David Schweikert said he’s having more fun in this election than he’s ever had, certainly more fun than two years ago when Rep. Harry Mitchell beat him by 10 percentage points.
But Schweikert, a Republican, has reason to be upbeat: Polls show this election for the 5th Congressional District much closer than two years ago, and even Mitchell’s campaign acknowledges it will be a close race this time.
“Two years ago was tough,” Schweikert said. “People were not happy with Republicans, and a lot of it they earned.”
A number of recent polls, from both camps, show the race is a toss-up with both men pulling 40-45 percent of the vote, within the polls’ margins of error. The only difference is that some polls give the Democrat, Mitchell, a slight lead and some give it to Schweikert.
There are 104,781 Democrats and 143,198 Republicans registered in District 5, which includes parts of Phoenix, Chandler and Mesa and all of Tempe and Scottsdale.
Both candidates know they need to court the district’s 116,623 independent voters in order to win.
It’s something Mitchell likes to say he has done successfully in his tenure as the only Democratic mayor of Tempe and as a state legislator.
“He has a record of being a consensus builder,” said Reed Adamson, his campaign manager, noting that every single bill Mitchell introduced in Congress had a Republican co-sponsor.
Schweikert sees it differently. His office is plastered with “Fire Pelosi” signs, suggesting Mitchell is aligned with the liberal House Majority Leader.
“The Congress of the past two years has made its share of fiscal mistakes,” said Schweikert, who previously served two terms in the Arizona legislature and was the Maricopa County treasurer. He’s also run a real estate business for nearly 30 years.
He said Mitchell’s biggest mistake was voting for the health care reform legislation backed by the president.
“There’s a lot in there that’s going to destroy jobs, health care quality and options,” Schweikert said. “It fundamentally changes your relationship with the government.”
National groups have taken notice of the tight race in District 5, and have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the district to support either Mitchell or Schweikert.
The National Education Association included the 5th District in its $40 million independent expenditures program, designed to support 80 House candidates and more than a dozen Senate hopefuls this year.
NEA’s ads paint Schweikert as an opponent of education, noting that he wants to abolish the Department of Education.
Adamson said this shows “how outside the mainstream” Schweikert is.
“Closing the Department of Education would cut $1 billion in K-12 education in Arizona,” he said.
Schweikert would neither confirm nor deny wanting to close the department. But he said the bureaucracy costs local governments more than they get in return.
“I have a great passion for how do I take as much money from the bureaucracy and put it into school districts, with as little following requirements and paperwork,” Schweikert said.
Sean Johnson, manager of the NEA’s Campaigns and Election Department, said there’s a clear contrast between the two candidates, which is why District 5 is one race national groups are watching.
“Races like this across the country really underscore what’s at stake in this election,” he said. “Harry is a champion for education.”
Diane Burnett, a Tea Party activist and Schweikert volunteer, said she has no doubt Schweikert has the best interests of students at heart.
“David Schweikert would do what’s best for children,” she said.
Schweikert also served as a co-chairperson on the campaign opposing Arizona’s temporary one-cent sales tax increase designed to support the state’s schools.
The Federal Election Commission said that Mitchell had raised almost $1.9 million and spent $1.7 million as of Sept. 30, while Schweikert reported raising $1.1 million and spending $953,777.
Mitchell has also outpaced Schweikert in donations from political action committees, raising $650,017 to Schweikert’s $110,850.
District 5 registered voters:
• 104,781 Democrats
• 143,198 Republicans
• 116,623 independents