HERE COME THE DEMOCRATSWith close to a million bucks in the bank, the Arizona Democratic Party is finally making its move in support of legislative candidates in the push to wrest control of the state Legislature.
Gov. Janet Napolitano took a swing through Southern Arizona last Saturday, exhorting Democrats to knock on doors, make phone calls and keep campaigning "until it hurts."
Napolitano says a Democratic majority would fight to protect education, health care and the universities during the state's worsening budget crisis, while a GOP majority would just look to slash spending with little regard for the impact. (If the budgets that Republican lawmakers Russell Pearce and Bob Burns have offered in the past are any indication, we imagine Napolitano isn't far from the truth.)
Napolitano, who has had a mostly caustic relationship with the GOP House leadership, asked the crowd--with a laugh--to "do it for me."
But motivating the volunteers--and the Democrats were on the move last weekend with marches, union rallies and party events--is just one part of the game.
The Democrats are finally giving us some idea of what they're doing with the million bucks or so that they have in the bank as the election closes in.
The Democrats have held off on spending before now--perhaps to avoid giving their GOP opponents too much time to do much with any matching money they get from Clean Elections--but in the last week, their independent political committee, Victory 2008, has started sending out mailers, according to reports recently filed with the Arizona Secretary of State.
To take control of the Arizona House of Representatives, the Democrats need to win four House seats and hang onto everything they picked up in 2006, when they scored some upset victories in GOP districts.
Down here in Southern Arizona, that means winning in Legislative District 26, which includes the Catalina Foothills, Oro Valley and SaddleBrooke. Democrats Nancy Young Wright and Don Jorgensen are in the House race against Republicans Vic Williams and Marilyn Zerull, while Democrat Cheryl Cage is facing Republican Al Melvin in the Senate race.
The Democrats are also targeting the House race in Legislative District 30, where Democrat Andrea Dalessandro is running a single-shot against Republicans Frank Antenori and David Gowan. (See "Thirty Divided By Three," in this issue, for details.)
The first batch of mailers has gone out, according to the first trigger reports--so named because they trigger matching public funds for the GOP candidates who are using Clean Elections.
As a result, the conservative Republicans are grabbing a big ol' pile of public dollars. In District 30, Gowan has collected more than $22K; up in LD26, Melvin and Zerull have received about $900. (Melvin has received an extra $7,258 thanks to a health-care-backed committee that helped out Cage.)
The big question remains: What will the Democrats do next? GOP political consultant Nathan Sproul has suggested that a major negative attack is coming at the end of the campaign in hopes that candidates won't get matching funds in time to respond.
Nathan knows a thing or two about negative attacks; the controversial political consultant made headlines this year by sending out fliers accusing state Rep. Russell Pearce of being a wife-beater and a Nazi sympathizer. Pearce ended up winning his Senate bid in a landslide.
The Arizona Democratic Party isn't broadcasting its strategy. Spokeswoman Emily DeRose says that the party will "campaign vigorously on behalf of our candidates," although she adds that Sproul's memo "makes for interesting reading."
GOING FOR BROKEWhatever the Democrats end up doing, it's clear that the Arizona Republican Party is in no shape to fight back.
The AZ GOP appears to be experiencing an economic collapse of its own. Good thing most of its candidates are accepting political welfare, because they would never be making it in the private sector.
As of its most recent report, the party had all of $73K in the bank--and now, it appears they have to refund $105,000 from a shadowy organization which, according to recent press reports, is called the Sheriff's Command Association.
The contribution--listed as SCA on the GOP's campaign-finance reports--kicked in the money right around the time that the Republican Party started running a vile advertisement attacking Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Democratic opponent, Dan Saban. The ad brought up allegations of rape and masturbation.
Whatever the truth about any of this (and it's pretty flimsy stuff), the ad is such sleazy and tasteless garbage that it soils what's left of the GOP's reputation. Where's the political upside in running this? Sheriff Joe is a lock anyway, so why squander any lingering goodwill on an ad that's so vulgar that even Joe doesn't want to attach his name to it?
Then again, Arizona Republican Party chairman Randy Pullen has driven the state party into such a deep ditch that we can't say we're surprised to hear that he'd do something so politically dumb.
At any rate, now it appears that the contributors to the SCA don't want their names revealed, although the fingerprints point right back to members of Arpaio's circle.
The Arizona Democratic Party has requested an investigation into this Keystone Cops caper. That alone has Pullen telling the press that he'll be refunding the SCA's contribution. Of course, that means the Arizona Republican Party is now on the hook to pay for all those wretched ads.
It wasn't supposed to work that way, according to Bruce Ash, the local property manager who serves as the Republican national committeeman from Arizona.
A bit of background: Nathan Sproul, the aforementioned controversial political consultant, criticized the spending on the Arpaio campaign on his blog, saying the GOP's meager resources would be better directed toward helping legislative candidates instead of helping Joe destroy his enemy.
Ash--or someone using his name--announced to the world that the GOP wouldn't have gotten the SCA contribution unless it had agreed to run the ad.
"The Saban ad campaign was not done using ANY funds from AZGOP which were donated for any other cause other than the specific campaign and would not have been donated had the ad campaign not been run," Ash said.
Ash, who didn't return our phone call, might want to check with his lawyers before making any more blog posts. We think they usually caution clients to stick with some sort of plausible deniability rather than blabbing about the backroom deals that get struck.
MOVING UP?One reason Democrats are eager to win control of the House of Representatives: We don't know if Gov. Janet Napolitano will be sticking around Arizona if Barack Obama is able to beat John McCain.
If Napolitano, who has been traveling the country to campaign for Obama, were to leave the state for a job in the White House, Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer would finish out the final two years of Napolitano's second term. A GOP-controlled Legislature that can't be blocked by Napolitano's veto power would send the state tilting wildly to the right.
We asked Napolitano if she would be sticking around the state if Obama were to win the presidency.
"I'm not looking for another job," Napolitano told us.
But that's no guarantee she wouldn't take one if an offer were to come along ...