Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel: McLeod and Paton Look Ahead to 2016

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On this week's episode of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel: Former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton and Democratic strategist Rodd McLeod look back at some of the biggest stories of 2015 and share a political forecast of 2016: We unpack the rise of Trump and what it says about voter frustration with Washington; guess at how might emerge if Trump stumbles; how much trouble Sen. John McCain is facing in 2016 and whether he'll face a surprise challenge from Congressman David Schweikert; what's going on in the Congressional District 1 race for the open seat that Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick is leaving behind to challenge McCain; and whether the city of Tucson needs to change its election system.

We'll continue the forecast with next week's Zona Politics.

Zona Politics airs at 8 a.m. Sunday mornings on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 59 on DirecTV, Dish and broadcast. Or you can catch a radio version at 5 p.m. on KXCI community radio, 91.3 FM

Here's a transcript of the show:

Hello everyone. I'm Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel and we're here to talk Zona Politics. Today we're going to look back at the big political stories of 2015, and look ahead at what we can expect from 2016 as part one of our two-part, year-end special. Joining me today, Democratic strategist Rodd MacLeod who has worked for Gabby Giffords, Ron Barber, Jonathan Rothschild and others over the last ten years here in Arizona, and Republican strategist, Jonathan Paton, a former state lawmaker who is now working as a lobbyist in Phoenix. Thank you both for being here.

You know, if we're going to talk about 2015, Jonathan, I think we have to talk about the rise of Donald Trump, which is one of the most bizarre political phenomena I think I've ever seen. What is it that is the appeal of Donald Trump?

(Paton) You know, it's interesting. I think he's actually made watching debates fun again to a certain extent. The very first debate that he had in 2015 had to be one of the most entertaining debates I've ever seen. I think the reason for that is really the reason for his rise, because he says things that other candidates don't say, or shouldn't say, or won't say, or mainly because he just doesn't care. I think he comes across as the most unpolitician-y of the candidates and I think that is making him a nightmare for both the establishment and Republican party, and I say this to a lot of Democrats that the glee that they have watching the Republicans struggle with Donald Trump, if he is the nominee, there is a chance that he could be president, and I think that that is a very strange commentary on the country. It's a very possible thing to happen,

(Nintzel) It seems like people are looking for someone who is not a politician, who had authenticity, or at least a portion of the Republican primary voters, which is topping about 25%.

(McLeod) Well, regardless of what Party you're talking about, I think people are fed up with politicians. I mean the last three presidents of the United States, you know, all got elected running against Washington D.C. Clinton did and Bush did and Obama did. So, you know with thought, he says things that are, you know, frankly scary. I mean to tell Jorge Ramos, a respected anchor or journalist, "Get out of my country," or to tell Americans wages are too high, or to say that some protester at his event who got "Maybe he should have been roughed up." Pretty ugly stuff. I think that you have a part of the Republican sort of media establishment with, you know, the Glenn Becks, and Bill O'Reillys and Rush Limbaugh, you know for years we've been hearing how, Hussain Obama's not really American and liberals don't really love this country, and Republican leaders just won't stand up to the liberals, I mean if you say that, day in day out for so several years, eventually the base might start to say, "Gee, that's right" and look elsewhere, and so, respected governors like the Rick Perrys and Scott Walkers and Jim Grisham are either out of the race or getting nowhere and it's these wild-eyed outsiders, like Carson and Trump and Cruz, who are maybe 60% or 70% of the primary vote on the Republican side.


(Paton) I do have to disagree with one thing, though, in that Rodd's saying that they've been told this and this and this in the Republican Party Trump's a guy who actually, when you talk about Obamacare, he said he likes socialized medicine in Canada, and a lot of the things that are part of the liturgy of the Republican Party he basically doesn't believe in or he's a new convert towards that. I think it's more about the tone than the actual thing that he is saying. I think it's actually, it isn't, like in the Jorge Ramos example, it's basically, "Get outta here." that sort of an attitude that they don't see in other politicians. And maybe there's a good reason why they don't see that in other politicians, but I think people are tired of phony. people that are politicians on both sides, and I think that is part of the attraction to him as a candidate.

