House GOP spends $1 mil to prop up top recruit ahead of primary for key Arizona seat

House GOP spends $1 mil to prop up top recruit ahead of primary for key Arizona seat

July 26, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

But Winn is not a political unknown. She’s a longtime community outreach director for the state attorney general’s office, and in 2018, she won a nonpartisan election for an at-large spot on the governing board of the Maricopa County Community Colleges, a position that’s elected countywide in this giant jurisdiction of 4.4 million people.

She also has the backing of notorious far-right figures like former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, and she recently earned an endorsement from Kari Lake, the former TV news anchor and Big Lie enthusiast who’s running to succeed Ducey with Donald Trump’s blessing. And just as the unhinged Lake has been giving fits to what remains of the GOP establishment, Winn may as well.

Ciscomani is a highly touted recruit, so much so that his campaign was the hook for a New York Times feature last month on GOP efforts to put forward a more diverse slate of candidates nationwide—one that quotes the president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is closely tied to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and is the largest Republican super PAC involved in House races. The bulk of the CLF’s spending has come in just the last month and includes online advertising, mailers, and a TV ad praising Ciscomani for being tough on the border.

But that same Times piece shows exactly why Ciscomani could face trouble from the MAGA wing of the party: Reporter Catie Edmondson described him as “running with a laserlike focus on inflation, border security, and an explicit appeal for unity”—a message that “stands in sharp contrast to the language used by other Republicans in the Arizona delegation” like Gosar, who was stripped of his committee assignments last year after he posted a video that portrayed him killing New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Voters, Ciscomani told Edmondson, are “tired of the infighting and bickering. They want government to go do their job. To go actually protect our border, to handle this inflation, stop the overspending, and get things under control.” He added, “We have to be very disciplined in saying there are more things we agree on than disagree on.” That might be a winning message in a general election, but it’s seldom one Republican primary voters are interested in.

Despite CLF’s apparent worries, it would nevertheless be quite an upset should Winn prevail. Most notably, Maricopa County, where Winn holds local office, isn’t actually in the 6th District, which is based around the southern Arizona city of Tucson. According to her campaign website, Winn was once a local TV reporter in Tucson, but the extent of her ties to the area these days are unclear. But if Trumpist voters are looking for a more red-meat alternative to Ciscomani, that’s the sort of flaw that’s easy to overlook.

Democrats have a competitive primary of their own for this open seat between state Rep. Daniel Hernandez and state Sen. Kirsten Engel, though neither has benefitted from any outside spending. And unlike in many other races across the country where Democrats have sought to meddle in GOP primaries to boost less electable candidates, we haven’t seen any similar efforts here, nor are we likely to given how little time is left before the primary.

Senate

AZ-Sen: The Republican pollster Battleground Connect’s newest look at next week’s GOP primary finds wealthy businessman Jim Lamon edging out former Thiel Capital chief operating officer Blake Masters 33-28, while Attorney General Mark Brnovich lagged in third with 16%. The firm’s last poll from earlier this month showed Lamon ahead 29-27, but every other survey we’ve seen since early June has put Masters in the lead. Battleground Connect did not mention a client in either poll.

Lamon, for his part, is continuing to air ads portraying the Trump-backed Masters as too weird to represent Arizona. His latest piece opens with 2008 footage of Masters, who will turn 36 just after the primary, donned in what’s supposed to represent Native American war paint and rapping, “I keep on rapping but you know how it goes/  Those guys get gunned down and they get no hoes.” The commercial then plays a 2022 clip of the candidate calling Ted Kaczynski a “subversive thinker that’s underrated” before acknowledging that it’s “probably not great to be talking about the Unabomber while campaigning.”

WI-Sen: Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, citing his lack of money, announced Monday that he was leaving the Aug. 9 Democratic primary and endorsing Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

Governors

IL-Gov, IL-Sen: The Republican firm Victory Research is out with the first general election poll we’ve seen since the GOP primary concluded last month, and it finds Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker defeating far-right state Sen. Darren Bailey 49-39. The same sample favors Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth 43-34 over Republican Kathy Salvi, an attorney who has generated little attention.

