Published: October 15, 2013 at 7:35 am, Arizona Capital Times
After five Republican gubernatorial hopefuls held their first candidate forum, some observers said the big winner was a candidate who wasn’t in the room — Democratic nominee-in-waiting Fred DuVal.
DuVal, a former Board of Regents president and longtime Democratic operative, is effectively running unopposed for his party’s nomination. House Minority Leader Chad Campbell eyed the race for months but ultimately chose not to run, giving DuVal a clear path to the general election.
That will likely give DuVal an advantage going into the election. He’ll be able to stockpile campaign cash while the eventual Republican nominee spends heavily on the GOP primary, stay close to the political center while Republicans run to the right to appeal to their base and avoid the direct attacks while the Republicans train their fire on each other.
There are downsides to DuVal running uncontested in the primary, political observers say. Because he has no primary, DuVal will receive little media or public attention until after the primary, while the Republican nominee will have already spent months in the spotlight. With less than three months between the primary and general elections, DuVal will have a relatively short amount of time to introduce himself to the voters.
But most politicos say the positives outweigh the negatives for DuVal.
“Obviously a free ride is better than paying for it,” said Republican campaign consultant Chad Willems.
Political consultant and lobbyist Chuck Coughlin said there are pros and cons to DuVal’s situation. But the conventional wisdom is that it’s better not to have a primary opponent.
“On the whole, I would say conventional wisdom rules,” Coughlin said.
Fundraising may be the biggest advantage for DuVal. This year, the Legislature increased campaign contribution limits to $4,000 per person instead of $912 that statewide candidates had been limited to raising from individuals. With decades’ worth of connections in Arizona and Washington, D.C., DuVal, a former Clinton White House aide, is expected to have a well-stocked war chest.
If DuVal can bring in a lot of $4,000 checks and carry most of the money into the general election — which will probably require additional legislation, thanks to a kink in the new campaign finance laws — he could bring millions to bear against a Republican nominee who most likely will have broken the bank to win the primary.
Political observers expect strong fundraising from some of the Republican candidates as well, especially state Treasurer Doug Ducey, former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones, and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, if he decides to run. But even if candidates like Ducey and Smith raise $2 million to $4 million in the primary, they’ll probably have to spend most of it to get to the general election, said Republican political consultant Kyle Moyer.
“Whoever comes out will come out bloody and broke,” Moyer said.
An uncontested primary will also help DuVal stay closer to the political center, an advantage for any Democrat in a predominantly Republican state like Arizona. DuVal has run so far as a moderate Democrat, and without a primary opponent like Campbell to force him to the left, he’ll be able to run that way through next year’s election.
In the meantime, GOP candidates tend to run to the right to appeal to the conservative primary base. Democrats are already trying to paint the Republican field as a group of extremists. After the Oct. 3 GOP candidate forum, the Democratic Governors Association took aim at the Republican hopefuls.
“Tonight’s debate demonstrated that every Republican running for governor of Arizona makes Jan Brewer look like a liberal. This group of Tea Party radicals is pointing Arizona straight in the wrong direction: away from jobs, away from good schools, and away from the investments required to thrive in a 21st century economy,” DGA spokesman Colm O’Comartun said in a press statement.
Rodd McLeod, DuVal’s campaign consultant, said not having a primary will help DuVal push a moderate message. McLeod said focusing on moderates and independents during the primary is a winning message that has served Arizona Democrats well in the past, such as in former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ 2006 race.
“We made a decision in May that we were going to win this primary and be mindful every step of the way of the voters we would need in the fall, even though our primary was on Sept. 12, 2006,” McLeod said.
Coughlin said staying close to the center will benefit DuVal. But being a moderate Democrat may not be enough in Arizona. Coughlin said DuVal will have to depart from “conventional center-left thinking” and said he’ll have to find a traditionally conservative issue, such as voter identification laws, to support in order to win.
“In order for a Democrat to win a statewide race in Arizona, the Democrat will necessarily have to offend part of his Democratic base,” Coughlin said. “If you just run a centrist campaign, you’re going to lose.”
A clear primary field creates some challenges as well. DuVal may lose out on the publicity and attention that candidates get from contested primaries. While Republicans will be running television ads and getting media attention, DuVal may be largely unknown to voters who are already used to seeing and hearing from the Republican nominee.
“I think this makes him the forgotten candidate,” said Brian Seitchik, Jones’ campaign manager. “There will be no attention, no interest in his candidacy, while folks will be taking a good, hard look at the Republican candidates. And I think that will be a benefit in the general election.”
McLeod acknowledged that a contested primary has some advantages. A vigorous primary energizes volunteers and contributors, he said. And it provides experience for campaign staffers who can put their refined skills to use in the general election.
A contested primary also helps candidates gain attention and name ID, McLeod said. But that can sometimes be negative, he said, such as in the 2010 GOP primary for attorney general, when Republicans Tom Horne and Andrew Thomas savaged each other for months.
“It can also become poisonous,” McLeod said of contentious primaries. “The ball can bounce in lots of different directions.”
McLeod said there would be some benefits to a contested primary. But in the end, DuVal is better off with a clear field, he said.
“There is truth to that concern, but on balance I would rather have a campaign where I didn’t have a primary challenger,” McLeod said.
Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham said he would prefer it if DuVal had a primary opponent. But primaries are good for energizing the base, he said, and DuVal’s campaign will suffer if it doesn’t do that next year.
“He’s going to be a standalone candidate that hasn’t engaged his base to get out there and do anything. So I’ll take it, all day long,” Graham said. “DuVal is a plain vanilla candidate. He has no texture to him and he has a party that’s not working for him at this particular point.”