When former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman was claiming in radio spots that Jeff DeWit is a risky day trader, the political newcomer was out greeting voters in remote counties, a part of campaigning he says “fulfills your soul.”
And when the Republican primary race for state treasurer got close, a point at which most other candidates would get deadly serious, DeWit made a video with his three young daughters featuring him singing a parody of a tune from the Disney movie, “Frozen.”
DeWit, 41, now in effect treasurer-elect, crushed Hallman by 12.5 percentage points in the Aug. 26 primary. The margin of victory seemed improbable before election night, considering DeWit’s status as a political novice versus Hallman’s years of political experience, vast network of supporters, and abundant war chest.
Another veteran of Arizona politics, former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen, came in third, 23 points behind DeWit.
Although DeWit was the first to declare his candidacy for the office, he nearly dropped out at the end of 2013 as the sale of his online trading company dragged on.
“I think what is going to be fascinating to a lot of political-minded people is we did a lot of things that the people of Arizona liked, but the consultants did not like,” he said.
The Democrats did not field a candidate for the general election, but there is a write-in candidate – Gerard Davis of Phoenix.
DeWit said he spurned advice to send out several mailers, opting just for one, and it was unconventional to make the video. In it he reworded the lyrics to “Let It Go” into “Go and Vote.”
The 5-minute video includes his three daughters in roles as political consultants who convince him to sing the song as part of his campaign. In one section, one of the girls sets a queen’s crown on his head momentarily as he sits next to his wife Marina, who is wearing a Statue of Liberty costume.
Although it didn’t get enough views on YouTube to explain the margin of victory, it didn’t hurt, DeWit said. He also barnstormed the state, hitting every county to meet and speak with voters, putting 40,000 miles on his car.
“If you’ve ever heard me talk in person, we told a lot of jokes, we had fun with it. I think I’m known out there as the interesting, the fun speech to hear,” he said.
Nathan Sproul, whose independent expenditure committee, Preserve America’s Future, spent $22,750 to oppose DeWit, had a different take.
Sproul said DeWit’s “political virginity” made it difficult to define him and allowed him to be all things to all people.
“He has never had to stake out a public policy matter on anything. There wasn’t any record for him to have to defend,” Sproul said.
Hallman on the other hand has had years of political involvement and votes on difficult issues, Sproul said.
DeWit, who sold his company, ECHOtrade, last year, said he campaigned on being a finance expert and a politician. He conceded he had no political record to defend.
“I also didn’t have a record to promote,” he said.
Sproul said DeWit falsely accused Hallman of supporting the state’s four-year-old learning standards, Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, also known as Common Core.
The standards have been adopted by Arizona for K-12 public schools, but they have become a political flashpoint nationally and locally in the last two years. Opponents of them, including the Tea Party, contend they are federally mandated and proof the federal government is trying to take over control of the education system.
Supporters say the standards, which cover math and English, develop critical thinking skills that better prepare students for higher education and the workforce.
Sproul said an August 2013 news story reporting Hallman supported the standards was inaccurate, but DeWit knew better and still pounded the idea, which was enough to get late and undecided voters to break his way.
“I think the Common Core issue allowed him to juxtapose himself against both candidates,” Sproul said. “Based on everything that happened with (Superintendent of Public Instruction John) Huppenthal it clearly was the issue that galvanized the Tea Party rank and file within the Republican Party.”
DeWit said Hallman was simply trying to backpedal once he realized support of Common Core was toxic.
Sproul said DeWit’s last-minute spending of his own money also contributed to his victory.
DeWit said spending large sums of his own money was necessary since being a newcomer made it difficult to raise funds.
He said he relied on old-fashioned speech making, handshaking and travel to get out his message. He visited every county, he said, and wouldn’t give a second thought to making an eight-hour round trip to give a five minute speech.
“I wanted to outwork everybody. Nobody was in as many places as I was,” he said.
It also helped to run into the right person at times. DeWit said he met a woman going door to door collecting signatures in Kingman.
They had a long conversation and she signed his petition. The next day he decided to work the town’s business district and at his first stop he ran into the woman from the night before.
She escorted him down the town’s main street and helped him collect 25 signatures in about 10 minutes.
The best part of campaigning, he observed, was meeting and interacting with the voters, which he said helped him grow as a person.
“It fulfills your soul in a way to go and meet people,” DeWit said.
Family: Wife, Marina, three children
Education: BA, Business Administration/Finance, University of Southern California Political experience: State committeeman, precinct committeeman
Professional experience: Career in finance began in 1992 when he became a licensed investment professional with Smith Barney Shearson. Full member, Chicago Board of Trade and CME Group; started his own company, ECHOtrade in 1999 and sold it last year.