MI-Gov: Mitchell Research’s newest survey for the political tip-sheet MIRS finds conservative radio host Tudor Dixon maintaining her frontrunner status ahead of next week’s chaotic Republican primary even as wealthy businessman Kevin Rinke gains ground. The results of its July 17-18 poll are below, with the numbers from its July 7-8 survey in parentheses:

  • Conservative radio host Tudor Dixon: 28 (26)
  • Businessman Kevin Rinke: 20 (13)
  • Real estate agent Ryan Kelley: 15 (15)
  • Chiropractor Garrett Soldano: 10 (13)
  • Pastor Ralph Rebandt: 1 (1)
  • Undecided: 26 (33)

The only survey that we’ve seen in the interim was from The Glengariff Group for The Detroit News and WDIV-TV, and it found things even more unsettled in the race to take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Dixon edged out Rinke 19-15, while Kelley and Soldano were just behind with 13% each. The results could be even more muddled still, as neither Mitchell nor Glengariff appears to have offered respondents the opportunity to volunteer the name of James Craig, the former Detroit Police chief who is running a write-in campaign after getting booted off the ballot in late May.

Campaign fundraising reports were also due Friday, covering the period spanning Jan. 1 to July 17, and they confirm that the self-funding Rinke goes into the final days with a huge financial edge over his intra-party rivals:

  • Craig: $1.3 million raised, $2 million spent, $88,000 cash-on-hand
  • Dixon: $1.2 million raised, $731,000 spent, $538,000 cash-on-hand
  • Soldano: $736,000 raised, $719,000 spent, $332,000 cash-on-hand
  • Rinke: $400,000 raised, additional $8 million self-funded, $5.7 million spent, $4.2 million cash-on-hand
  • Kelley: $208,000 raised, $203,000 spent, $38,000 cash-on-hand
  • Rebandt: $163,000 raised, $164,000 spent, $6,000 cash-on-hand

While Craig nominally raised more from donors during the first half of the year, all but $50,000 of that came before May 26, the day that the Board of State Canvassers kept him off the ballot over forged petition signatures. The reports also reveal that Craig paid at least $218,000 to the firm at the center of the signature scandal.

Kelley, meanwhile, raised more than half of this haul on or after June 9, the day the FBI arrested him on misdemeanor charges related to his role in the Jan. 6 riot. But Kelley’s increased notoriety wasn’t enough to power him past most of his rivals in the money race, and he now has little left for the final days.

Dixon, for her part, deployed a miniscule $20,000 on TV and social media this year through July 17—less than the $22,000 she spent to stage a February fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago that gave her the chance to suck up to Trump (and line his pockets).

However, she’s been getting some major help on the airwaves: Michigan Families United, a super PAC partially funded by the DeVos family, has dropped $2 million to support her. Rinke has tried to turn Dixon’s support from Betsy DeVos, who resigned as Trump’s secretary of education one day after the Jan. 6 attack, into a liability, and he’s aired ads declaring she’s “taken millions from the same billionaires who tried to illegally remove Trump from office.”

Dixon has responded with a commercial featuring old footage of Trump praising her, though that’s by no means the only way she’s trying to appeal to hardcore conservatives. The candidate has adamantly argued that abortion should only be allowed to protect the “life of the mother” and that there should be no exceptions for rape or incest. Podcaster Charlie LeDuff asked Dixon last week, “The question would be like, a 14-year-old who, let’s say, is a victim of abuse by an uncle, you’re saying carry that?” Dixon responded, “Yeah, perfect example … okay … because I know people who are the product — a life is a life for me.”

Whoever emerges from next week’s scrum will be in for a very expensive fight against Whitmer. The governor, who has no primary opposition, hauled in $9.5 million during the first six-and-a-half months of the year, and she finished with a huge $14.7 million war chest.

RI-Gov: Gov. Dan McKee earned endorsements Monday from two powerful labor organizations that twice tried to defeat him, the state AFL-CIO and National Education Association Rhode Island, ahead of the September Democratic primary.

McKee as mayor of Cumberland earned a reputation as an ardent supporter of charter schools, and both groups waged an unsuccessful effort to deny him renomination in 2008. Six years later, after McKee claimed the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, the AFL-CIO and state NEA even took the rare step of endorsing his Republican foe.