(Nintzel) Is that part of the attraction for Bernie Sanders as well? I went to a rally in Phoenix this summer for Bernie, and it brought out a lot of people, young people, old people and they all expressed frustration with Washington as well, and Wall Street, and then we talked about Hillary and they said they'd rather have Hillary than the Republican candidates who are running, but they are concerned about how close she is to Wall Street, and is he kind of, but not drawing on, the exact same, kind of energy but the anti-Washington.

(McLeod) Well, he's definitely drawing on the anti-Washington agenda too, and he's kind of not, to Jonathan's point, Bernie also doesn't feel like a politician. His hair's blowing all over the place. He's like a cantankerous guy from Brooklyn who's kind of yelling at you. I was surprised in one debate when he came out against shouting. I was going, "If there's no shouting in politics, you've done buddy." But you know he has an economic message that I think really resonates with people, because he's extremely well informed and he's basically explaining what's going on in our economy. We still have a very productive economy. America is a prosperous country. It's just that the prosperity is not being broadly shared because of the policies we've chosen, past policies economic policies, and he's saying "Enough is enough. Let's get back to the America where the prosperity we have is being broadly shared by more people”. On a side note, I kind of would love in an alternate universe to see a Bernie vs. Trump debate, because then you really, it would be like the Queens vs. Brooklyn accents so you could really ...

(Paton) I saw that on Facebook, to be honest with you, so I think you have to look for it.

(McLeod) Absolutely.

(Paton) I think that searching for authenticity or someone who doesn't really care what the media or what pundits think about what they're saying is something that's really attractive in both parties, and you have, I think, mirror images of themselves that Hillary Clinton on the one hand, Jeb Bush on the other, that seem to be so careful and cautious in what they say and do. I think there's a reaction from that from the people who are the most passionate in both parties.

(Nintzel) Although Hillary's doing better than Jeb is but there's now, I'm reading more and more Republicans are starting to think that Trump is actually a viable candidate. Before they thought you know he would wear out and with his resilience they're starting to think, "Well what if he does get to the top?" not as concerned about potential impact on down ticket races should he be the nominee Number one, do you think he'll fade, and number two, if he is the nominee does that, is that a problem.

(Paton) Well, I guess the big thing is that for me to say this, I kind of go against a maxim or paraphrase of somebody in Hollywood that said that "No one knows anything." I think the same thing applies to politics, especially when it comes to Donald Trump. Logically I say that the physics of politics, he should eventually fall. That he will top out at 25%, and that he can't get beyond that, but who knows? I mean, we've never seen this kind of phenomenon before. I don't know where this is going. I tend to think that, we were talking in the break about the fact that you've got Ben Carson, if he's fading at the moment, if he does completely fade and implode, I don't see those voters going to Trump. They made a conscious decision not to vote for Trump and vote for another kind of an outsider. Cruz could get those voters, Rubio could get those voters, they could go somewhere else. I don't know that they continue to accrue to Donald Trump.

(Nintzel) You think Cruz and Rubio will be the mostly likely of the ones we'll call the standard sort of candidates.

(Paton) Yeah. I think that they are definitely in that category. I tend to think that the other candidates and Kasich and some of the others are going to fall through eventually. And I don't know that, for example, the Rand Paul folks, do they go to Trump? I don't think so. I don't know where to be honest with you, but I don't think they accrue to him. Um, and I also think that there's a lot of these people that we're polling that say they like Trump aren't really Republican primary voters. Or if he's not in the, if he doesn't believe he's going to win, do they even show up for the vote. I don't know that, for example in our own state I don't know a lot of the Trump grassroots folks. I know a lot of people who are grassroots conservatives, movement conservatives that are going for Cruz for example, I know a lot of folks that write checks that are going for Marco Rubio but I don't know a lot of those people that are going for Trump. Do you? Are they the ones that are going to vote? We don't know. And I think that makes this, I go back to my original statement, "No one knows anything." We're sort of in uncharted territory at the moment.

