Saturday, November 5, 2016

Is CD2 a 'squandered opportunity'

Or is it within Democratic reach?

Those are the questions raised by the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) in Is Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District within Democratic reach? The answer will be determined in only three days. But there is no unanimity among political observers on what the answer will be and why.

First off, the numbers, at least those available to us common folk, do look good for challenger Dr. Matt Heinz.

Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District was supposed to be a lost cause for Democrats.

The party had a thin bench in the district to begin with, and operatives had a rough time recruiting candidates to run against U.S. Rep. Martha McSally.

Months before former legislator Matt Heinz emerged as the winner of the Democratic primary in August, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had essentially decided the race wasn’t worth its efforts. And while Heinz has done a decent job of raising money – he has collected $1.4 million, so far – McSally’s fundraising prowess dwarfed his and everyone else’s. As of the last report, McSally has taken in more than $7 million, with about $1.3 million left in the bank – and that was three weeks before Election Day.

And yet Democrats are performing strongly in CD2, where they’re edging Republicans in early ballot returns.

Statewide, Republicans have caught up in the early ballot numbers and are now leading Democrats, but in the district once represented by Gabby Giffords, her party’s edge stood at five points a few days ago.

That translated to roughly 8,700 votes in a district won by McSally by only 161 votes in 2014. In 2012, former congressman Ron Barber defeated McSally by fewer than 2,500 votes.

In fact, Democrats are performing better in CD2 than in Arizona’s 9th Congressional District, where Democrat U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is also considered safe.

On November 2, Heinz’s campaign claimed he has a “clear advantage” over McSally, noting his party’s solid performance in early returns and the close races in 2012 and 2014.

Heinz also speculated that Donald Trump’s unpopularity in Arizona is what’s turning the tide against McSally, whom he had repeatedly connected to the GOP presidential nominee. McSally has dodged the Trump question throughout the campaign.

“With Donald Trump on the ballot, Democrats are voting at unprecedented levels,” said Heinz campaign manager Nichole Johnson. “We should always expect this district to come down to the wire, but things aren’t looking good for the Trump-McSally ticket.”

But Republican sources point to the lack of support by national Democratic organizations like DCCC as one reason why CD2 may not be flippable.

Lobbyist Jonathan Paton, who ran and lost the in the GOP primary in the old 8th Congressional District (now reconstituted as CD2), said the best clue to whether CD2 is competitive is what national Democrats are up to. “What’s D-trip doing?” he said, referring to DCCC. “That’s my answer. Unlike you and me, they actually know. We’re just opining. They’ve done polling. They’ve done all this matrices. If they thought they had a chance, they would be parachuting loads of money into that district.”

One Republican source, who has intimate knowledge of the district, agrees that McSally will win re-election, but said Democrats squandered their opportunity to unseat her.

“It’s definitely not a safe anything district. It has never performed as a safe district for anybody, certainly not for Republicans,” the source said.

The source said McSally likely will win only by a few percentage points. That’s because CD2 is split down the middle, and, unlike in the days of former Congressman Jim Kolbe, when up to 30 percent could be persuaded to change their minds, only 2 percent to 3 percent of voters are now persuadable. That is based on the very small number of ticket splitters, meaning those who voted for McSally and Obama in 2014, and Barber and Mitt Romney in 2012.

National Democrats’ nonchalance in CD2 is “miraculous, given McSally won by less than 200 votes in 2014,” the source said.

UPDATE/FACT-CHECK: Scriber looked into this by doing a search on the FEC web site for filings under “Heinz” and “Arizona”. As of October 19, the Heinz campaign received $1,118,598 from individuals, $266,951 from “other committees” (mainly medically-related independent expenditure committees), and $30,241 from the candidate. And about those “party committee contributions”? A big fat zero.

Scriber sides with the Republican sources on this one. It appears to me that the DCCC (and maybe other Dem party committees also) wrote off Arizona’s CD2 in spite of the demographics favoring the Democratic challenger. If Heinz loses this one (by “only a few percentage points”) it will be because his own party did not grant him financial support. Sad.

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