Outside groups are backing Kyrsten Sinema in the Democratic primary for Arizona’s 9th Congressional District, giving the former state senator a boost as early ballots are being cast.
Two super PACs are spending money for Sinema, who is battling former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Andrei Cherny and state Sen. David Schapira. And with Cherny leading in the fundraising, the outside spending could make the difference in the state’s most hotly contested Democratic primary.
Women Vote!, the super PAC for Emily’s List, a national organization that supports pro-choice Democratic female candidates, sent the first of its five pro-Sinema mail pieces on Aug. 2, the day early ballots went out in the mail. The group plans to send its last piece on Aug. 17. Emily’s List said the PAC plans to target 23,000 Democratic primary voters, with a focus on men and women in Chandler and Mesa, and college-educated women over the age of 30 living outside Tempe.
According to Federal Election Commission records, Women Vote! has already spent about $27,000 supporting Sinema this month.
Another super PAC, Restoring Arizona’s Integrity, spent about $31,000 in late July and early August attacking Cherny. A mail piece sent by the PAC accuses Cherny of supporting the privatization of Social Security, and another mailer sent about a week later attacks him for a mail piece from his 2002 race for the California Assembly that critics described as “blatant race-baiting.”
Democratic consultant Paul Ulan said he believes the race is close. If it stays close, he said, the PAC spending could put Sinema over the top.
“Ultimately, the winner will be who has the resources, or friends who have the resources, to drive home their message,” Ulan said. “I think most people recognize that it’s a close race. I don’t think anybody believes any polling right now that shows one candidate higher than the other.”
Public relations consultant Stacy Pearson, who is working with Restoring Arizona’s Integrity, said the PAC will send other mail pieces before the Aug. 28 primary, and may run television ads as well. The PAC has a video on its website criticizing Cherny on the Social Security issue.
“We’re currently negotiating the media buy now, so television ads are not out of the running,” Pearson said.
Cherny campaign manager Seth Scott called the allegations in the mailer a “made up lie” propagated by “Sinema’s lobbyist supporters.”
“If Sinema’s lobbyist friends want to talk about integrity and experience for federal office, you better believe that’s a conversation we’re happy to have,” Scott said.
Scott said Cherny is the only candidate in the race with a history of defending Social Security from privatization, and Cherny has called accusations to the contrary a mischaracterization.
In his 2001 book, “The Next Deal,” Cherny advocated a system in which Americans could choose to invest a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes however they want, but would also receive a guaranteed minimum benefit from Social Security. He said the voluntary 401(k) accounts would have been an “add-on” to the guaranteed Social Security benefits.
Cherny said the plan was only feasible at the time, when the United States had a sizeable budget surplus, and is no longer possible now. He did not say in the book that the plan was only possible with budget surpluses.
Similar plans have also been promoted by other prominent Democrats, Cherny said, including former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, former Vice President Al Gore and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He said he didn’t view the plan as partial privatization.
“The ideas I outlined back then in the late 1990s were very much in line with the kinds of ideas that Bill Clinton … proposed in his White House, and Al Gore and Democrats all over the country were running on it in 2000, which was to take the then-surplus and use it to guarantee Social Security for the long term, and then create an add-on account,” Cherny said. “In this day and age, and certainly after the surplus was squandered, we just don’t have anywhere near that kind of money available to create those types of accounts.”
Polling in the race, which many Democrats view as a marquee matchup between some of the party’s most promising rising stars, has been sparse. The only publicly released poll came in late May, when an autodial poll commissioned by Schapira showed him trailing Sinema, with Cherny in distant third place. Cherny’s campaign criticized the low-cost poll as inaccurate and not scientific.
Regardless of what the poll said, Restoring Arizona’s Integrity has trained its fire solely on Cherny, indicating that Sinema’s supporters view the former prosecutor as her chief rival. Pearson would not say whether the PAC also plans to attack Schapira, who at times has joined forces with Sinema against Cherny.
The PAC is also supporting Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District.
Cherny, a former White House staffer who has aggressively highlighted his ties to Clinton, has led the fundraising race. After the last fundraising quarter, which ended on June 30, Cherny had raised about $735,000, with $469,000 on hand. In comparison, Sinema raised a total of $626,000, with nearly $359,000 on hand.