Too Enticing a Target?

No Shortage of GOP Interest in Mitchell Seat

Posted April 1, 2009 at 6:07pm

Central Arizona’s 5th district offers some enticing statistics for any Republicans looking to challenge sophomore Rep. Harry Mitchell (D) in 2010.

For starters, there are nearly 38,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district, which has voted for the GOP candidate in the past three presidential elections.

But some Republicans worry that the district’s favorable profile might be a bit too enticing, creating a crowded Republican primary that will leave the eventual winner drained of resources and with little time to take aim at Mitchell before the November election.

That’s what happened in 2008, said former Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert, who won the party’s nomination after a hard-fought six-way contest in September of last year.

Schweikert, who lost by 9 points in the general election, has already filed to run again in 2010, and he said Tuesday that he hopes 5th district Republicans and national party leaders will avoid the mistakes of last year’s debilitating intraparty fight.

“If it is [a crowded primary in 2010] then we are all committing mutual suicide,— Schweikert said. “We spent $900,000 in the primary last time and if we had that in the general, truthfully, we would have won.—

Democrats are likely to disagree with that assessment, but Schweikert’s concerns don’t seem to be keeping other would-be GOP challengers on the sidelines at this early stage of the campaign.

Former state Rep. Susan Bitter Smith (R), who was Schweikert’s toughest rival in the 2008 race, was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday meeting with members of her 2008 campaign team as she looks toward another run.

Meanwhile, businessman Jim Ward (R) has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill and in Arizona political circles in recent weeks, and he said Tuesday that he is close to announcing his own bid.

Also rumored to be interested in seeking the Republican nomination is Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, who holds the job Mitchell once did.

Hallman acknowledged Wednesday that he’s been encouraged to run but “at the moment, I’m trying to be the best mayor I can be for the city of Tempe.—

Bitter Smith, whose back and forths with Schweikert got particularly negative during the 2008 primary, said that she is also interested in trying to sort out the Republican field ahead of the late August 2010 primary. She said the best way for Schweikert to help in that effort would be for him to step aside and give someone else a shot at Mitchell.

“I would hope someone who couldn’t beat Harry Mitchell last time wouldn’t run again,— Bitter Smith said.

But Schweikert — who also ran for Congress in 1994 and lost in the 5th district primary to J.D. Hayworth (R) — doesn’t seem to be going anywhere this cycle. (Hayworth went on to win the seat in 1994 and then lost to Mitchell in 2006.)

Schweikert has already met with officials at the National Republican Congressional Committee and said he is setting another $250,000 aside for his 2010 run. (He dropped a quarter million of his own money on his 2008 campaign.) He said Tuesday he’s also hoping to again earn the backing of the Club for Growth, the powerful anti-tax group that dropped significant funds into the previous cycle’s primary on his behalf.

Club spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said Wednesday that it’s too early to say whether the group will get behind Schweikert again.

“We thought he was great,— in 2008, Soloveichik said. “We’re just going to have to look at the dynamics of the race this time. No two races are the same.—

The likely entrance of Ward into the primary certainly adds an interesting new component to the 2010 election.

Ward is a former president of LucasArts, a leading video game publisher and developer that was founded by famed “Star Wars— director George Lucas. After leaving the San Francisco-based company last year, Ward joined a venture capital firm and moved to Arizona.

Ward went to graduate school in Arizona in the early 1980s and his wife’s family hails from the Grand Canyon State, but Schweikert dismissed Ward as a carpetbagger.

“I have things in my refrigerator that have been in the district longer than Mr. Ward,— Schweikert said.

In an interview this week, Ward stressed his business background and the fact that he’s not “a career politician.—

Ward has met with the NRCC and has hired Sean Noble, a former chief of staff to Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), to serve as his campaign consultant.

According to one Arizona Republican insider, Ward has been making the rounds and talking to the right people. However, if the Club for Growth decides to play heavily in the race, “that makes it difficult for anyone else to break through just because they have so many resources they can bring to bear on the campaign.—

Even with all the early talk about the GOP primary, there is little doubt Mitchell will have the necessary resources to fight whoever emerges to face him in the general election.

Mitchell spent $2.3 million on his re-election campaign last cycle and was also the beneficiary of around $1.3 million in independent expenditures from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Mitchell was so popular during his years as mayor of Tempe that a statue of him currently stands in front of the city hall.

DCCC officials said Wednesday that they are pleased with Mitchell’s work so far to secure a third term in 2010.

“Congressman Mitchell’s focus is serving his constituents in Arizona,— DCCC spokesman Andy Stone said. “As a moderate, independent voice for his district, Congressman Mitchell is working hard to improve the economy, making sure it’s done in a fiscally responsible way.—