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Funding sank GOP congressional bids

Arizona Democrats outraised Republicans, leading to rout

Republican congressional candidates in Arizona found themselves relatively unpopular and underfinanced, leading to their worst showing at the polls in decades.

Boosted by a $2 million early advantage in special-interest funds and help from their national party, congressional Democrats raised more money than the GOP and collectively won more votes in Arizona for the first time since 1978. They also won more seats on Nov. 4, five to three, for the first time since 1964.

The Democrats had success despite a GOP presidential candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, at the top of the ballot. The results helped further establish Arizona as a traditionally Republican state that is increasingly friendly to Democrats running for federal office.

“We had hoped because of the presidential ticket that we might do better in Arizona,” said Terry Carmack, political director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which helps pay for House races across the country. “We had a bad environment.”

“Clearly (McCain) had no coattails in his own state when it came to the congressional races,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We were very pleased with the results from Arizona, especially in a year where the Republican candidate for president was at the top of the ticket.”

In state government, the GOP tightened its grip on the capitol by unexpectedly picking up seats in the Legislature. Also, voters passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a signature conservative issue.

But this year’s congressional races built on a voter shift that began in 2006, when Democrats picked up two seats and made up half the state’s delegation. Before that, Arizona Democrats often lost all but one race.

From 1984 to 2004, Republicans won 52 of the state’s 67 congressional races.

One difference this year was help from the Democratic Party, which has built on its “50-state strategy” intended to make the party more competitive in regions where it hasn’t fared well.

The DCCC spent at least $2.7 million in Arizona, largely targeting two House seats held by Republicans, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a political watchdog organization. Democrats won one of them, the 1st Congressional District in central and northern Arizona, and lost one, the 3rd Congressional District in central Phoenix.

By contrast, the National Republican Congressional Committee invested nothing in Arizona’s House races through mid-October, the center reported. In all, the NRCC spent about $200,000 in Arizona’s races, almost all of it in the final days, Carmack said.

“If we had played earlier, we would have run out of money at the end, and that’s a crime in politics,” he said. As it was, congressional Republicans nationwide lost fewer races than expected, in part because of strategic decisions about where to spend, Carmack said.

Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said Democrats in Arizona benefited from the continued fallout from President Bush’s unpopular administration. And the legal troubles of Rep. Rick Renzi, who did not seek reelection in the 1st District, extended the 2006 “sense that the Republican Congress had been a place where special interests had run amok,” he said.

The Democrats’ funding advantage was significant. Two groups traditionally helpful to the party gave heavily to their campaigns.

Through mid-October, labor unions gave more than $1 million to Arizona’s Democrats and nothing to GOP candidates, the center reported. Lawyers and lobbyists gave Democrats at least $883,000, twice as much as they gave Republicans.

Democrat Harry Mitchell’s victory in the 5th District, which includes Tempe, is an example of how the GOP struggled to keep pace.

Two years ago, Mitchell had a $1 million fundraising deficit but narrowly won his seat over incumbent Republican J.D. Hayworth.

Running as the incumbent this time, Mitchell outraised his Republican opponent, David Schweikert, by more than $1 million, campaign-finance records show. Contributions from political action committees, which legally advocate for special interests, were a big factor.

Mitchell collected nearly $800,000 from PACs through mid-October. The funds were divided among business interests, labor unions and those with left-leaning ideological agendas.

By comparison, Schweikert took in $63,000, mainly from business and right-leaning PACs in the same period. The DCCC also blanketed the area with $670,000 in ads hammering Schweikert’s tenure as Maricopa County treasurer.

“It was a tsunami of money,” Schweikert said of his defeat. “There was no cash to throw around. . . . How do you compete with that? We think we did really well given the resources we had.”


Follow the money

Democratic congressional candidates in Arizona raised more money than their GOP opponents. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outspent its Republican counterpart.

• Gabrielle Giffords held her 8th District seat in Tucson for Democrats by the same 12-point margin she had two years ago.

She defeated Tim Bee, the state Senate president, with a broad fundraising network that drew heavily from sources usually more friendly to Republicans.

She collected more than Bee from agricultural businesses, communications firms, financial services and defense contractors, all of which gave more to the GOP candidates in other races. She also received more than $200,000 from labor unions and nearly as much from lawyers and lobbyists, the center reports.

It helped give her more than a $1 million financial edge over Bee. The DCCC chipped in with at least $187,000 in ads against Bee, one of which Giffords to ask her party to pull the ad.

• In the 1st District, Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick won the seat that Rick Renzi, the Republican awaiting trial on federal racketeering and extortion charges, is vacating.

Kirkpatrick raised $1.7 million through mid-October, about triple that of her GOP opponent, Sydney Hay.

The $107,000 she received from EMILY’s List, a political action committee that helps Democratic women who support abortion rights, was the most in among those running for the House this year. She took in at least $119,000 from donors to ActBlue, a Democratic PAC that helped revolutionize online contributions.

The DCCC spent another $1 million in ads against Hay. The National Right to Life and the National Rifle Association chipped in for Hay with less than $30,000, according to records from the Center for Responsive Politics.

• The DCCC spent $1 million in an unsuccessful effort to oust Republican John Shadegg in the 3rd District. Conservative groups spent at least $139,000 to support Shadegg.

But the seven-term incumbent, who considered retiring from his seat early this year, outraised his Democratic opponent, Bob Lord, by $720,000. Records show Shadegg took in at least $443,000 from business PACs. Lord collected less than $7,000 from such business groups and $138,000 from labor unions.

Those with ties to MJKL Enterprises, the restaurant group headed by Phoenix businessman Jason LaVecke,gave nearly $30,000 by mid-October. Donors to ActBlue were Lord’s biggest supporters, giving him at least $323,000.

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