Rothenberg Political Report - Arizona House: Primary Heat

 

July 27, 2012

Arizona House: Primary Heat
By Jessica Taylor
Rothenberg Political Report

No other state in the nation saw a fight over its congressional boundaries quite like Arizona. When a bipartisan commission returned a map last year that Republicans believed was too favorable to Democrats, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and the GOP-controlled state Senate took unprecedented action -- impeaching the commis-sion’s chairwoman. She was reinstated, but the tenor had been set for the state’s political stage.
 
Now, Republicans worst fears may well come true. A 5-4 map for the Democrats now seems like the most plausible outcome, giving Democrats the edge in the state’s congressional delegation.
 
Still, Republicans can’t blame their poor fortunes completely on the unfavorable lines. In two districts, incumbent members passed on tough races, opting instead for safer GOP districts that pushed them into primaries that they may not win. Several Republican sources argued those decisions dampened GOP recruiting opportunities, since the incumbents’ decisions sent signals they believed the districts were too difficult to hold.
 
In the new 9th District, which on paper should be a toss-up, the still-muddled GOP field doesn’t have Republicans in the state sounding very optimistic. Nonetheless, the national party is still adopting a more positive tenor, and the race will likely shift into high gear after the August 28 primaries.
 
While Democratic prospects may not be as rosy in states such as California and Florida as they would have liked, the Copper State is likely to be a bright spot for Democrats come November.
 
1st District
Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) was a victim of the GOP wave in 2010, and certainly not helped by her tough votes for the President Obama’s health care bill, which Republican Paul Gosar successfully highlighted on the way to his six point victory.

 
Nonetheless, Kirkpatrick was one of the first members to make her comeback bid official, even before new lines came out. And when they did, the 1st District had gotten about three points more Democratic, although it still would have given its Sen. John McCain 51 percent of the vote.
 
Rep. Paul Gosar (R) decided instead to run for the neighboring 4th District -- even though he represented only a third of that district compared with three-quarters of the 1st District, according to number crunching from Daily Kos Elections.
 
Former state Sen. Jonathan Paton is the likely GOP nominee against Kirkpatrick, though he still faces a four-way primary himself. A candidate in the 2010 Republican primary in the 8th District to take on Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, Paton had been the frontrunner, but lost instead to upstart Jesse Kelly, shocking much of the GOP political class who later admitted he ran a weak campaign at the end.
 
While several Republican sources note that Paton has improved as a candidate, he continues to have his critics. GOP strategists hope he can improve on his fundraising, but Kirkpatrick has a head start there too. She ended June with nearly $838,000 in the bank, while Paton had $343,000 cash on hand.
 
Kirkpatrick faces a challenge in the primary from her left from attorney Wenona Benally Baldenegro, who’s gotten labor endorsements and has the backing of Progressive Caucus co-chairs Raul Grijalva (Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (Minn.). But the liberal activist had just $8,000 in the bank at the end of June, and she is not expected to be a serious threat to the former congresswoman.
 
Dependent on the outcome of both primaries in the 9th District, national Republicans see this as one of their best hopes in the state -- yet even many state Republicans are more skeptical.
 
Both candidates face difficulties in this massive district that covers nearly two-thirds of the state, and Kirkpatrick benefits from her deeper knowledge and hard work so far. ?Ann knows that district like that back of her hand,? said one state Democrat. One Republican even admitted that Paton doesn’t have the geographic base that the former congresswoman has to work from.
 
"It’s Kirkpatrick’s to lose," said the Republican operative.
 
2nd District
Just a over a month ago, this district was at the epicenter of the political universe with a hotly contested special election fight to succeed former Rep. Giffords. Now, the former 8th District has been renumbered to the 2nd -- and shifted toward more Democratic terrain.

 
That tilt, combined with strong reviews for now-Rep. Ron Barber (D), in his first few weeks, make the new district an even harder obstacle to overcome for Republicans. GOP strategists admit that Barber, Giffords’ former district director who was also wounded in the 2011 attack that nearly took her life, always had a tough, compelling profile to overcome. And now that he is an incumbent, that grip has only tightened.
 
