Expect a Nasty Arizona Member-Vs.-Member Battle

Posted March 21, 2012 at 6:34pm

When an Arizona Republican consultant was recently asked whether he was backing a candidate in the state’s banner Member-vs.-Member race between Republican Reps. Ben Quayle and David Schweikert, the operative simply said, “We’re not. Thank God.”

That is because those who know Arizona politics well are prognosticating a nasty, costly race between two up-and-coming freshman Members.

And just as House Republicans are trying to move on from the bloody battle between Illinois Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Don Manzullo, this 6th district race is just getting started.

There’s a familiar story line building, too.

“Like most races in Arizona, it’s establishment versus grass-roots,” said Maricopa County GOP Chairman Rob Haney. Quayle, as a political dynasty, is considered the more establishment candidate, while Schweikert is more grass-roots.

The two men are rising stars in Arizona and in the national party. The winner of the August primary will be a potential frontrunner to run for governor or for Senate if John McCain (R) retires in 2016.

The two men just barely missed being drawn into the same district when the Arizona map was released last fall. Quayle lives in the 9th district, just five houses away from the 6th.

The Schweikert camp has made great hay of that fact, calling Quayle a “carpetbagger” even though Schweikert, too, was drawn out of the district until modifications were made to the map.

Both men currently represent territory in the redrawn district, which is a safe Republican seat. About two-thirds are native to Quayle’s current district, and Schweikert currently represents about one-third of the 6th district.

Estimates on the cost of the primary range from a base of $1 million to as much as $2 million. Both candidates’ camps express confidence that money will not be an issue.

Sources in both camps also declare a desire to run positive, “issues-based” campaigns. But outside Republicans are doubtful that is how the race will actually play out.

Because the two men share similar voting records, the differences highlighted will be about style, personality and character.

The Quayle campaign is already describing him as the “leader,” while Schweikert’s campaign talks about his support from “the base.”

The Club for Growth entered the fray Wednesday. The group’s president, Chris Chocola, weighed in without drawing a definitive line in the sand. He wrote a letter to House GOP leaders demanding that they remain neutral in the primary. He then threatened to unleash the fundraising fury of his group should they back Quayle over Schweikert.

Arizona political strategists seem to have very strong mixed feelings about Quayle: They either really like him or cannot stand him.

Most of that sentiment dates back to his first race in 2010. He managed to beat out nine other Republicans in a rough primary, and there is a lasting bitterness that he won the race based on the power of his last name.

A source close to Schweikert described Quayle’s crowded 2010 primary as chaotic and said this year will be very different.

Specifically, the source cited how underfunded Quayle’s previous opponents were and how disorganized the race was without a frontrunner to target.

The residual anger among those who lost that race and their backers runs the spectrum. Some are still furious, but others have moved on.

“I actually kind of like him, particularly since he called Obama the worst president ever,” said a Washington, D.C.-based Republican fundraiser who backed one of Quayle’s 2010 opponents.

Opinions are mixed on whether Quayle’s father, former Vice President Dan Quayle, helps him or hurts him more in this race.

In 2010 the elder Quayle was able to twist arms on the fundraising front, and the younger Quayle had near instantaneous name identification in the 10-
person primary race.

But it also allowed Ben Quayle to be painted as a son of privilege.

Those in Quayle’s camp see his father’s influence as an asset.

“Ben has spent his life around politics, and so Ben is plugged into a network out there of people that goes across the country, and his dad is part of that network and helpful in reaching other parts of it. It’s one of the advantages Ben has,” Quayle spokesman Jay Heiler said.

“When the public got to know Ben, they saw an extremely talented conservative leader. Are there people around who resent that success? Yeah,” Heiler added. “That doesn’t mean it came from any place but his performance. People in this business always resent other people’s advantages, but that’s life.”

Schweikert, who defeated a Democratic incumbent last cycle, has built up a reputation as an anti-establishment Republican. But several neutral GOP strategists described him as personally “awkward” and “strange.”

State Republicans say on a gut-level, they feel as if Schweikert has the energy and the edge in the race, but there is an eternity to go before the Aug. 28 primary.

Overall, state strategists are not expressing deep concern about this intraparty contest creating a deep rift in the local and state party.

When the same Republican operative who expressed relief he was not involved in the race was asked whether he feared that the heavy fundraising and expected mud-slinging would hurt the party as a whole, he simply said, “I am not worried about that at all.”