Jun 12, 2012
AZ-08 Special Election Win & What it Means for November
Democrat Ron Barber’s win in Arizona’s Eighth Congressional District holds important lessons:
- This election was a referendum on Republicans’ policy of cutting Medicare and privatizing Social Security to give tax breaks millionaires, Big Oil, and corporations that ship jobs overseas – and they lost. Stock ads from their 2010 playbook did not work;
- Republicans outspent Democrats, but Democrats out communicated Republicans;
- Campaign fundamentals matter;
- Every incumbent Republican shares Jesse Kelly’s vulnerabilities on Medicare, Social Security and tax breaks for millionaires, and 84 of them are in districts more Democratic than AZ-08. We can (and did) win a Republican-leaning district like AZ-08, but the battleground in November is in much more Democratic-friendly territory; and,
- Democrats now stand well positioned to pick-up two additional seats in Arizona.
AZ-08 Special Election Previews the 2012 Message Fight
Republican Jesse Kelly’s positions are similar to a vast majority of Republicans in tough races this year. Kelly supports ending Medicare and privatizing Social Security, and his positions echo the extremism of the Tea Party.
The paid advertising campaign in AZ-08 is a preview of the 2012 message battle between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats ran on the Republican candidate’s plan to end Medicare and privatize Social Security. In response, Republicans rehashed 2010 messaging with misleading attacks on Obamacare, gas prices, and national Democrats.
Republicans’ stock ads from last cycle were unable to overcome Republicans biggest liability: when the election is framed as a choice between Democrats who will protect the middle class and seniors or Republicans who will protect big corporations and millionaires – Democrats win.
This reflects polling that Geoff Garin of Garin, Hart, Yang Research did in 58 of the most competitive congressional districts in April and May 2012. Garin found:
“Democrats have a significant advantage over Republicans when it comes to ‘looking out for the interests and concerns of the middle class.’
- “Half (49%) of all voters give the edge to Democrats when it comes to looking out for the middle class, whereas just one-third (33%) says Republicans would be better.
- “Independent voters trust Democrats over Republicans to look out for the middle class by a 19-point margin (37% to 18%).
“On Social Security and Medicare, by 48% to 40% voters agree more with Democrats that the priority should be to protect guaranteed benefits for seniors, now and in the future, than with the Republican statement that we need to modernize entitlement programs and give consumers more choices to ensure the long-term survival of Social Security and Medicare and balance the budget. Seniors (who are even in the Congressional vote) prefer the Democratic position by a 26-point margin.”
Don’t buy the Republican spin that this race was solely about Gabby Giffords. As the Los Angeles Times reported, “[David] Wasserman [editor of the Cook Political Report] said he believed the election will focus on politics, not personal relationships. ‘We reached a point many months ago that this election is being driven by national issues.’” More than half the votes cast in the Arizona Special Election were cast before Gabby’s campaign appearances this weekend.
As the Rothenberg Political Report said at the beginning of this campaign, “For Democrats, the race involves slamming Republicans for supporting Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget (including proposed reforms to Medicare) -- a message that helped them win an upset special election over a year ago in New York’s 26th District, and that they hope will resonate in this senior-heavy district.”
As the Washington Post reported yesterday, “Instead, the race centered on Barber’s connections to the national Democratic Party and Kelly’s past statements about overhauling the nation’s entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare…A Barber win would be the result in large part of Democratic efforts to define Kelly early on as being against Medicare and Social Security in the 11th-oldest district in the country.”
This fall, Republicans will try to re-run their 2010 campaign message, but repeating their 2010 playbook will not work with independents and seniors in 2012. When Democrats make the election a referendum on Republican’s policy of cutting Medicare and Social Security to give tax breaks millionaires, Big Oil, and corporations that ship jobs overseas as well as Republicans rehashed 2010 attacks – Democrats win.
Republican Groups Outspent Democratic Groups by $500,000
We've been saying all cycle that Republican outside groups will outspend Democrats this cycle, but with strategic planning and stronger and messaging we will have the resources we need to win. AZ-08 proved that.
Strategic planning and an emphasis on candidate fundraising meant that while Republicans outspent Democrats, Democrats out communicated Republicans.