The NEA acknowledged its turbulent history with McKee in its endorsement message but said that he’d proven himself an ally of teachers as governor. The AFL-CIO also praised his record in office and commended its former adversary for signing into law “several pieces of legislation important to union members.”

House

Louisiana: The final filing deadline to run as a major party candidate for Congress or state-level office passed Friday when qualifying closed for Louisiana’s Nov. 8 all-party primary. (The window is still open in some states for independents, third-party contenders, and write-in candidates.) You can find a list of candidates in the Pelican State here.

Republican Sen. John Kennedy and all six members of the state’s House delegation (five Republicans and one Democrat, 2nd District Rep. Troy Carter) are seeking re-election, and none of them earned any serious last-minute opponents; Rep. Mike Johnson doesn’t even have any opponent whatsoever in the 4th District.

The only member of the delegation who looks to be in any danger is 3rd District Rep. Clay Higgins, who learned last week that he’d face an intra-party challenge from prosecutor Holden Hoggatt. The ballot also includes two more Republicans, a pair of Democrats, one Libertarian and a lone independent: If no one earns a majority of the vote, a runoff would take place Dec. 10 between the two candidates with the most votes regardless of party.

ME-02: Democratic Rep. Jared Golden on Friday earned the backing of the Maine Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, an organization that usually supports Republicans. The group notably backed Golden on the same day that it endorsed Republican Paul LePage’s bid to take back his old job from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

MI-03: The DCCC has launched a late ad campaign intended to help conservative commentator John Gibbs defeat freshman Rep. Peter Meijer, who is one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, in next week’s primary. The committee did not announce how much it was spending, but the Detroit News‘ Melissa Nann Burke relays that the size of the buy is $425,000.

Biden would have carried the redrawn version of this Grand Rapids seat 53-45, and there’s little question that the far-right Gibbs would be an easier opponent for Democrat Hillary Scholten to beat than Meijer. (Meijer defeated Scholten 53-47 in 2020 as Trump was taking the old 3rd 51-47.)

The D-Trip ostensibly attacks Gibbs for being “too conservative,” the very phrase that Democrats have used in numerous ad campaigns this cycle as they’ve tried to pick their own opponents. The narrator then informs the audience that Gibbs was “[h]andpicked by Trump to run for Congress” and that he supports a “hardline against immigrants at the border and so-called ‘patriotic education’ in our schools.”

The DCCC’s meddling comes at a time when Meijer and his allies have been swamping Gibbs in spending. The incumbent has outspent Gibbs $2.1 million to $340,000 through mid-July, and Politico says that the challenger has yet to air a single TV ad. OpenSecrets also reports that, before the DCCC offensive began, outside groups deployed a total of $1.8 million promoting Meijer or attacking Gibbs, while a mere $40,000 had been spent on the other side. We’ve seen no recent polls, though, to give us an idea of the state of the race.

MI-13: Target Insyght’s new survey of next week’s Democratic primary finds self-funding state Rep. Shri Thanedar leading Portia Roberson, a Michigan Civil Rights commissioner who sports an endorsement from retiring Rep. Brenda Lawrence, 22-17. The poll, which was in the field July 19-22, shows state Sen. Adam Hollier just behind with 16% as two more contenders, hedge fund manager John Conyers III and former Detroit General Counsel Sharon McPhail, take 7% each.

The last poll we saw was another Target Insyght survey from May that showed a very different state of affairs. Back then McPhail outpaced Conyers 20-15, with Thanedar at 12%; Roberson and Hollier, for their part, clocked in with just 9% and 6%, respectively.

Since then, though, Thanedar has deployed a hefty amount of his own money while Hollier has benefited from a massive amount of outside spending mainly from a trio of groups: AIPAC, VoteVets, and the crypto-aligned Protect Our Future. However, while Hollier’s allies have aired ads attacking Thanedar, they’ve so far ignored Roberson and the rest of the field.

