Lord, Another Opening

Shadegg’s Departure Heartens Democrats

Posted February 12, 2008 at 5:48pm

Democrats already were feeling good about their chances of flipping Arizona’s suburban Phoenix 3rd district. Rep. John Shadegg’s (R) decision on Monday to retire has left them absolutely giddy — although as yet Republicans are hardly breaking a sweat.

Citing the 2006 victories in the 3rd district of the Democratic candidates for governor and state attorney general — as well as the defeat of one ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage and the approval of another to hike the minimum wage — Democrats argue that Shadegg’s Republican-leaning seat is trending left. They contend that his retirement will only make it easier for attorney Bob Lord (D) to win in November.

“Shadegg’s retirement shows the incredible momentum for change all across Arizona,” Lord said in a statement. “Having been campaigning for a year, I can tell you that voters in the 3rd District of Arizona are tired of the way Washington has ignored the critical priorities facing our nation.”

Republicans find the Democrats’ analysis of the district laughable.

President Bush won 58 percent of the district vote in 2004, and Sen. Jon Kyl (R) won the district by 17 points in 2006 amid the biggest national Democratic wave of Congressional victories in a generation.

An internal poll recently commissioned by Shadegg showed him beating Lord by 31 points and found the Republicans to have a 10-point generic ballot lead — 47 percent to 37 percent — according to a GOP source familiar with the the survey.

But perhaps most importantly, Republican strategists expect the GOP’s Arizona candidates to benefit from having Sen. John McCain at the top of the ticket as the Republican presidential nominee.

“Any Democrat attempting to make a run at this seat will have to overcome some significant obstacles,” said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “High Republican turnout is very likely being that this is a presidential election year and that the presumptive Republican nominee is from the state.”

Because the district has performed solidly for Republicans over the years, it appears that Shadegg’s decision to retire will not generate any significant primary challenger for Lord. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, described as the only high-profile Democrat who also is a good fit for the district, was re-elected to a second term last September and announced Tuesday that he would not run for the seat.

However, Shadegg’s retirement is likely to generate a crowded Republican primary — which is to be expected. Among the most talked about potential candidates is Sean Noble, Shadegg’s chief of staff. Noble has been with Shadegg since he first was elected in 1994, and he is described by Republicans as an able politician and well-suited for the district.

Noble, who is 37 years old and married with five children, said Tuesday he is seriously considering making a run at his boss’ seat.

“I know I’m the best candidate to take the seat,” he said. “It’s ultimately going to come down to a personal decision with my family.”

Some Republican insiders believe Noble has the inside track to securing the GOP nod, should he run. Meanwhile, Paradise Valley Mayor Ed Winkler (R), a 10-year veteran of the town council, announced his intention to run on Tuesday, according to The Arizona Republic.

Other Republicans discussed as potential candidates include state Treasurer Dean Martin and state Sens. Jim Waring, Pamela Gorman and Barbara Leff. Leff’s interest in the seat in particular is unknown, although she might be able to seed her campaign with personal funds should she run.

The 3rd district has approximately 50,000 more enrolled Republicans than it does registered Democrats. Shadegg won re-election in 2006 with 59 percent of the vote, even as his colleague in the neighboring GOP-leaning 5th district, then-Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R), narrowly was ousted by now-Rep. Harry Mitchell (D).

Before announcing Monday that he was retiring, Shadegg seemed well-positioned for an eighth term. He had raised more than $1 million toward his 2008 re-election, and he closed 2007 with about $864,000 in the bank.

These are among the several reasons Republicans do not appear to fear losing this seat.

But Democrats believe a closer examination of the 3rd district betrays Republican vulnerabilities that simply need to be exploited.

In finding Lord, a candidate who is campaigning hard and had more than $500,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31, Democrats believe they already have taken care of their biggest need. Shadegg’s opponent in the previous cycle, Herb Paine (D), spent a total of $96,976 on the race, compared with the Congressman’s $1.2 million.

Democrats also point to Mitchell’s 2006 victory in the 5th district as proof that a win is attainable this year in the 3rd district. Enrolled Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in the 5th district by roughly the same margin as they do in the 3rd district.

One Republican strategist based in the district argued that the Democratic analysis is faulty, contending that the 5th district towns of Tempe and Scottsdale are far less conservative than the 3rd district communities of Paradise Valley and North Phoenix.

But Democrats are further buoyed by Gov. Janet Napolitano’s (D) 60 percent showing in the district in her 2006 bid for re-election, not to mention state Attorney General Terry Goddard’s (D) 60 percent performance in his.

“The district is fiscally responsible and socially moderate, and is a great match for Bob Lord,” Arizona Democratic Party spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. “We’ve been confident for some time that we could pick up the 3rd.”

Another potential problem for the Republicans is money.

While the GOP nominee likely will be well-funded individually, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee could be significantly better-positioned than the NRCC to spend liberally in the relatively expensive Phoenix media market.

“There’s no way for the GOP to avoid a costly primary, and the Arizona state [Republican] Party is in financial disarray,” said a Democratic strategist based in Washington, D.C. — adding to what this individual believes is a host of problems facing the GOP in its bid to retain the seat.