Republicans’ only glimmer of hope was that their flawed candidate Jesse Kelly, who lost both the special election and to Giffords in 2010 despite the massive GOP wave, finally stepped aside. Their presumptive nominee is now retired Air Force colonel Martha McSally, who many believed could have made the June special at least more competitive if she had been her party’s standard bearer.
 
The first female fighter pilot to fly in combat in the history of the Air Force, McSally successfully sued to overturn a military policy requiring U.S. service women to wear a Muslim Abaya headscarf when off base when she was stationed in Saudi Arabia in 2001. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.
 
But despite what was a strong showing in a short time in the primary, McSally’s campaign faltered just before the special election, when her campaign spokesman gave Barber’s campaign some ?tips? for defeating Kelly -- raising the specter that she hoped Barber would win so she’d get a chance in the fall.
 
The staffer was immediately fired, but the misstep raised eyebrows among the Arizona GOP that her campaign wasn’t exactly ready for primetime. Now some are wondering whether this already uphill district is worth the investment this fall.
 
Several Democrats deferred to Barber in the special election primary after he clearly became the favorite of the DCCC, Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly. But one hopeful, state Sen. Matt Heinz, isn’t giving him a free pass in the regular primary.
 
While Heinz’s strategy seems to be blasting Barber from the left, issuing statements every time he votes against the Democratic party line, sources on both side of the aisle said Heinz was known for siding with Republicans when it was advantageous to him.
 
"This is slipping from the realm of possibility," said one unaligned Republican consultant.
 
4th District
Rep. Gosar may have moved to a more solidly Republican district, but that hasn’t guaranteed him an easy path back to Congress. He is one of the most seriously endangered incumbents not running against another member.

 
Gosar is in a battle with state Sen. Ron Gould, who has the backing of the Club for Growth. Known as a staunch conservative in the Legislature, Gould not only has the profile that would attract the Club, but Gosar has never been a favorite of the anti-tax group.
 
Gosar may be the de facto incumbent, but he only represents a third of this district and doesn’t live in the new 4th. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu had been a top contender in the race until he was outed as gay and had a relationship with an alleged illegal immigrant. Against two challengers, Gosar’s chances would have been better, but even before the last fundraising quarter, most in the state still saw Gould as a slight favorite.
 
Other Republicans doubt whether Gould can topple Gosar after he failed to translate the Club’s endorsement into big dollars. While the Club bundled for Gould, his fundraising was still underwhelming this quarter -- raising just $73,000 in the 2nd Quarter and ending with $109,000 in the bank. Gosar has never been a prolific fundraiser either, though, and he raised $184,000 in the past three months and still had $447,000 cash on hand at the end of June.
 
The Club for Growth just went up on TV this week, hitting Gosar for raising the debt ceiling and against defunding ACORN. They’ve dropped mail pieces too, and could still engage even further to batter Gosar.
 
Gosar hasn’t made many friends while he’s been in DC either, and his office was plagued with organizational problems. Arizona observers note Gould is seen as much more ?gritty? than Gosar, and many were impressed by his first TV ad, showing him shooting a copy of the health care legislation. Gould has been up on television for over a month, while Gosar hasn’t yet begun advertising.
 
Sources note they haven’t seen as much fervor from Gosar’s campaign in seeking to appeal to the GOP base. While he may still benefit from his base of Yavapai County that’s still largely in this district, he never really cultivated a following outside of that. And his decision not to challenge Kirkpatrick rubbed many in Washington and back in Arizona the wrong way. Gould is expected to run strong in his base of Mohave County, the other population center of the expansive district.
 
"[Gould] is running a really smart campaign," said one unaligned GOP operative in the state. "It may be closer than people expect, but Gould has the edge."
 
For now, this one remains incredibly close, but Gosar is in danger of losing in this redrawn district after making a risky gamble that may not pay off.
 
5th District
In the end, the primary to succeed Rep. Jeff Flake (R) may have been the race that really wasn’t much of one.

