DCCC Bolsters Mitchell

Posted October 15, 2008 at 6:43pm

Looking far and wide for an upset of their own, some Republicans are fixating on freshman Rep. Harry Mitchell (Ariz.), who this cycle has seen more money from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee flood into his district than any other incumbent.

The DCCC had spent $1.21 million as of Monday in defense of Mitchell in the Phoenix-area 5th district, a majority Republican seat that has never appeared in danger of flipping to challenger David Schweikert (R), the former Maricopa County treasurer. Democrats argue that the DCCC has spent the money as a precaution, but some Republicans, though not predicting an upset, believe there is reason to hopeful.

“This is a conservative district and Harry Mitchell has a liberal record, and that is not a recipe for re-election,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

As of Monday’s Federal Election Commission filings, the DCCC spending on Mitchell’s behalf is exceeded in only four races. Three of those four districts are open seats; one is held by a Republican running for re-election.

Among Democratic incumbents, only two have seen an infusion of DCCC money similar to Mitchell’s: Reps. Paul Kanjorski (Pa.) and Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), both of whom are considered vulnerable.

Despite a Republican voter-enrollment advantage that now stands at 11 points and hometown Sen. John McCain’s presence at the top of the ticket, Democratic insiders argue that the DCCC money in Arizona’s 5th district was spent more in an offensive manner than to play defense. These insiders say the committee moved early to define Schweikert and influence the estimated 60 percent of 5th district voters who vote in advance of Election Day.

According to one Democratic strategist, the DCCC is confident enough in Mitchell’s re-election that it has scaled back its reserved media buy for the final week of the campaign. The Mitchell campaign, though declining to gloat, sounded clearly like a team that expects to win on Nov. 4.

“We feel very good about where we are, but we’re not taking anything for granted,” Mitchell campaign spokesman Seth Scott said.

Given that it costs about $300,000 a week to effectively advertise on Phoenix broadcast television, the NRCC can hardly afford to spend significant funds — if any — on this race, having reported $40 million less in cash on hand at the end of August than the DCCC. The third-quarter fundraising reports were unavailable at press time, but Mitchell was expected to be in better shape than Schweikert.

Still, some GOP operatives contend that Mitchell is weaker politically than he should be, particularly considering his advantages. Not only does he hold a significant fundraising edge, but Schweikert emerged as the GOP nominee late — Sept. 2 — after a crowded and muddy primary contest.

Additionally, the political environment has not been any friendlier to Arizona Republicans than to Republicans in other states, especially since the economy crashed and Congress spent two weeks debating a rescue package for the financial markets. Rep. John Shadegg (R), running for re- election in the solidly conservative and neighboring 3rd district, is in jeopardy of being ousted after previously being thought safe.

The Schweikert campaign acknowledges that the odds are stacked against a victory. But the Republican’s team feels it is well-positioned to surprise the prognosticators on Election Day.

“We’re confident we can pull this out,” Schweikert campaign spokesman J.P. Twist said.

Mitchell is not the typical Democratic freshman running in a Republican district that flipped as part of the Democratic wave in 2006.

The former Tempe mayor and ex-state Senator has a long history in the district and remains popular. Mitchell has spent much of his first term working on high-profile issues that have bipartisan appeal — caring for military veterans among them.

And since 2006, Democrats have knocked five and a half points off the Republicans’ voter-registration advantage in the 5th district. Of the voters who have registered since the last election, 46 percent are Democrats, with independents gaining as well. Only 14 percent of new voters in the last two years have opted for the GOP.

“Right now the race still leans for Mitchell, and with the continued and sustained damage to Schweikert, I just can’t see how he can win,” said one Arizona Republican insider familiar with the race. “Schweikert was dark during early voting, and the DCCC was hammering him hard.”

This insider and other Republican operatives familiar with this race speculate that the DCCC’s strong defense of Mitchell could be related to a re-elect number that is possibly hovering somewhere below 50 percent.

The Schweikert campaign believes it can pin Mitchell down on his votes on energy and taxes, as well as his connection to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), a fellow Democrat.

Twist, Schweikert’s campaign spokesman, called Mitchell a “flip-flopper” who plays to the Republican base at home and votes with the Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Twist said the kind of business-minded Republicans who live in the 5th district are attracted to Schweikert’s financial background, noting that as Maricopa County treasurer the Republican challenger did not invest the county’s money in risky mortgage-backed securities.

The Democrats disagree, charging that Schweikert’s background and performance as treasurer is a liability.

“As a county treasurer, Schweikert was cited by an internal audit for mismanagement and incompetence,” DCCC spokesman Yoni Cohen said. “Arizonans simply can’t afford to send David Schweikert to Congress.”