Schweikert, Gosar victories a return to normal in right-leaning districts
Democratic U.S. Reps. Harry Mitchell and Ann Kirkpatrick faced more than a GOP tidal wave Tuesday. In fact, their defeat was a return to normal in their traditionally right-leaning districts, political scientists said.
"The ideology in those districts is more conservative than those representatives are," said Fred Solop, a professor in Northern Arizona University's Department of Politics & International Affairs. "These are more moderate, complex districts."
Republican David Schweikert, the former Maricopa County treasurer, will take over for Harry Mitchell in the 5th Congressional District, which covers suburbs south and northeast of Phoenix.
Political newcomer Paul Gosar, a Flagstaff dentist, continued the GOP's gains by ousting Kirkpatrick in the 1st Congressional District, which covers a wide swath of northern, eastern and central Arizona.
Those two seats may not be the only Republican congressional gains in Arizona. Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords, who represent southern Arizona districts, clung to narrow leads Wednesday. Up by 6,000 votes, Grijalva is a likely winner, while Giffords leads by 3,000 as provisional ballots are counted.
David Schweikert, who lost to Mitchell by 10 points two years ago, said he noticed the different environment this time around.
"Two years ago was fluffy. It was all about hope and change," Schweikert said on election night. "It cost a lot of jobs and created massive debt."
There are nearly 40,000 more registered Republicans than registered Democrats in the district. Mitchell, a former teacher and longtime Arizona political figure, took over the seat by upsetting Republican J.D. Hayworth in 2006.
Kirkpatrick replaced Republican Rick Renzi, who left office in 2008 while facing federal criminal charges for his role in a land swap deal. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, but many of the regions it covers have traditionally leaned toward GOP candidates.
Bruce Merrill, a retired Arizona State University professor who conducts the Cronkite/Eight Poll, said that although discontent with Washington leaders helped fuel the result, it would be too simplistic to call this election a Republican victory.
"We're seeing tremendous demographic changes in Arizona," he said.
Merrill added that the number of independents has doubled in the past decade, making for an almost even split between Republicans, Democrats and independents in the state.
"Independents are not tied to a particular party, so they're more susceptible to being influenced by short-term factors," Merrill said.
John Lewis, field director for the Schweikert campaign, agreed that independents were crucial to the win.
"We couldn't have won without independents," Lewis said. "They're sick of party labels and want solutions."
But Merrill said it's about more than voters being fed up. He said people shouldn't underestimate the role political advertising, much of it negative, played in this election.
In a time where people are angry about the lack of progress in Washington, Merrill said these advertisements have the ability to make an impact.Still, he predicts the country will see more volatility in future elections.
"My feeling is we're in a period where we're going to have swings back and forth," he said.
Solop said Ruth McClung and Jesse Kelly, the Tea Party-backed candidates running against Grijalva and Giffords, respectively, were doing well despite the fact that the movement is less organized here than other states.
"It was unexpected they would be such strong candidates," Solop said.