 
While initially a competitive primary field had whittled down to former Rep. Matt Salmon (R) and former House Speaker Kirk Adams (R), virtually no one in Arizona even expects this race to be close. Salmon is
heavily favored to win the August primary easily.
 
Salmon started out with a built-in name ID advantage that was already near-impossible for Kirk to overcome, according to several GOP sources. Salmon had held true to his three term-pledge and stepped aside in 2000 (Flake succeeded him), and two years later he narrowly lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat Janet Napolitano.
 
Still, Salmon remained well-known and incredibly well-liked in the district -- but also well-liked among conservative groups. When he announced he was running again for the open seat, the Club for Growth quickly got behind him.
 
That translated into quick cash for Salmon, and the former congressman built an early advantage Adams could never overcome. Salmon ended June with $336,000 in the bank, while Adams had just $162,000.
 
Adams comes across as more of a pragmatic conservative, and in an interview with the Report in April, noted how he had worked across the aisle. Still, he was no squish, and he led a rebellion to overthrow the speaker during his tenure.
 
But Adams’ willingness to compromise has not translated into primary support or money. Republicans say Adams wasn’t aggressive enough initially and let Salmon pad his early, expansive lead. In the past week, Adams tried to argue Salmon’s firm had lobbied for the health care bill, but those charges fell flat.
 
6th District
Republicans in the state have a unanimous warning in the remaining weeks of this member vs. member contest -- it’s going to get even bloodier.

 
When redistricting drew freshman Rep. Ben Quayle’s home only blocks outside of the 6th District, his fellow freshman Dave Schweikert quickly announced he’d run in the 6th District, staking his claim. While it took weeks for Quayle to make it official, there was no doubt among anyone in DC or in Arizona that this clash was inevitable despite attempts to stave it off.
 
As the primary has intensified, the challenge for both congressmen has been to differentiate themselves from each other, since they disagree on few policy positions or key votes. Instead, this has become more of a battle of style -- as well as a subtle proxy war between the establishment and Tea Party wings of the GOP that has yet to fully materialize.
 
The former vice president’s son may have more of a famous profile by virtue of his last name, and has tapped into his father’s financial connections, but Schweikert has more local ties. A former state legislator and Maricopa County Treasurer, Schweikert had been running for office in this district for more than two decades, while Quayle only narrowly won his 2010 GOP primary even after his ties to a salacious website surfaced.
 
It’s no secret that Schweikert is the Club for Growth’s favorite candidate in the race. After Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s Young Guns PAC got involved in the member vs. member race between Rep. Don Manzullo and Rep. Adam Kinzinger earlier this year to back Kinzinger, the Club issued a warning shot -- if the establishment got in for Quayle, they wouldn’t hesitate to jump in full force for Schweikert. For now, both are sitting on the sidelines, but if one pulls the trigger, there will be a domino effect for several outside groups.
 
Quayle has sought to use the endorsements and national profile he’s built to his advantage in the race, and just this week debuted an ad featuring retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R), talking directly to camera. ?David’s been in politics almost as long as I have,? Kyl quips -- a not-so-subtle dig at the 20 year age gap between the two men. ?Ben Quayle is our future,? says Kyl.
 
Outside groups are coming in now for Schweikert too, with a state-based super PAC, National Horizon, launching an ad hitting ?Prince? Ben Quayle, brutally painting him as an entitled carpetbagger.
 
Quayle has piled up endorsements, from Kyl to John McCain and Condoleeza Rice, but that hasn’t seemed to faze Schweikert. In fact the endorsements only plays into the tea party vs. establishment narrative Schweikert prefers. Schweikert has gotten more local endorsements, including some more moderate leaders, which shows the ties he’s cultivated over the years.
 
"There’s not much difference at all when you come down to policy," said one GOP consultant. "If you look at them on paper, it really comes down to who you like personally."
 
Like other member vs. member races this year, turnout will win, and GOP sources agree across the board that Schweikert has the edge.
 
