To hear Doug Ducey tell it, he got another four-year term as governor by waging a campaign based on his record.
Speaking Wednesday at the annual Republican Governors Association, Ducey told of his message of turning a $1 billion deficit into a $1 billion surplus, 274,000 new private sector jobs and a resolution of the major lawsuit filed against the state for failing to adequately fund public schools. And the governor told the business executives and lobbyists in the audience – individuals and companies that donate to the RGA – that a lot of the credit for being able to tell his story is due to the money they provided to the organization.
“It was the RGA that was the firewall for me that allowed me to make the case on what we had accomplished, what we were going to accomplish into the future and create that separation to keep Arizona red,” Ducey said.
But Ducey made no mention of the fact that the $8 million spent by the RGA in Arizona – more than Ducey spent on his own behalf – went not into positive ads promoting the incumbent governor’s agenda but instead into attacking Democrat David Garcia
There was nothing subtle about the RGA-sponsored commercials.
One began by telling viewers about 7,000 pounds of heroin seized, 4,800 criminal arrests for gang-related activity, and “young girls rescued from sex trafficking,” all by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“But now David Garcia and other radicals are demanding we abolish ICE,” it says, saying such a move “would mean more drugs across our border and more gang members in our neighborhoods. That was backed up by a sinister-looking black-and-white video of someone in a hoodie carrying what appears to be a gun.
“David Garcia’s reckless policies could put Arizona’s families at risk,” it concludes.
The commercial is based on a comment Garcia made about “replacing” ICE with some other agency, not to simply eliminate it and what it does entirely. But it gave the RGA the ammunition to go after him.
Asked about that RGA-funded anti-Garcia campaign after his talk, Ducey pointed out that he is legally prohibited from working with any outside group that is making “independent expenditures” on his behalf.
“I have to follow the law,” he told Capitol Media Services.
“I’m responsible for my campaign,” the governor continued. “And I think my campaign was a positive campaign that not only talked about my record but what I’d like to do in the future.”
That campaign, Ducey said, contrasted his plans with those of Garcia.
By the same token, though, the governor had no particular problem with what the RGA was telling Arizona voters on his behalf.
“My opponent did say reckless things,” he said. “And the people spoke.”
RGA spokesman Jon Thompson defended the tone of the ads his organization ran in Arizona.
“I wouldn’t say they were designed to scare,” he said.
“Most of our ads were focused on David Garcia’s words,” Thompson continued, like calls to abolish ICE and telling an audience to “imagine no wall in Southern Arizona.”
“So a lot of these ads we basically just put in his own words and what he said he was going to do if he got elected,” Thompson said. “And we made it known to Arizona voters what this could lead to.”
And what of the images, like the criminal in a hoodie and a hypodermic needle dropping into a pile of white powder?
“I don’t think it was over the top,” he said.
“I think it was meant to make sure voters understood what was at stake in the election” like what happens if ICE goes away. “So we wanted to make sure to point that if he’s going to get rid of this agency, it’s going to be harder to stop some of these groups and some of these criminals that seek to commit criminal acts.”
Ducey acknowledged the benefit of all that financial help from the RGA which gave him a margin of victory of more than 16 points.
“I was out there raising support for my campaign,” the governor said, as did the other governors who also got elected. And he said there was a reason the organization put what it did into getting him another four years.
“The RGA is very strategic on where it spends its dollars,” Ducey said. “It doesn’t fund losers and it doesn’t pay for landslides.”
And Ducey said that you can’t look at his margin of victory over Garcia as an indication he didn’t need that outside help, saying he didn’t pull ahead of the Democrat until late in the race.
Ducey was not the only Republican governor telling donors about the importance of their dollars.
“By supporting the RGA you make sure Republican governors can get elected,” said Pete Ricketts of Nebraska.
Thompson said the $8 million spent in Arizona is about at the median of what the organization poured into races in other states where it got involved.
At the top of the list, he said, is Ohio where the $20 million helped Republican Mike DeWine to keep the post in GOP hands after John Kasich was termed out. There also were $15 million expenditures in Florida and Wisconsin as well as $12 million in the unsuccessful bid by Republican Adam Laxalt to defeat Democrat Steve Sisolak.
But Thompson said there also were smaller expenditures like in Maryland where a $5 million boost from RGA helped to make Larry Hogan that state’s first Republican governor reelected to a second term since 1954.