of Arizona Illustrated.
But in an interview today, Bennett said he realized two years ago that even without endorsing in the 2010 races, people would see him as a political figure.
The Republican state official goes to party and partisan events, and said if he ever spoke favorably of a candidate, people considered it an endorsement anyway.
"When I didn’t do endorsements in the 2010 election, I continued to get criticized by my Democrat opponents that I had endorsed people in 2008 and 2009. So I realized that I was going to get criticized by people whether I did endorsements or whether I had ever done endorsements," Bennett said.
In 2010, he was concerned about the perception people had about the state's top election official endorsing political candidates. But he says he doesn't actually count ballots, and while he oversees elections, he cannot influence their outcome.
"I didn't do endorsements in 2010, but I quickly realized that I don't think that was as important as I thought it might be," Bennett said. "The real protections for folks, as to how the elections are run, is knowing that we divide up all of those processes between us and the counties, and even between the county recorders and the county elections, which are separate entities."
He's endorsing Gabriela Saucedo Mercer in the Republican primary against Jaime Vasquez in CD3.
(The candidates discussed some of the issues in the district during a half-hour Arizona Illustrated forum. Watch it here.)
The winner of that primary will go on to face the winner of the three-way Democratic primary. In that race, five-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva is up against challengers Amanda Aguirre and Manny Arreguin.
Bennett says he's endorsing Saucedo Mercer because he says Grijalva's call for a 2010 boycott of Arizona was "unforgivable."
Grijalva called for an economic boycott of the state in response to the Legislature's passage that year of the controversial immigration enforcement law known as SB1070.
"I changed my mind that people were asking me all the time who did I prefer...so I have changed my position on that and I don't do it very often, but I felt strongly in Gabi's case that she represents an opportunity to really change the way the representation of that district is done in Washington," Bennett said.
Other than Saucedo Mercer in CD3, Bennett has not endorsed candidates in any congressional races in Arizona, though he is an honorary co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.