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Denogean: Congressional races in Az may swing to the left

Az Dems have good shot at winning six congressional seats

The outcome of Arizona’s eight congressional races is shaping up as a blue one for Republicans.

A pickup of one House seat, possibly even two, by the Democrats is looking increasingly likely. Such an outcome would be a disheartening defeat for Arizona Republicans, who had hopes of regaining the two seats lost in 2006.

In that year’s general election, Republicans lost their 6-2 advantage in House seats. Randy Graf was defeated by Gabrielle Giffords for the District 8 seat left open by Republican Jim Kolbe’s retirement. The Republican incumbent in District 5, J.D. Hayworth, fell to Democrat Harry Mitchell.

In the red-blue color scheme of politics, that left the state represented by a House delegation – four Republicans, four Democrats – that was a pleasing shade of purple.

In the upcoming general election, Republicans Trent Franks and Jeff Flake, along with Democrats Ed Pastor and Raúl Grijalva, are safe bets to hold their seats. But three out of the other four competitive seats, possibly all four, realistically could go Democratic.

That’s not just a line being pushed by the state Democratic party.

Nathan Sproul, a Republican strategist who works out of Tempe, said in an interview this week that while the Republican congressional candidates are running strong races, the Democrats “almost assuredly” can look forward to a 5-3 win.

“I think the Republicans in Arizona at the congressional level have two things working against them. The first is that Republicans on the national level have created the toxic air that Republicans in Arizona are having to run against.

“The second one is that the DCCC (the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) has a lot of money and the NRCC (the National Republican Congressional Committee) has very little, if any, money. The DCCC is spending more money in Arizona than in just about any other state in the country.”

So, let’s break this down.

• In the 1st Congressional District, Democratic state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is running against Republican lobbyist Sydney Hay for the seat vacated by Republican Rick Renzi. Viewed as too conservative by the district, Hay was not the state GOP’s first choice as a candidate. In rankings of House seats most likely to switch parties nationwide, the Washington Post recently upgraded Arizona’s 1st District from third to second most likely.

According to the Post’s assessment, “Kirkpatrick is well-known and well-funded, while Hay is neither.”

• In District 5, Democrat Mitchell is trying to fend off former Maricopa County treasurer David Schweikert. The Congressional Quarterly’s Scorecard, the Cook Political Report, Roll Call’s Outlook and the Rothenberg Political Report all have the race leaning Democratic.

• In District 8, Giffords is facing the well-known and well-funded Republican state Sen. Tim Bee. But she is also well-known and better-funded and has done everything she needed to during her first two years in Congress to win a second term, as regards building a reputation as a moderate Democrat who represents the political philosophy of the district.

The analysts who give a slight edge to Mitchell also give the edge to Giffords, as does Sproul.

• Perhaps the most interesting race is in District 3, where Republican incumbent John Shadegg is facing attorney Bob Lord, a Democrat. The smart money is on Shadegg, but his re-election isn’t a sure thing.

While Shadegg has a sizable Republican registration advantage, a recent DCCC poll has the two men even and considers the race so competitive that it has spent more than $1 million there on Lord’s behalf.

“At the start of 2007,” said Yoni Cohen of the DCCC, “we were primarily concerned with playing defense in the 5th and 8th districts. Today, we are in a position where we have successfully played offense in the 1st District, and I’m confident about (winning) the 1st District, and are moving aggressively in the more historically conservative 3rd District.”

The DCCC has spent nearly $4 million on the four competitive Arizona races, running ads in each of those districts.

The National Republican Congressional Committee doesn’t discuss how much it is spending or its strategy, NRCC spokesman Brendan Buck said.

He said he’s confident that Shadegg will be returned to the House, that Mitchell in District 5 is vulnerable to Schweikert, and Bee in District 8 is “as strong a candidate as they come.”

It’s a challenge, he acknowledged, because the DCCC is flush and has spent liberally in Arizona.

Recent state polls on the presidential race also bode ill for Republican House candidates.

A Rocky Mountain poll of 400 voters this summer in conservative Maricopa County put McCain up by only five points. And an Arizona State University poll had McCain leading by just seven points last month.

“Clearly the fact that he is not going to have coattails in Arizona and, in fact, may have negative coattails in some areas, does give the Democratic candidates a more competitive environment than they would have otherwise,” said Earl de Berge, research director of the Behavior Research Center, which conducts the Rocky Mountain polls.

Up and down the ticket, there is little good news for Republicans. State Democrats believe they could pick up enough House and Senate seats in the state Legislature to shift the balance of power, an assessment Sproul said is realistic.


This election won’t just leave Republicans blue. It’s going to leave them black-and-blue.

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.

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