A National Research poll from Schweikert’s campaign this week confirmed that, showing him with a 49 percent to 33 percent lead over Quayle.
 
9th District
On paper, the newly-created 9th District should be among the most competitive in the state. It gave McCain 47 percent in 2008 and Bush 49 percent in 2004. But while the Democratic primary has been lively and competitive, the sleepiness of the GOP primary has many Republicans in the state worried whether this seat can truly be competitive this fall.

 
Democrats have a well-heeled trio competing, including state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, former state party chairman Andrei Cherny and state Senate Minority Leader David Schapira.
 
Of the three, most Democrats -- and Republicans, to their glee -- give Sinema a narrow edge. In the race before there was even officially a seat, she’s a well-known legislator who’s never shied from the limelight, for better or worse. Openly bisexual, she also has the enthusiastic support of EMILY’s List and opened up a narrow fundraising edge in the race.
 
Republicans insist Sinema has a litany of past controversial statements they’re ready to use, including unflattering comments about stay at home moms, being far to the left on social issues, and being an early supporter of Obama. ?If Sinema is the nominee, that really opens up a big opportunity there,? said one Republican.
 
But Cherny has been nipping at Sinema’s heels, aided by his money. The state’s former Democratic party chairman until he stepped down to pursue this seat, he was the party’s 2010 nominee for state treasurer. Cherny’s profile reads like someone always plotting a run for Congress -- a lawyer who went to Harvard and UC-Berkeley, he worked in the Clinton White House as a speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore and a policy adviser.
 
The only public poll of the race, a PollMakers (IVR) survey from the end of May for Schapira, showed Sinema with 38 percent, Schapira with 36 percent and Cherny lagging with 8 percent, but most believe the race has tightened since then. Cherny has touted his endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and has been spending heavily on ads. Sinema just went on TV this week.
 
Other sources note that while Schapira may not have raised the most money, he has a good ground game and shouldn’t be counted out either. At this point, all three candidates have paths to victory, but most expect Sinema or Cherny to be on top on August 28.
 
But while Democrats have three top-flight recruits who are engaged in such a bitter primary for this new seat, the GOP field is muddled at best, and with Quayle and Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman passing on the race, several GOP operatives in the state remarked that sent the signal the race was somewhat hopeless.
 
"That seat can, and probably should, be won by the GOP, but nobody’s doing anything," said one GOP source in the state.
 
Republicans best guess is that their nominee will be Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker. An African-American Republican, he was a former aide in the George H.W. Bush White House who was appointed assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Agriculture by George W. Bush.
 
Raised by a single mother and his grandmother who helped put him through college and later law school at Georgetown by cleaning houses, he did not play up his unique story when he ran for Congress in 2010, losing to Quayle in the crowded 3rd District primary. This time, he will.
 
In the seven-way field, Parker has raised the most money (he ended June with just over $100,000 in the bank) and is the only GOP candidate on TV. That isn’t saying much, though. Parker and multiple Arizona Republicans have noted it’s been difficult for GOP candidates to raise money with competitive primaries in safe seats sucking up the energy and dollars.
 
Some of the other candidates have assets that could help them in the coming weeks edge up, but few Republican sources see any other candidate emerging. Businessman Travis Grantham has put in some of his own money, but still hasn’t made an impact. Scottsdale City Councilwoman Lisa Borowsky has personal money too, but hasn’t yet dipped deeply into her pockets.
 
Businessman Martin Sepulveda could have been a credible candidate, and put in his own money but hasn’t been active either. And former CIA officer Leah Campos Schandlbauer, the sister-in-law of Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), intrigued some observers initially, but hasn’t translated her family ties into dollars or support.
 
Parker starts with the natural edge after running in part of the district previously, including area he performed well in the 2010 primary. He has the best name ID and is seen as the only candidate who could even make the race a real one in the general election.
 
While many Republicans are skeptical about this race now, Parker, with an impressive personal story and unique profile, could make the race newly competitive. But the burden will be on him and Republicans in Washington to raise and commit the resources to make sure it is.  

 

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