NY-01: While Nick LaLota, who serves as chief of staff for the Suffolk County Legislature and has the backing of the local GOP establishment, has appeared to be on a glide path to the nomination, Newsday‘s Mark Chiusano notes that he faces a very well-funded intra-party foe on Aug. 23. Michelle Bond, who leads a cryptocurrency trade group, finished June with an $810,000 to $330,000 cash-on-hand lead over LaLota in this open seat; much of Bond’s advantage comes from the $750,000 she self-funded during the last quarter, but she also outraised LaLota $240,000 to $120,000 with donors.

Bond has used debates to attack LaLota for having once worked for former Rep. Steve Israel, a Long Island Democrat who retired from the neighboring 3rd District in 2017. She’s also gone after her opponent for living just outside this seat, though she could also be vulnerable on residency issues. While Bond grew up in what’s now the 1st, Chiusano notes that she only registered to vote here in June after previously casting ballots in Maryland and D.C. Bond, who says she moved back to the area around then, also recently bought a place in Maryland, which she told Chiusano was one of the “multiple residences” she has.

The winner will go up against Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who has no Democratic primary opposition: Fleming raised $360,000 during the last quarter, and she finished June with $520,000 in the bank. Biden would have carried the new version of this seat, which GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin is giving up to run for governor, by a tiny 49.4-49.2, a shift from Trump’s 51-47 showing under the existing lines.

NY-10: Former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman has publicized a Democratic primary internal from Change Research that went into the field right after former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped out, and it finds her narrowly trailing in her bid to return to the House after a 42-year-absence. The survey gives former federal prosecutor Dan Goldman a 14-12 edge over Holtzman; just behind with 10% each are 17th District Rep. Mondaire Jones; New York City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera; and Assemblywomen Yuh-Line Niou and Jo Anne Simon, while 30% are undecided.

We’ve seen two other polls this month, and they’ve each shown a different set of frontrunners. Data for Progress, which polled the contest independently, had Rivera edging out Niou 17-14 as Goldman and Holtzman grabbed 12% and 9%, respectively. The Justice Research Group’s internal for Niou and her allies at the Working Families Party, meanwhile, had her deadlocked with Rivera 16-16 with Goldman at 10% and Holtzman all the way back in sixth place with just 4%. What all three surveys agree on, though, is that a large plurality of voters are undecided in this safely blue seat.

NY-17: State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi has released an internal from The Justice Research Group that shows her trailing Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney 34-21 in next month’s Democratic primary, with a 45% plurality undecided. The memo for this poll, which was conducted July 1-11, says that Maloney posted a 30-point lead in a June survey that was not made public, and it argues that Biaggi will pull ahead once voters learn more about her.

Maloney himself posted a considerably larger lead in his own poll, but that survey sampled a mere 233 voters, which is below the 300 minimum we require to report on a poll in the Digest.

Grab Bag

Where Are They Now?: Federal authorities on Monday charged former Republican Rep. Steve Buyer, who represented Indiana from 1993 until his 2011 retirement, with insider trading. Buyer was indicted on four counts of securities fraud, each of which carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison; the former congressman’s lawyer quickly proclaimed his client’s innocence.

Prosecutors allege that Buyer, who worked as a consultant for the communications giant T-Mobile, learned nonpublic information at a 2018 golf game about the company’s attempted merger with Sprint and quickly purchased $500,000 in Sprint shares. The indictment also says that Buyer took similar actions the next year after he learned that another client, Guidehouse, was about to acquire the management consultancy firm Navigant.

Buyer, who was elected in 1992 by narrowly unseating Democratic incumbent Jim Jontz, didn’t attract much attention during most of his 18 years in office, though Golf Digest honored him in 2008 by ranking him as D.C.’s 32nd best golfer. (House Minority Leader John Boehner came in just behind at 36, while then-Sen. Joe Biden was in a three-way tie for 48th.) The next year, though, Buyer earned national derision when he delivered a floor speech against a successful anti-smoking bill, saying, “You could have smoked that lettuce and you still end up with the same problems … It is the smoke that kills, not the nicotine.”

Buyer announced his retirement in 2010 by saying he was leaving because of his wife’s health struggles, though observers noted he was also facing questions into why his scholarship foundation had raised $880,000 without ever awarding a single scholarship. In 2012, the now-former congressman became a lobbyist for the tobacco company Reynolds American.

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