In what may have been Arizona’s most bizarre primary race, House Speaker Andy Tobin has defeated an opponent backed by out-of-state money and friends who include Herman Cain, Joe the Plumber and the creator of the notorious Willie Horton attack ads.
Tobin held off the challenge in the Republican primary from Sen. Lori Klein to regain his seat in Legislative District 1, which includes Yavapai County, New River and Anthem.
He will be joined in the House by Rep. Karen Fann, who also received more votes than Klein, a senator from Anthem who was attempting to move to the House.
LD1 includes most of Yavapai County and stretches into the northern parts of Maricopa County, including Anthem, Cave Creek and Carefree. Republicans make up 47 percent of the electorate, while Democrats make up about 20 percent. Tobin, of Paulden, and Fann, of Prescott, face no opposition in the general election.
Fann said Klein’s antics, name-calling and dirty campaigning backfired, and actually ended up hurting Klein in the long run.
“It was pretty ugly, and Speaker Tobin really got hammered by (Klein),” Fann said. “But, obviously, look at his votes: He whupped us both pretty good. So, those negative attack ads don’t hold up well with the public these days. People want to hear about the issues.”
During the campaign, Klein used several attack ads to paint Tobin as a friend of labor unions. She benefited from Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s robocalls on her behalf and a Prescott appearance from Sam “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher. She received financial help from former presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who teamed up with Floyd Brown – creator of the infamous Willie Horton television attack ad against Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988 – to form an independent expenditure committee supporting Klein.
Still, she fell far short in her attempt to take down the speaker or Fann.
Klein said she stuck to the high road in her campaign, noting that she doesn’t have control over anything said by independent expenditure groups. Yet she said that her opponents had control over how outside groups attacked her personally and savagely.
“I’m proud of the fact that I ran a very straight-forward race and I didn’t resort to negative campaigning,” Klein said. “Unfortunately my opponents allowed other people to do their dirty work and spear my reputation.”
Tobin called the claim “absurd” and noted that she called him a union supporter at every chance. He said her attempts to paint him as a liberal failed because he is well known in the district as a staunch conservative.
“She lost because she tried to run to the right of, arguably, the most conservative speaker in the nation,” he said.
Independent expenditure committees played a big role in the race – in all, they spent more than $150,000 for or against the three candidates. To keep the seat, Tobin raised nearly $114,000 and spent nearly $75,000 – with another nearly $62,000 coming from independent expenditure groups. Fann and Klein both spent about $33,000, but Klein was also supported by nearly $60,000 in independent spending. Fann was also supported by outside groups to the tune of $14,000. Klein, however, also took a hit of more than $15,000 in independent expenditures against her.
In the last days before the election, Klein took several hits from independent expenditure groups looking to paint her as a gun-toting extremist. The Arizona Business Coalition released an online attack titled “Lori Get Your Gun” that called her a “gun-totin’, red scarin’, conspiracy-tootin’ politician.” The ad went online after she disparaged chambers of commerce, calling them a “Chamber of Communists,” which she later called a joke.
Fann said she thinks that Klein’s decision to focus her attacks on Arizona’s House Speaker upped the stakes in the race and drew a lot of money from outside groups.
“There was so much money pumped into this race by outside influences for her to go after the speaker,” she said. “I don’t know if that kind of money would have been pumped into her race if she was going after little old me.”
Tobin said that because Klein angered and alienated groups like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry with her “Chamber of Communists” remark, she had a lot of people gunning for her.
“The reality is (Klein) brought a lot of that outside money against herself,” he said.