The Democratic primary in Arizona’s 9th Congressional District was one of the most high-profile races in the state, but it was Republicans who turned out en masse to cast their ballots.
In the seven-way GOP primary for CD9, 38,513 ballots were cast compared to 29,466 in the three-way Democratic contest.
The general election in CD9 will pit Democratic nominee Kyrsten Sinema, a former state senator, against Republican nominee Vernon Parker, the former mayor of Paradise Valley.
Republicans hold a narrow voter registration advantage in the district, though voter performance favors Democrats by a slight margin.
Brian Murray, a consultant for Parker, said he doesn’t put too much stock into the disparity. But he said it’s a good sign for Parker, and chalked up the difference largely to higher voter intensity among Republicans. Adding to the Democrats’ woes in CD9, he said, is the likelihood that President Barack Obama won’t compete for Arizona, giving Democrats less of an incentive to vote in November.
Referring to Jeff Flake’s U.S. Senate race against Democratic nominee Richard Carmona, Murray said, “In a state like Arizona, where the president is not going to be able to contest the race, where, I think, Jeff Flake will start to pull ahead, you’re going to see the intensity of Democrats decrease just because people are going to stay at home and say, ‘Our vote doesn’t matter here,’ because they can’t help the top of the ticket. It’s going to get worse for them as Obama completely ignores Arizona.”
Democrats, however, say the disparity isn’t concerning. Rodd McLeod, Sinema’s campaign manager, said the gap is likely due to the high- profile GOP primary for Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat. The Valley was saturated with television ads as Flake, businessman Wil Cardon and their allied super PACs spent more than $11 million on the race.
Carmona, the former U.S. surgeon general, ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
“If you look at what was driving the turnout, it was a Senate race that was driven by literally millions of dollars in television advertisements. And there was no sort of top-of-the-ticket race driving turnout in that way in our race,” McLeod said.
Murray disputed McLeod’s assessment of the impact the Senate race had, saying the lack of competitiveness in the race dampened GOP turnout for the top-of-the-ticket race. Cardon mostly didn’t advertise for the last month of the campaign, and Flake won in a landslide.
“The guy won by 50 points. It’s awfully hard to say that that was a real contested race,” Murray said.
McLeod said it didn’t matter whether Cardon stopped spending during the last month or whether the race was competitive. CD9 Republicans still saw millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements, he said, and they still turned out in greater numbers because of it.
“If you look at the amount of television that was spent driving turnout in the Phoenix market in our race, it was $700,000 maybe,” McLeod said.
Luis Heredia, the executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said Democrats also historically have lower turnout than Republicans in primary elections. That turnout will increase in the general election, he said, especially in a presidential election year.
“(There are) different demographics that turn out statewide. You have a lot more Latinos who turn out, a lot more independents who turn out,” Heredia said. “Voters that I feel very confident are going to be on the Democratic side this election cycle, are general election voters.”
Pollster Michael O’Neil said the biggest factor is that Republicans are higher efficacy voters than Democrats in general, which he said should be a concern for Democrats in CD9. The gap won’t be as wide in the general election, he said, but it will still be there.
“It’s absolutely an obstacle, no question,” said O’Neil, of the Tempe firm O’Neill Associates.
McLeod noted that voter performance in the district often favors Democrats in races where the rest of the state votes Republican.
Voters in precincts that now comprise CD9 supported Democrats Terry Goddard in the governor’s race in 2010 and Felecia Rotellini in the attorney general’s race, though their Republican opponents ultimately won. In the 2008 presidential race, those voters snubbed hometown U.S.
Sen. John McCain for Obama, though McCain won Arizona and Obama put few resources into the state.
“This is a district that’s very open to voting for Democrats, even in bad Democratic years,” McLeod said, referring to the 2010 Republican landslide.