Pundits are scratching their heads trying to figure out why Republicans — and predominantly conservative Republicans at that — did well in Arizona this election. Everywhere else across the country, Republicans did poorly as voters turned out to vote for the charming Barack Obama.
Obviously, McCain being on the top of the ticket in Arizona was a huge asset, bringing out more Republicans to vote. Even so, there were tremendous odds stacked against Arizona’s Republican candidates. The state Democrat party registered far more new Democrats over the past couple of years than the state Republican Party and had considerably more money. Democrats outspent Republicans ranging from 5-1 all the way up to 20-1 in some races. The mainstream media was predicting losses for Republicans in the legislature, and possibly a Democrat takeover of the House.
Instead, Republicans gained seats in the House, and replaced moderate Republicans with more conservative Republicans. In the biggest countylevel races in the state, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and lesser known County Attorney Andrew Thomas easily won reelection by wide margins.
Republicans didn’t fare as well for the obscure Corporation Commission, but even Democrat talking heads admitted it was because the Democrats ran candidates with the familiar likable names “Paul Newman” and “Sandra Kennedy.” The Republican candidates who lost tended to be moderate or liberal Republicans, and Republicans had heard mixed messages from them. The sole Republican who looks like he will make it on the board is a solid conservative.
Republicans did poorly in a couple of congressional races. One was the seat in Northern Arizona held by Republican Rick Renzi, who had been indicted on corruption charges. There has always been a Democratic voter registration advantage in that district. The other two seats were held by well-known popular Democrat incumbents, and the Democrats outspent the Republicans in those races by millions of dollars. One race pitted a moderate Republican against a glamorous female Democrat incumbent, and the other pitted a conservative against an incumbent Democrat who had been mayor of Tempe in that district (Scottsdale-Tempe). The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outspent Republican candidate David Schweikert by a 10-1 margin.
So what helped Republicans in Arizona besides John McCain? On the ballot this year was an initiative declaring that marriage was between a man and a woman. Although gay marriage is already banned by statute in Arizona, Prop. 102 put it in the constitution, in order to make the ban more difficult for liberal judges to strike down. Proponents knew it would bring out more voters, and it did.
The immigration issue helped Arizona’s Republican candidates. Arizona has the highest rate of illegal immigration in the country, and the state is facing the biggest budget shortfall in history, $2 billion. Democrat Governor Napolitano has done little to stop the flow of illegal immigration, and is widely seen now as fleeing Arizona for an Obama cabinet position to avoid having to deal with the consequences of wasteful spending. Both Maricopa County and the City of Phoenix are also in dire fiscal straits, with the county laying off employees to scrape by. Sheriff Joe Arpaio has taken a lead combating illegal immigration along with Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and both were on the ballot this year. Considering both won reelection by wide margins, it’s likely that many voters showed up to vote for them, then voted straight GOP on the rest of the ticket.
There were nine initiatives on Arizona’s ballot this year, and most of the outcomes favored Republicans (“vote yes on the 100’s, no on the 200’s, and no on 300” was the Republican mantra, which prevailed). Businesses favoring illegal immigrant labor had put up a deceptively named initiative entitled “Stop Illegal Hiring” which purported to crack down on businesses hiring illegal immigrant labor, but really would weaken the state’s employer sanctions law. Its description on the ballot sounded tough. Yet it was soundly defeated, thanks to anti-illegal immigration activists who got the word out about this initiative, getting the Republican base to the polls.
Throughout the country, voters rejected McCain and the GOP because they were too closely associated with the overspending Bush administration. But in McCain’s home state, Republicans and conservatives did just fine running on principle.