Jon Hulburd’s biggest disadvantage so far is that he’s a pro-choice Democrat running for a congressional seat in a heavily Republican district. Ben Quayle’s most significant challenge will be to convince voters from his own party that his moral compass is working properly.
Both candidates in Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District are trying to appeal to fiscally conservative voters by supporting tax cuts and smaller government, and they both support the immigration law created by SB1070. But they have parted ways on some social issues, and both are claiming the other is unqualified to represent the district because of deficient political or personal values.
Hulburd, a 50-year-old attorney and business owner, began running an ad on a Christian radio station early this month that attacks Quayle for his connection to a risqué website now called TheDirty.com. A woman’s voice in Hulburd’s ad says the website “promotes drugs and prostitution, is filled with meanness and foul language, humiliates women and even mocks people with Down syndrome.”
At the same time, Hulburd has billed himself as a family man who supports tougher border security, extending the Bush tax cuts and lowering the corporate income tax rate.
“I do think that there are a lot of people like me that are — to be stereotypical — socially liberal, so to speak, and kind of fiscally conservative,” Hulburd said.
Quayle’s campaign responded by attacking Hulburd’s pro-choice stance on abortion and by portraying him as a liberal who is hiding his support for the unpopular policies of President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Hulburd opposes repealing Obama’s landmark health care bill, supports the concept of cap-and-trade legislation for carbon emissions, and has accepted campaign contributions from the Service Employees International Union, which advocated a boycott against the state’s new illegal immigration law.
Those positions, Quayle said, won’t earn him many votes in the 3rd District, where Republican voters outnumber Democratic voters by about 50,000.
“I think the voters will be able to see through this veil of being a moderate,” Quayle said. “It is a veil. He took double-max contributions from Nancy Pelosi. His first vote in the House will be for Nancy Pelosi if he were to win. If you just start digging down and peeling back the onion, I think that people are going to see that this is a Democrat who will vote lockstep with the Democrats in charge.”
Quayle, the 33-year-old son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, is considered the front-runner because of the GOP’s heavy voter registration advantage and his family’s ties to powerful politicians and celebrities who helped the candidate’s campaign raise $1.3 million for this year’s primary election. U.S. Rep. John Boehner, the House minority leader, was scheduled to host a private fundraising in the Valley on Sept. 17 for Quayle and two other Republican candidates.
Despite Quayle’s fundraising abilities, political insiders from both parties have said he has more weak spots than the nine other Republicans who ran in the primary. If anyone else had won, Democrats may have ceded the race without much of a fight. Instead, they said, Hulburd may have a chance to make up enough ground to keep the race interesting, and perhaps draw the interest of the national Democratic Party.
“I think the bigger factor is Ben Quayle is an unattractive candidate,” said Bob Lord, a Democrat who ran an unsuccessful campaign to take the 3rd District seat from Republican John Shadegg in 2008. “There’s questions about his moral character. He’s somewhat of an empty suit. He looks like he’s where he is only because of his father. He’s immature. He’s written some scandalous things.”
Quayle managed to pull off a 4-percentage point win in the primary after the owner of TheDirty.com alleged that Quayle was a co-founder and frequently posted lewd comments under the pseudonym “Brock Landers,” the name of a fictional porn star in the movie “Boogie Nights.” But while Quayle’s 22 percent of the vote total earned the GOP nomination, it didn’t reflect the depth of Republican support he’ll need in the general election.
Republican consultant Stan Barnes said Quayle must win over skeptical Republicans who are wary of his ties to the bawdy website, his lack of experience and the short time he has spent in Arizona.
“Quayle is a weak nominee,” Barnes said. “Almost any candidate who won that race would need to go about coalescing the party. And Quayle is in the weakest position to do that because no one knows him and there’s a great deal of animosity, envy and distaste for him and how he managed to win a congressional primary while barely knowing what ZIP code he’s in.”
Hulburd’s radio ad, which aired on KPXQ, included a quote that TheDirty.com founder Hooman Karamian claimed was written by Quayle — “My moral compass is so broken I can barely find the parking lot.” The narrator of the ad replies,“With a broken compass, I don’t think Ben Quayle is going to be the one that takes us in the right direction.”
The ad ends with Hulburd telling listeners, “I’m Jon Hulburd and I’m a father of five. I approved this message because I believe we can do better.”
Quayle said Hulburd is trying to distract voters from the issues. After initially denying any connection to the website, Quayle said he posted several comments on the original site — which he said was far less offensive than its successor — though he said he couldn’t recall the comments, which pseudonym he used or whether he wrote the “moral compass” comment.
Christian conservative voters may be uneasy with Quayle’s ties to the website, but are unlikely to switch sides over the website issue to support a pro-choice Democrat, political experts said. And even if Hulburd is able to suppress support for Quayle by convincing some to stay home on Election Day, conservative enthusiasm for the 2010 midterms is high, meaning plenty of Republicans are expected show up at the polls.
“I just don’t think there’s enough people who are willing to switch their party allegiance in this year, in this environment, based on a radio ad,” said GOP consultant Chad Willems, who runs the Summit Consulting Group. “Whatever misgivings (Christian voters) might have about Mr. Quayle’s past relationship with this website will be overlooked because they see the bigger picture.”
John Carlson, a professor at Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, said Hulburd may be trying present himself to Christian voters as simply the lesser of two evils.
“One wonders if he’s saying to the voters, ‘Vote for me in spite of my socially liberal values that you may not share because my character’s better than the other guy’,” he said.
National Democrats aren’t showing much enthusiasm for Hulburd’s campaign. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which spent more than $1 million on Lord’s campaign in 2008, hasn’t contributed any money to Hulburd this year.
The DCCC has openly talked about using a “triage” strategy when it comes to funding congressional campaigns. Democratic consultant David Waid, who works for Hulburd’s campaign, said the national party is more concerned with holding onto vulnerable House seats during the expected Republican onslaught than trying to pick up new ones.
“Honestly, I think that it’s fair to say we’re not expecting any assistance from DCCC,” Waid said.
Hulburd has raised plenty of money on his own. In the last campaign finance reporting period, which ended Aug. 4, Hulburd reported raising $777,000 and had about $427,000 on hand. He hasn’t put any of his own money into the race, but a campaign spokesman said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility.
Hulburd moved to Arizona in 1987 and served under a federal judge before going into private practice at the law firm Fennemore Craig. Years later, he founded CD Sales, LLC, a now-defunct company that imported Mexican pottery into the U.S. His wife’s family owns household products giant SC Johnson.
In 2008, Lord lost to Shadegg by 11 points, despite the DCCC’s financial backing and a Democratic wave that swept most of the country. But that race was against Shadegg, Hulburd said, not Quayle. Hulburd knows he has a tough road ahead of him, but without a popular 16-year incumbent blocking his way, he said he believes he has a fighting chance.
“He was one of the few Democrats who was in a situation where they weren’t going to get any Obama wave, whatever that was. It just wasn’t out here, in large part because (John) McCain was out here, and Lord was running against Shadegg in McCain’s home district,” Hulburd said of Lord. “But with a different Republican nominee it might be slightly different.”