On the candidate side, Ron Barber outspent Jesse Kelly. Candidates pay the lowest unit rate so Republican groups had to spend $3 to match ever $1 Ron Barber spent. Democratic outside groups bought TV earlier saving money (the cost per point doubled in week 1), and Democrats ran superior ads. The result is that Republican groups spent $500,000 more than Democrats, but Democrats had more points on TV.
Republican Group Spending – $1.4 million
AZ GOP Party $126,000
Citizens United VF $100,000
American Action Network $86,400
Democratic Group Spending – $922,000
House Majority PAC $462,000
Democrats’ winning message on Medicare and Social Security, the air cover from Democratic outside groups, and Ron Barber having the resources to communicate his own message is a winning formula for 2012. The good news for House Democrats is that nearly every Republican in a competitive race is on the record on Medicare, Democratic outside groups are playing and helping win elections, and our candidates will be well funded – last quarter 70 percent of Red to Blue candidates outraised their Republican opponents.
Fundamentals of Campaigns Matter
House Republicans learned the wrong lesson in 2010: the NRCC outsourced its elections to well funded outside groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads and are doing the same again this cycle. In the AZ-08 Special Election, the DCCC focused on getting the best candidate and helping him run a strong campaign.
It matters that the Democrats’ message on the middle class, Medicare, and Social Security outperforms the Republicans’ same old tired message on Obamacare and national Democrats. It matters that the DCCC is outraising the NRCC – which is unprecedented for the minority party – and that 70 percent of Red to Blue candidates are outraising their Republican opponents. It matters that Democrats are building strong campaigns across the country. And, it matters that Democrats are able to successfully mobilize voters.
The state of the art targeting and field operations used in AZ-08 will be executed in more than 60 districts this fall. In this brief campaign, there were 5,186 volunteer shifts filled; 303,937 persuasion and get-out-the-vote calls made; and 120,714 doors knocked.
Democrats took Ron Barber’s message of protecting Medicare and Social Security and strengthening the middle class directly to Democratic and independent voters and won the election before a ballot was cast at polls on Tuesday. Prior to Election Day in AZ-08, 56 percent of voters we targeted had already voted, and 41 percent of Democrats had voted while only 39 percent of Republicans and voted.
AZ-08 is More Republican Than the 2012 Battleground
AZ-08 is a Republican-leaning district with a 7-point Republican voter registration advantage.
In 2004, President Bush won the district with 54 percent of the vote. In 2008, Senator McCain won the district with 53 percent of the vote. And, in 2010, Governor Brewer won the district with 55 percent of the vote. Also, in 2010, despite her popularity and independent-minded profile, Gabby Giffords was narrowly reelected with 49 percent of the vote.
Independent analysts at the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report rightly had this race ranked as a toss-up throughout the campaign.
There are 84 Republican incumbents in districts that are more Democratic than AZ-08.
Republicans’ loss in AZ-08 spells trouble for Republicans throughout Arizona. Republicans will not be able to regain Barber’s seat and are going to have an extremely difficult time holding AZ-01 (open) and winning AZ-09 (new).
AZ-01 (open) is four points more Democratic than AZ-08 and the Hispanic voting age population is 18 percent. The district is so challenging that Congressman Paul Gosar fled the district to run in a primary in safe Republican seat and the NRCC has recruited mediocre candidates. Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick is running an excellent campaign.
AZ-02 (Barber) is more Democratic than the district he won in the Special Election. Jesse Kelly doesn’t offer anything new to voters who have rejected him two times in a more conservative district.
AZ-09 (new) is a 50 percent Democratic performing district where the NRCC had another recruiting failure. Mediocre Republican candidates will face off against a strong Democrat with the resources they need to win.
The Bottom Line
The 2012 election is about who you are for: big corporations, Big Oil, and millionaires or the middle class and seniors.
The 84 Republican incumbents in seats more Democratic than AZ-08 should be extremely worried. These Republicans are part of a broken system in Washington that is high jacking progress on the economy, protecting perks for Members of Congress, and looking out for millionaires, Big Oil, and corporations that ship jobs overseas instead of the middle class. That’s a losing message for November.