(Nintzel) Does anyone else in Arizona have organization in the presidential race?

(Paton) Those two that I mentioned Cruz and Rubio, I think Cruz has, is getting a lot of grassroots support. There are some organizational efforts going on in his behalf. You can see it on social media, you can see it organizationally. Rubio was at a fundraiser not too long ago for him. There were a lot of Jeb Bush expatriates that were there at that fundraiser, so I think a lot of the money that was there is now going to Rubio, and he's sort of like a compromise between the two worlds. He was the Tea Party candidate that beat Charlie Crist but he also is, I think is acceptable to people in the establishment, and that they're willing to contribute to him. Now what does that mean in Arizona, I have no idea.

(Nintzel) Your thoughts on Cruz versus Rubio for this race if Trump fades and will fall.

(McLeod) Well, I mean, I think Trump has proved immovable. He's going to get some chunk of the vote unless there's some crazy gaffe or something.

(Nintzel and Paton, together) Really!

(Nintzel) What could that be?

(McLeod) You know, I mean, he's obviously said some things that are shocking and got away with it.

(Paton) When you can mock someone's war service, disability whatever, at this point I don't know where you go as far as being offensive.

(McLeod) But see we haven't got to the … What we haven't gotten to yet is the phase of paid media. Right? So when you get to the point of, like, there are going to be half a million Republicans in the State of Arizona who are going to vote in late March in this election and, you know, there could be some commercial that somebody runs with Donald Trump over and over and over again explaining why he liked Bill Clinton and you know there's video of him saying that somewhere. Or why he's pro-choice and thinks abortion should be safe and legal, and then does that affect what happens, and then I don't know where those votes accrue as Jonathan points out, I mean last time out, I didn't think that Rick Santorum would be the last man standing against Mitt Romney, but that's what happened, so there are a lot of candidates. The other thing is, you could have a situation where, I think after March 15 the Republican primaries are all "winner take all" and they're all in a fight for delegates. They all have to hit a certain threshold of delegates to get the nomination. You could have a situation where four or five different candidates win some of these winner-take-all primaries. The Republican National Convention rolls around next summer. So one's got the delegates. You end up having a floor fight at the convention and all of a sudden Jeb Bush or Scott Walker or Rick Perry or Mitt .Romney could come back, so we're in a new situation. It's certainly interesting You probably know a lot more about the inner workings than I do.

(Paton) Well I don't know that I necessarily know the inner workings of his own campaign, but this is one thing I think that is interesting. is that in the real world, if you said something, if you made ... sort of like Rick Perry said in his debate four years ago, if you did something like that, that happens and you start to lose money. People stop writing checks The reason why Donald Trump is defying those laws of gravity is he doesn't have to worry about whether people are going to write him a check or not, and so he survives without even having to spend any of his own money, simply on earned media Now, I think Ron is right. Once they start spending money against him, everyone's going to fall eventually if they get. But he doesn't have to worry about losing his own contributors because he isn't really working on that level.

(Nintzel) I'm curious about another thing that seems to be going on in politics that I've been reading about lately, and that's the whole idea of anti-partisanship, that people aren't driven so much by love of their own party as they are by loathing and distaste for the other party Do you think that's playing out here or will be playing out here in 2016 in the presidential election.

(McLeod) I mean, we'll have to see. There's certainly, we've had, I mean we had a very unusual situation in the 20th century where the Republican Party had conservatives, moderates and liberals. The democratic party had conservatives, moderates and liberals, and after the 1960s and the Civil Rights movement, when the Democrats came out for civil rights there was a great sorting, and now you basically have a conservative party and a liberal party So, it has become a lot more polarized, and given that, people end up, politicians end up playing more to the base, and the base can be really rallied against the opponent.

