Open House seats draw hopefuls – and millions in funds – before primary

The intense competition for two open House seats in Arizona this fall has already brought in millions in campaign donations ahead of Tuesday’s primary. (Photo by 401(K)2012/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Republican congressional hopefuls in Arizona’s 1st District have raised more than $3.3 million ahead of Tuesday’s primary, already surpassing the $2.4 million that GOP candidates in the district raised for all of 2014.

Analysts attribute the relatively high funding to the large number of Republicans – seven candidates at one point – scrambling to recoup a seat in a competitive district that is being vacated by the Democratic incumbent.

The heavy spending can be seen in the state’s only other vacant House seat this fall, the 5th District where five Republicans have raised approximately $2.8 million for the primary in hopes of succeeding Rep. Matt Salmon, who is retiring.

“When there is no incumbent, more people come to the race,” said Barbara Norrander, a University of Arizona political science professor, who said the unpredictability of a campaign for an open seat tends to bring in more money.

The two open seats are not the most-expensive House races in the state this year. That title goes to freshman Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, who had raised more than $5.5 million to defend her 2nd District seat, according to her most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. Second-term Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, was next, with $3.3 million on donations for her 9th District bid.

On the other end of the spectrum, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, raised about $288,000 as of Aug. 10, according to his FEC filing.

Arizona Primary Election Funding
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The 1st District covers most of eastern Arizona, stretching from Flagstaff to Oro Valley. It is currently held by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, but has traditionally been a Republican seat, with seven Republicans and three Democrats representing the district since 1949.

The seven Republicans vying for the seat this year are: Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu; Sen. Carlyle Begay, R-Ganado; House Speaker David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista; retired Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers; former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett; and businessmen Gary Kiehne and Shawn Redd.

Together, they reported raising $3,350,393 as of Aug. 10, the most recent date for FEC filings. Two have already dropped out: Begay in June and Gowan on Aug. 11, after his campaign was hit with reports of misuse of a state-owned vehicle.

Rogers said the crowded field is not surprising in the district, which she said is considered one of the best opportunities nationwide for Republicans to pick up a seat. She also said the level of fundraising is not surprising.

“It is important to understand that when you have as far as a reach as the various parts of this district comprise, you have to raise money to get your message out,” she said.

While the district has 146,906 registered Democratic voters to 121,529 Republicans, it’s gone for the Republican candidate in every presidential election since 2000. Babeu said this is one of the reasons there has been an influx of money funneled into this primary.

“There is a slight Democrat registration advantage, but it (the district) votes slightly more Republican with presidents,” Babeu said. “It’s a top target, nationally, for Republicans to win and Democrats want to hold it.”

Four Democrats have filed to succeed Kirkpatrick. Tom O’Halleran had raised the most, reporting that he brought in $854,684 as of Aug. 10 and had $471,821 in cash on hand.

Political consultant Jason Rose said the increase in congressional funding could be the result of top Republican donors’ uncertainty about regaining the White House in November with GOP nominee Donald Trump. Donors are more likely to invest in down-ticket races that could allow them to keep control of Congress, he said.

While a recent CNN/ORP poll showed Trump with a 5 percentage point lead in Arizona over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Rose noted that Republican presidential nominees George W. Bush and Mitt Romney won Arizona with “double the margins.”

“Not having a stronger GOP pull could be a consequence for a 1st District GOP casualty with Trump, versus a candidate like (Florida Sen. Marco) Rubio or even (Texas Sen. Ted) Cruz,” he said.