Tuesday’s primary election results (August 24, 2010) in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, while not official yet, demonstrated what many have felt for the better part of a year, the republicans are fired up. Unofficially, over 80,000 republicans cast ballots in the primary election, far in excess of the 64,076 ballots cast in 2006, the most recent contested primary, and eclipsing the 52,671 ballots cast last election cycle in 2008. Their selection of Jesse Kelly, a strong conservative republican with weighty support from the local tea party movement, suggests it was conservative republicans who were strongly motivated to get out and vote this cycle.
In comparison, democrat turnout was flat. Unofficially, about 50,000 democrats turned out to support their candidate, Gabrielle Giffords, who has been under fire for her support of President Obama’s spending deficits, universal healthcare and her lack of action on illegal immigration. Turnout for the democrats is only slightly up from the previous cycle, in 2008, where only 46,223 ballots were cast and down from the 2006 election cycle, in which she won her initial primary battle, where 61,409 votes were cast.
The primary turnout across the state was up dramatically for republican voters. Over 500,000 republican ballots were cast statewide versus the 360,894 cast in 2008 and the 333,604 cast in 2006, the most recent similar election cycle. For the democrats things weren’t as rosy. About 250,000 votes were cast statewide. Again these numbers were flat compared to 2008 where 274,698 votes were cast and in 2006 where 246,876 votes were cast. All signs indicate this was not just a local phenomenon.
Kelly, who ran a very energetic primary campaign, has vowed to hold Giffords accountable for her record, something the voters in the 8th District seem to be eager to do as well. In fact, nearly 1000 write in votes were cast against Giffords in her unopposed primary election, an early indication that even the democrats in the district are not happy with her votes in Washington.
The 8th District has more registered republican voters than democrats; however, Giffords has been able to maintain her seat by raising substantial amounts of money, by positioning herself as a “Blue Dog” democrat and by remaining fairly low key throughout her term in office. This cycle however, all bets are off. Yes, she still maintains a tremendous war chest, but she is no longer the “Blue Dog” because of her votes in Congress (some are calling her a “Red Dog”) and she won’t be able to duck the criticism for her poor performance over the past two years. Jesse Kelly and the republicans are on a rampage.
Giffords ran puff piece ads in 2008 because she knew she could coast to an easy victory. This cycle look for Giffords to attack Kelly on his lack of experience either directly or indirectly. Yes I said attack. She is behind. She can’t attack Kelly for being true blue “Red, White and Blue” and upholding the values and ideologies written into the Constitution. She can’t attack him on any positions he’s taken during the Primary Election, not without drawing attention to her votes for spending, healthcare and her utter lack of effort on the illegal immigration issue. She has tied herself to the likes of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. She votes like she doesn’t have her own brain or any sense of what the 8th District wants or cares about. She has not represented the people in the 8th District, who are largely conservative whether they are Democrats, Republicans or Independents. She is in trouble and she knows it.
Kelly has the upper hand. Even if she tries to make an issue of his experience, it won’t stick. The primary voters made that clear when they selected him as their nominee. He ran against a formidable opponent, Jonathan Paton, who had legislative experience as a State Senator, and Kelly won by a sizeable margin. Kelly is energetic and he energizes voters. He has an expansive volunteer base of eager supporters and he is a relentless campaigner. He has developed into a good public speaker and he is spot on in debates. Giffords has her work cut out for her if she actually shows up to debate him.
One final point, Giffords has long touted her connection with the military, a point she’s tried to sell to the voters, because of the two major military bases in the district, but she’s only married to a military officer. She was never in the military and never really had any credibility on this issue. Now she will look foolish if she even tries to bring it up because she’ll be facing a Marine combat veteran. Yeah, Jesse was actually “in” the military, did push-ups, slept in the dirt and all that stuff.
Giffords is in trouble this cycle. Most of the indicators point to her defeat. I’m guessing the final result will be somewhere in the neighborhood of Kelly 52% Giffords 48%. Yes that’s about 4 points and this is Giffords’ last stand.