(Paton) Along with that, though, is also there are people in the media on both sides that get paid to stir things up, whether it's MSNBC, Rush Limbaugh, what whatever it might be, there are people who basically exist to make that happen.

(Nintzel) Let's leave it there. We'll be right back after we thank one of our underwriters.

And we're back with Zona Politics. Today we have Rodd McLeod, Democratic strategist, and former Republican lawmaker Jonathan Paton, here today talking about what we can look forward to in 2016 and certainly, the big race in Arizona is going to be the U.S. Senate race with John McCain running for re-election. He's already facing Kelly Ward in the Republican primary. She's a state lawmaker and Jonathan, there are some rumors that someone else might get into the race?

(Paton) Well you could see David Schweikert getting into the race. He previously said he wasn't going to but he made some statements about John McCain's numbers in polling, saying that he could lose in the general election and the primary. You don't usually say those kinds of things if you're not actively contemplating that sort of thing yourself so I think that...He's a congressman in Maricopa County He's definitely part of the Tea Party caucus there. I think he's a very smart guy, and I think he would make a formidable threat in a primary. And I think he definitely looks at the polls. Everybody on both sides is looking at the polling data, and the problem for John McCain is I think that he has almost universal name ID. I mean he's not going to get any higher name ID. People either like him or they don't and the negatives right now are very high in those polls and in the internal polls I've heard about within his own camp. So how does that measure out in a primary situation? He could be vulnerable and I think the difference between David Schweikert and say, David Hayworth who ran some years ago, is that now there are a lot of C4s and SuperPacs out there that could be putting money into helping define who Schweikert is before he gets to be defined by John McCain.

(Nintzel) Rodd, your thoughts on John McCain's numbers and also Ann Kirkpatrick giving up her Congressional seat to try to challenge John McCain next year.

(McLeod) Well, I think John McCain is in a very dicey situation. I mean, he's spent I think $20 million on his 2010 primary which was against J.D. Hayworth, who I don't think is a very strong candidate, and I don't think he's got anywhere near that kind of money at his disposal now and, you know, even in polling already, he's in trouble, and Kelly Ward has raised half a million bucks. She's just announced she's leaving the State Senate to concentrate on this race full time, so that could be a real problem, and we've seen that, certainly the presidential race this year has taught us, it's not a great year in the Republican primary to be the establishment person He's been there a long time. People are looking for something different fresh, gladder, so we'll see how that plays out. Ann Kirkpatrick tends to be underestimated. You know, people thought she was going to lose that race in 2012. My friend over here, and she pulled it out. People thought, well,2014, it's a different electorate, she's going to have trouble, and she won by an even bigger margin and she's a pretty tough lady, and she's got a statewide operation as Jonathan will tell you from the miles he put on his car All over the state of Arizona she's had to run television ads all over the state of Arizona. She's well known, she's well-liked she's all over that district and, you know, I think, depending on how this all plays out whether you get a weakened McCain coming out of the primary or someone else entirely, I think Ann Kirkpatrick's in a pretty good spot.

(Nintzel) And Jonathan, you did run against Ann Kirkpatrick in 2012. Your thoughts on how well she could do as a Democratic statewide candidate

(Paton) Well the one problem she does have is that she actually has to go out and meet people and campaign. She's pretty good at fundraising. She really doesn't like going out there and talking to average voters. McCain kind of feeds on that. The one thing I will say that is McCain's weakness and it's also his best asset is that he is very combative, and unlike a lot of the other moderates that Rodd is talking about that have run in other races, he isn't just going to roll over He's going to be very aggressive as he was against J.D. Hayworth, and as he was in the presidential primary that he had His best scenario is when he's in town halls where he is able to answer questions, even hostile questions. He seems to feed on that. She kind of has a reputation of running away from a town hall. So that is going to be a difficult thing for her, but, like I said it could very well be a primary issue as well. There are a lot of people as Rodd said that are very upset with positions that McCain has taken in the past, and that could come back to haunt him particularly among people who have been supporters in the past. A statement here or there has angered them and I think there's a fatigue of politicians in general, that you're there for only so long and they want to see a change. So, I don't know what's going to happen, but it is going to be a very interesting race.

