Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How Hellon Got the Shaft

Some say that when Huffman and Hellon decided to enter the race, Kolbe told them that whoever raised the most money early on would get his endorsement. Others say Click chose Huffman because he was able to use Huffman to carry his bills in the legislature for him, and Kolbe had no choice. In either case, the result was every Republican penny would go to the annointed successor leaving nothing to Hellon.

Jim Click, with his unique ability to raise huge sums of money and leverage family connections in the Bush administration, was the ultimate ally. Together, Kolbe and Click twisted arms to get help finding a candidate that could beat Randy Graf. Among the arm-twisted was Jon Kyl who was said to court Christine Olson to run. Christine, much more liberal than Bobbie, would be a strong choice to replace Kolbe. But she declined.

With all of Click's donations to candidates as well as to the state and national party, nobody in the state or national party leadership was going to question his decision to pick Steve Huffman. Jim had Lute Olson, Don Diamond, the foothills country club crowd, and the now infamous Bill Arnold (Huffman's window peeper) to raise money. Even conservatives Shadegg, Kyl and others are said to have raised money for Huffman. Click used his leverage to get RNC support. He muscled surprising endorsements from business groups for Huffman. Recently, the normally conservative NRCC, who stated they would remain neutral in the primary, caved into giving Huffman an endorsement. Even after the Huffman campaign was caught peeping and taking pictures through Toni Hellon's windows, party leaders at all levels hushed up. Not a word was spoken about Huffman crossing the line despite all the beginning year rhetoric about a commitment to keeping the campaigns clean leaving Hellon furious at Judi White and Matt Salmon.

Mike Hellon began with virtually nothing except some loyal party activists who would support him no matter what. Even many who would rather support a more conservative candidate fulfilled their sense of duty and obligation to Mike as one who paid his dues. Without the benefit of having served in public office Mike did not have the grassroots support a sitting legislator would have. His loyal followers were well off, but limited in number, and not on the order of a Jim Click. With virtually every penny being funneled to Steve Huffman, Mike Hellon began with no name recognition, no grassroots volunteers, and little money-raising capacity. He also had Steve Huffman to reckon with as Steve recognized Mike to be a major threat to his success. Steve knew he had to discredit Mike to prevent Mike from taking away votes, so he worked out a scheme to cast a shadow on Toni Hellon's use of campaign funds hoping it would taint Mike. If nothing else, the issue could serve to distract Mike from the campaign as he worried about his son and ex-wife.

Despite all this, few would argue that Mike Hellon hasn't run a stellar campaign. His early attention to ads was ridiculed. In hindsight, it is clear that he obtained a huge kickstart for his campaign by beginning early. His ads have been powerful and have given him a following. He has made use of what grassroots help he has. His campaign, by all accounts, has been above board and issue-centric. He has clearly shown himself to be the superior candidate between him and Huffman. Unlike Huffman, Hellon does not run from debates. Yet those close to Click say Jim is determined to stay the course with Huffman. In addition to the roughly $300,000 or so spent in the campaign so far, Click is arranging additional funding to the tune of $500,000 or more to be spent in the next two weeks. Not one penny will go to Hellon.

Nobody is arguing that Steve Huffman is articulate, strong on the issues, demonstrates superior character, is a leader, or resonates with voters. He is considered weak on the most salient issue of the election, illegal immigration. he has no grassroots support to speak of, and appears to attract only hard core Kolbe supporters and name-recognition voters. His campaign management is probably the worst in recent Arizona history. In contrast, Mike has shown he can garner as much support as Huffman using a fraction of the resources and maintain the respect of fellow Republicans many of whom will not support Huffman should he win the primary.

At this point, Mike has to be wondering about those he worked so hard to support over the years and what his loyalty has gotten him. From the Party, he got the shaft.


Art Jacobson said...

It seems to me that of all the Republican hopefuls in CD8 primary Mike Hellon has the best chance of retaing the seat for Republicans.

Wouldn't he appeal to right-leaning independents and centrist Republicans?

Help me out here.


The Committee said...

Mike Hellon certainly would have the better shot versus Huffman if he had the backing. Assuming the backing was there, he still has to overcome his late arrival to the border issue and Graf's "border hawk" status, which is tough for any candidate. He does appeal to centrists, but his stance on social issues pushes him back into the pack as far as the conservatives are concerned leaving only Graf as a viable conservative choice.

Again, provided Mike had the backing, he could overcome his lack of conservative support by appealing to moderates. Unfortunately, the overriding issue in this campaign is the border, and although it's an issue on everyone's minds, the conservatives own it. This is why Graf has been predicted to win the primary and why he has the crossover support necessary for the general. No other Republican is showing that they can unite disparate voters like Graf can on the border issue.