‘I believe that I’ll win,” says Rep. John Shadegg (R., Ariz.). “I’d like to believe that I’ll win solidly.”
But Shadegg cannot be — and is not — naïve about the difficulty he faces in his race for re-election this year against Democrat Bob Lord, a lecturer at a local real-estate college. Democrats are pouring money into the third Congressional District in Arizona, hoping to knock off the strong conservative leader whom Republicans convinced in February not to retire.
The influx of cash has been large and sudden — much like the floods that suddenly flash across the desert sands during Arizona’s summer rainy season. According to Congress Daily, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spent more money against Shadegg in the first 23 days of this month than they did against any other Republican in the country, and it is on pace to spend at least $2.6 million there by Election Day.
#ad#The effect has been obvious on the airwaves in Phoenix, which have nearly reached the saturation point with negative ads. “It has been no fun to watch television,” Shadegg says with a laugh. “Someone told me that, the other night, they managed to fit in a bit of news in between the ads against me.”
In any other year, this election would have been an easy one for the Republican. In 2004, Shadegg’s district gave 58 percent of its vote to George W. Bush. In 2006, he won with 59 percent, and in 2004, he had become the first Republican ever to run for a congressional seat in Arizona without a Democratic opponent.
Part of Shadegg’s problem this time around stems from Democratic success elsewhere. With ample resources and several contested seats already safely in their column, the DCCC is expanding its efforts increasingly into Republican districts. They have spent more than $1 million in at least 30 Republican-held districts, many of which stand an excellent chance of going Democratic on Tuesday.
Shadegg’s problem is also geographic. The DCCC already feels certain of victory in the two other contested Arizona congressional districts — the seat left open by retiring Rep. Rick Renzi (R., Ariz.) and the seat of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.). This has freed them up to move the money set aside for those races — an additional $500,000 to $800,000 — into the Shadegg-Lord race. The day that announcement was made, the DCCC had already spent $2.1 million to defeat Shadegg. The two sums come in addition to the $1.5 million that Lord has spent.
Win or lose, the Democrats have already made this race uncomfortably close. In two recent Research 2000 polls, Shadegg clings to a lead of about ten points.
One might expect that a Republican seat in the home state of the GOP’s presidential nominee would be exceptionally safe. But two polls published this week suggest that John McCain has only a single-digit lead in his own home state.
The Arizona Republican Party is going through dark days. After losing two congressional seats in 2006, they have been afflicted by Renzi’s indictment earlier this year on charges of wire fraud, money laundering, extortion, and insurance fraud. Odds are also strong that they will lose one or both houses of the state legislature this year.
The state party has also suffered from the prominence of the immigration issue. Far from energizing Arizona’s Republican Party, it has served as a wedge between business owners and immigration hawks. Business owners, who could normally be expected to help Republicans, are putting their money and efforts this year into Proposition 202. The measure would weaken a 2007 state law that punishes those found hiring illegal immigrants by revoking their business licenses. The GOP hierarchy, including state chairman Randy Pullens, sided with the immigration hawks earlier this month against Prop 202, but it is expected to pass by a wide margin.
With the party’s internecine war in full swing, one Republican official notes that “fundraising has dried up completely. At Republican district meetings a few years ago, you’d get 100 people attending, especially during a close election. Now you get six or eight people. There’s really no ground game for Republicans at all, and that’s really hurting Shadegg.”
Between his opponent and the DCCC, the message against Shadegg has been consistent, and consistently misleading. The theme is that “John Shadegg has changed,” and two DCCC ads in particular “change” his face into that of President Bush.
Some of the anti-Shadegg commercials attack him on ideological grounds, for opposing the expansion of a health-care entitlement program called SCHIP to middle-class children. Others accuse him of voting for congressional pay-raises, though he has voted for them only when they were rolled into larger packages. “Every time there has been a straight up-or-down vote on a pay raise, I have voted against it,” Shadegg says — something his record bears out.
#ad#Other anti-Shadegg ads claim that he voted against combat bonuses for the troops in Iraq. In fact, he voted against a 2005 provision that would have created such bonuses by cutting Iraqi reconstruction funding. He did so after consulting with Rep. Jim Marshall (D., Ga.), a Vietnam veteran, who compared the situation in Iraq to the one he faced in Vietnam. A cutoff of funds for Iraqi civilians, Marshall told Shadegg (and later said on the House floor), would make them less likely to come forward and help U.S. troops avoid ambushes and improvised explosive devices.
“We are discovering about 50 percent of [the IEDs] because people give us tips,” Marshall told the House. “The troops in Iraq told me repeatedly: money is ammo — and what they meant by that was not that they did not have enough bullets or shells. What they meant by that is: money enables them to do these reconstruction projects. These reconstruction projects build relationships and commitments with the Iraqis, lead to intelligence, lead to assistance, and ultimately lead to the commitment that we need from them if we are going to be successful here.” Voting for those combat bonuses, Shaddegg understood, would have meant that we’d have many more soldiers dying needlessly.
As the final days of negative ads fly, Shadegg remains confident of victory, a sentiment that nearly all campaigners express in the run-up to a close election. Even though his chances of success appear better than most of the targeted House Republicans, he warns conservatives against believing the hype — the message that Republicans have already lost before Election Day has even begun.
“The left-leaning media gets it,” Shadegg said. “They understand that if we convince Republicans from coast to coast and border-to-border that McCain has lost, then at the lowest level they choose not to vote, and at the highest level they choose not to volunteer.”
– David Freddoso is a staff reporter for National Review Online and author of The Case Against Barack Obama.