(McLeod) Well I just want to break in on one thing. When Ann Kirkpatrick has been unfairly maligned by our Republican friends about not wanting to meet people. That's just ridiculous. She has a big district, she is out there all the time and meeting people. There was a case in 2010 when some Tea Party people started yelling and screaming and she walked away from the confrontation and that went into a TV ad and they've used that against her ever since, but the voters have rejected that argument in 2012, and in 2014, precisely because Ann Kirkpatrick is a very warm, neighborly person who works that very large district and in any given weekend, she might be in Flagstaff or the White Mountains or Yavapai county or down here in Marana or Casa Grande and she's a very approachable and available person.

(Nintzel) And speaking of that very large district, an open seat now, is there since she is leaving to run against McCain. Jonathan you ran there four years ago. This year it looks like we have a five-way Republican primary, including House Speaker David Gowan, you've got Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babieu, you have former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, you have Gary Keaney, a cowboy and rancher and oilman who nearly won the Republican primary last time, and a political newcomer named Shawn Redd. Your handicapping of that primary?

(Paton) You know I've been asked this by so many people and this isn't a dodge. I honestly don't know who is going to come out of that for the simple reason that there's no one that stands out as having a given edge in the race for a variety of reasons. Money talks in that district probably more than any other race in the state, and the reason for that is, as Rodd is talking about the size of it, you go, you can travel all over the state, but you get there and there's maybe 20 people there at an event or 40 people at an event. It's not like, for example, in CD-2 where it's much more compact and you can do a lot more retail campaigning in the same kind of way. So these ads that go on the air matter, and I don't know which one of these candidates has the capacity to raise the kind of money to fund the others, and if I've learned anything about primaries you have to be willing to through an elbow or two to help define your opponent, and, I don't know, in the last race Gary Kiehne, I think he has at least the most money at the moment. Is he willing to attack, maybe a Paul Babeu for example in this race where he where he wasn't willing to attack Andy Tobin in the last one. I don't know if that, I don't know what happens I do know that he has a different campaign consultant out of D.C. that's very competent and very well thought of. Last time I was there, people really felt that person was pretty talented at what they were doing. Can that, would that matter in this race, we'll have to see.

(Nintzel) Kiehne has exhibited, I think, more than the last campaign a certain Trump-like authenticity as well in that he's said some off-color things from time to time, but also when you talk to him, he's a pretty down-to-earth guy.

(Paton) He's a pretty down to earth guy, but he also doesn't have a billion dollars. I mean that One of the things we were talking about in the last segment that makes Donald Trump such a formidable force is that you can't punish Donald Trump by not giving him money He can always get more media. You're not going to have that. He's going to get a handful of stories, from let's say the Tucson Weekly or from but he's not going to get a lot of our media based on things he says on the campaign trail, and he's also going to have to contend with someone like Paul Babeu. He has charisma and has also a county where most of the votes are in the Republican primary. Paul Babeu not only does he have Casa Grande and some of the areas in Pinal County like SaddleBrooke, he also goes into Pima County quite often to Oro Valley Republican Women, whatever, all those different groups, that's where the votes are in the Republican Primary. The votes are in the general election just spread out throughout the district. In a primary it's pretty much in Southern Arizona.

(Nintzel) Rodd, you joined Team O'Halleran, Tom O'Halleran, the Democrat, former Republican state lawmaker who is seeking the Democratic nomination in this race and seems to have chased away most of the opposition out there. Your thoughts on Tom O'Halleran's chances. Obviously you're going to say they're very good, but how he matches up against this GOP field.

