Saturday, June 03, 2006

Conventional Wisdom

In looking at the national election sites, it appears that the conventional wisdom is that the Arizona Eighth District is a toss-up or leans GOP unless Randy Graf wins the primaries, then the seat dramatically favors the Democrats. The only basis I can see for this reasoning is the ill-advised quotes that have been given by Jim Kolbe.

For all of the service given by Kolbe, his attacks on Graf have been classless and make him look bitter and defeated on his way out. Sure, Kolbe had a hard fought primary with Graf, but that was when Kolbe was a candidate. Does anyone think that if a rematch were held this year that Graf wouldn't have gained ground or even overtaken Kolbe based on the current political climate? Kolbe's words and actions make it appear that he has considered it.

Now as to the actual conventional wisdom, here are the points that should be considered:

1. This is an open seat. This fact alone makes it competitive compared to most other House races. Incumbent retention in the house is somewhere above 95%. Just about all of the "battleground" races need to be open seats. This also explains the sheer number of candidates that are running from both parties. An open house seat in your district may be a once in a lifetime shot.

2. George Bush only got 53% of the vote in 2004, while Kolbe was closer to 60%. This has been used to show that District 8 prefers a moderate like Kolbe. What it really shows is that a Conservative candidate needs to hold on to those who voted for Bush last year. This district was still more pro-Bush than the nation as a whole. Bush won by sprinting to the right, not to the center. It can be argued that GOP voters will not turn out like they did last election for Bush, but the same logic applies for those who showed up to vote against Bush now that he is no longer on the ballot. The names of Randy Graf and Steve Huffman do not conjure up such a nice boogeyman as George Bush. Midterm elections almost always have low turnout compared to Presidential years. This year will be no different.

3. The Arizona Eighth District solidly backed Proposition 200. Support for this measure outstripped support for President Bush during the 2004 election. If anything, the underlying current that led to this result has grown in the past two years. This is what is so puzzling about the "extremist" charge often leveled at Randy Graf. He was one of the major backers of the Bill that was and continues to be a great success (ask the Governor if the people didn't really care to see it implemented). The reality of it is that if you cannot show support for enforcing immigration law at least at the level of proposition 200, you will not be able to compete, especially in the GOP Primary. This is not a question that a candidate will be able to duck by giving platitudes either ("Of course I am for enforcing the border, but this need to be a part of a comprehensive plan") The voters will demand specifics dealing with enforcement and each candidate better have them. If the other candidates want to compete, they had better be getting some lessons in "extremism" for themselves.

4. Fundraising is always key. Obviously, fundraising will play a huge factor. However, with the amount of candidates running in each primary, the total amount raised could be less important depending upon a number of factors.

Name recognition- A large part of a candidate's funds will be spent just trying to let the electorate know that they exist. This is what makes the Patty Weis entrance such a good move for her. She has name recognition that couldn't be bought for several hundred thousand dollars. The fact that Randy Graf is so often brought up by his competitors is a net overall plus as well. Even if a candidate is giving an unfavorable view of Graf's policies, Graf becomes just that more well known to the electorate.

How the Money is spent- It is important not to spend your money too soon before people are paying attention. It can be costly, however to wait too long to get your message out as well. As most of the candidates are running for so large an office for the first time, many will make mistakes when it comes to spending.

Grassroots- Money cannot really buy grassroots support. These are the true believers that will do most of the actual work of a campaign. You can hire people to man phone banks, but it just isn't the same as having someone who is truly sold on the candidate walking door to door and speaking to their friends and families. The large primaries will break up some of the unified support that often goes to a party favorite in a lightly contested election. A die-hard supporter of Mike Hellon is probably unlikely to become a die-hard supporter of Steve Huffman the day after the primaries. He may vote for Huffman, but the level of support will not be the same. Therefore a candidate must connect at the grassroots and not simply depend upon buying Media time.

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