The chorus of Tea Party anger that drove conservative candidates to challenge their party’s elected officials is faltering to take down Republican legislators who supported Medicaid expansion.
But for many of the Republican challengers who received Gov. Jan Brewer’s backing against conservative lawmakers who fought the governor’s agenda, the end is nigh. They are losing — many of them badly — to incumbent conservatives, who were generally outspent and were at the receiving end of hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside spending.
In the Legislative District 25 Senate race, Sen. Bob Worsley appears to have successfully fended off the challenge from Dr. Ralph Heap, who excoriated the incumbent for supporting Medicaid expansion. With nearly all of precincts reporting, Worsley has secured 54 percent of the vote, compared to Heap’s 46 percent.
Rep. Jeff Dial has cemented his lead over former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Tom Morrissey, 60 to 40 percent, in the Senate race in Legislative District 18.
Both Sens. Steve Pierce and Adam Driggs, who also voted for Medicaid expansion, faced no opponents in the primary.
Meanwhile, the House incumbents who rallied behind Brewer’s proposal to raise Medicaid eligibility and sought reelection are poised to clinch their party’s nomination.
They include Reps. Kate Brophy McGee, Heather Carter, Doug Coleman, Ethan Orr, Frank Pratt, Bob Robson and T.J. Shope.
Meanwhile, nine of the 10 non-incumbent Republicans that received Brewer’s blessings are losing.
The challengers include Scott Bartle in central Arizona’s Legislative District 11 Senate race, and Jo Grant in that district’s House race; Diane Landis in the Legislative District 13 House race; Susan Syfert in southern Arizona’s Legislative District 14; Taylor McArthur in the East Valley’s Legislative District 16 Senate race; and Jeff Schwartz in Scottsdale’s Legislative District 23 Senate race.
Brewer also endorsed Effie Carlson and Bob Littlefield in the LD 23 House race, where a seat has opened up following Rep. John Kavanagh’s decision to run for the Senate.
The governor also backed Michelle Udall in the East Valley’s Legislative District 25, where a House seat is open, and Mary Hamway in central Phoenix’s Legislative District 28, where the House seats are currently held by Democratic Rep. Eric Meyer and Brophy McGee.
Hamway is the only Brewer-supported candidate in contention, but her position is tenuous: She holds a 19-vote lead over Shawnna Bolick.
Wary that her major political gains – notably, the massive expansion of Medicaid – will fall by the wayside, Gov. Jan Brewer made a slew of endorsements and deployed her political action committee, Arizona’s Legacy, to help incumbents who have stood by her side and to prop up “sensible conservatives” who are challenging conservative legislators.
Arizona’s Legacy has spent nearly half a million dollars, the bulk of which paid for advertisements to help her slate.
In the last several years, a coalition of friendly Democrats and pragmatic Republicans has rallied behind her major policy proposals, including the biggest expansion of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System in recent years.
The same coalition also stopped a slew of proposals that sought to either undo Common Core or chip away at the controversial academic benchmarks.
Brewer’s allies knew the political risks. In many instances, their local Republican parties warned of a blowback. Some even filed resolutions condemning their decisions.
Angry Tea Partiers resorted to name calling. Some called Brewer’s allies something worst.
For pushing her plan, A.J. LaFaro, who chairs the Maricopa County Republican Party, compared Brewer to “Judas.”
Another activist, Tom Husband, a former chairman and executive director of the county GOP, equated Rep. Heather Carter, R-Phoenix, to the French women whose heads were shaved and paraded before the public following accusations of cavorting with German soldiers during World War II.
The governor’s allies defended their actions as the only pragmatic choice, noting that the alternatives to Medicaid expansion would have immediately drained the state’s rainy day fund and potentially divert hundreds of millions of dollars away from other priorities.
At the time that the policy was being debated, the Legislature’s budget research arm said if Arizona lifted an enrolment freeze and paid for childless adults’ insurance without any federal match, it would cost the state $3.6 billion from fiscal 2014 to 2016.
The passage of Brewer’s expansion plan didn’t end the controversy, however.
A group of conservative legislators have challenged the plan’s passage, arguing that the vote – it took a simple majority to pass it – didn’t reach the threshold set by the Arizona Constitution for a tax increase.
That case is spending, and if the Arizona Supreme Court struck down Medicaid expansion, it would plunge the Capitol into another political nightmare.
In addition to backing her legislative allies, Brewer endorsed Mesa Mayor Scott Smith in his bid to become the next governor, Michele Reagan in her campaign for the Secretary of State, Mark Brnovich’s attempt to succeed as attorney general, and Randy Pullen’s fight for state treasurer.