(McLeod) Well, I think he matches up great. I mean here's a guy who's already represented a big chunk of that district in the state senate. He was a respected state senator. This is a guy with a committee chair. He's not a lifetime politician. This is a guy who you know, came from the west side of Chicago, was a police officer a homicide detective. Then he went into business, ran a small business. He and his wife retired to Arizona and then he ended up running the state senate and becoming an expert on children's issues, drove an important reform of the Child Protective Services Department ten or 15 years ago, is part of the team that passed all-day kindergarten, a kind of pro-education, really smart on the economy business background that I think is going to really work for Arizona voters. I think that's why you've seen so many Democrats, including Congresswoman Kirkpatrick Sheriff K.C. Clark, Fred DuVal and others get behind him early. They recognize that he's the kind of person with the kind of integrity who will represent those voters very well.

(Nintzel) Jonathan, you did serve with him for a while.

(Paton) I did, and as I joked with Rodd some years ago when he was supporting Richard Carmona and I said that the best Democrat the Democrats could find is an independent. Now the best Democrat the Democrats can find is a Republican. And he was a Republican back then. He lost a big primary to State Senator Steve Pierce and then lost another race more recently. I think that there's nothing I can necessarily point to except for kind of an environmentalist sort of strain that doesn't necessarily play well in CD-1 that he might have, but there's nothing that stands out, and I think that's part of the problem with all of these candidates that we're talking about. There's not one person that you say, like, for example, like Martha McSally has a biography that they can parlay into a leg up over anyone else. I truly don't know who's going to win in that race and when asked about whether the national parties are going to be spending money I think that really polling is going to drive a lot of that and we'll find out how viable these people really are more than anything when we see the next reports come out when they actually have to produce how much money they've raised. That's the cold-blooded reality in Washington is there's a lot of questions in politics and money is the answer to most of them.

(Nintzel) I want to move on just to a quick local issue in the two minutes we have remaining, Jonathan I know it's an issue near and dear to your heart the City of Tucson is facing a question of whether they need to change their election system. A federal court has ruled that the current system is unconstitutional. The ninth circuit came to that conclusion. The city has appealed that conclusion, but basically the city has this unusual system where you have a ward-only primary election and then a citywide general election. The court's saying you have to have either a ward-only primary and a ward-only general or a citywide primary and a citywide general You're cheering this decision, then.

(Paton) Well, it's a legacy to be honest with you of the Jim Crow south. These, that system was used throughout the south to disenfranchise voters. It sort of remains in the City of Tucson. The ninth circuit, not exactly the most conservative circuit court in the land has ruled that it's unconstitutional. I've criticized this system even when it benefitted my own party when Steve Kozachek and others have lost their wards but won citywide that were Republicans at the time because I thought it was a stupid system, and it still is a stupid system. You have two individuals who won their wards but lost the election, simply because of this crazy system and not because of the voters' intent in those areas. That does not contribute to good government. If you are represented by someone that lost in your own area, it says something bad about the system itself, and I think that's part of the problem that Tucson has had. I also think it's made it difficult to attract the foothills into this district or into the city.

(McLeod) Well I don't know who is being disenfranchised with the current system. I mean we've seen Tucson elect Republican mayors and Democratic mayors. We've seen Republican council people win and Democratic council people win. Certainly Mexican-Americans can win in this system even though the majority of our citywide electorate is white. So, I mean, we'll see what the courts have to say, but I'm confident the Democrats are going to continue to win elections. Republicans couldn't even get a candidate to run for mayor of Tucson the last time out.

(Nintzel) So we will see where the courts go with this, where the voters go with this is still left to be seen. A legal question out there also a legal fight going on right now by the losing candidates who want to see whether or not they can somehow have a new election, a do-over election and we'll see where the judge rules on that as well, but, we are out of time. That is our show for this week. If you missed any part of it, you can check us out at zonapolitics.com and be sure to look us up on Facebook. Big thanks to our media partners at the Tucson Weekly, Tucson Local Media and KXCI FM where you can hear the show at 5 p.m on Sunday afternoon. Thanks for watching. We'll see you next week.     

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