Donald Trump might have upended the conventional wisdom about political campaigns, and yet in Arizona, the conventional wisdom reasserted itself in the most conventional of ways.
In the main, the candidates who had the most money or the most financial support from independent expenditure groups (or both) and who had the better name ID won or are poised to win their races in this week’s primaries.
Three races in particular starkly illustrate this: U.S. Sen. John McCain’s victory over challenger Sen. Kelli Ward; Rep. Sonny Borrelli’s win over former state Sen. Ron Gould in Legislative District 5; and Christine Jones’ slight lead – holding at press time – over Senate President Biggs in Arizona’s 5th Congressional District.
In all cases, the winners held the financial edge, and defeated conservative stalwarts – sometimes even in the most conservative of districts. Jones spent $1.9 million of her own money, and her rivals simply never had the resources to match her. McCain and his allies dumped millions of dollars to bury Ward, and succeeded.
Meanwhile, among legislative candidates, Gould, a conservative’s conservative, received the biggest thrashing from outside groups, and lost.
East Valley activist Tyler Montague, who campaigned for Maricopa County Don Stapley in CD5, noted that the race finished according to the order of the candidates’ money: Jones, Biggs, Stapley and then Rep. Justin Olson.
“There’s just messaging power with money,” Montague said. “Stapley didn’t have enough gas in the tank to come back from (the attacks) on him, and Jones did. She took a lot of attacks and was able to muscle through it.”
This theme – of candidates with the most money or outside help, and with the biggest name ID victorious – also reverberated through legislative races. The same was true for the reverse: candidates who were attacked the most by outside groups lost.
What the results proved, perhaps more than anything, is that, while the laws of political physics didn’t apply to Trump, they applied to everyone else.
Lobbyist Jonathan Paton, a former legislator and former congressional candidate, said it still boils down to mastering the basics: fundraising, smart spending, effective management, a superb ground game and the ability to generate earned media and withstand withering attacks.
“I think that you could point to a combination of those for almost any race that we saw,” he said.
Case in point is McCain, a veteran campaigner with 100 percent name ID and a gigantic war chest. Paton noted that he didn’t run a passive campaign, and the most assertive candidate, especially the one with the money to push his message, is typically favored to win.
Of course, Paton added, it’s also important how a candidate spends his money, not just how much he has. Not all well-resourced candidates win their races, and sometimes, it boils down to effective spending.
The importance of a candidate’s name ID was in full display in CD1, where Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu won the primary for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District despite incessant attacks by his opponents and his well-known baggage.
Paton said the results weren’t surprising. Babeu’s area has the most number of Republican voters, and he’s often on national TV, particularly on Fox News, and not just on issues related to his congressional campaign, Paton said.
“When we look at it in hindsight, these elections, there was a logic to them that don’t stray from the principles that we talked about,” the lobbyist said.