What the Devil won't tell you
GOP Council candidates need to up fundraising ahead of looming deadline
Republicans face 4-1 disadvantage in campaign cash
New campaign finance reports are due this week from candidates for November's City Council election. Thus far, for all their foibles and vulnerabilities, the Democrats look like Saturday-night headliners at the Rialto Theatre, while the Republicans evoke the image of open-mic night performers on a Monday at an East Side coffeehouse.
Yes, Kelly Lawton, Margaret Burkholder and Bill Hunt, I not only just taunted you but did it with a positive reference to the downtown redevelopment that long vexed Democrats up for re-election. What are you going to do about it? The answer is "not much" if you don't get your butts in gear to raise money. I'll do it again: Thrifty Block. Ooooooh. You can't lay a glove on me.
The next filing deadline is Thursday and if the Republican challengers haven't markedly improved on the numbers they reported three weeks ago, then they'll be forced to rely on outside groups that may not be able to compete with the fundraising mojo of the Pima County Democratic Party.
The GOP aspirants have $16,715 cash on hand. Which ones? All of them. Together. Lawton, an Embry Riddle University administrator challenging Cunningham in Ward, 2 has $7,962 in the bank. Burkholder, a Vail School District Governing Board member vying for Scott's Ward 4 seat, has $4,559. Hunt, a retired pilot pursuing Romero's seat in Ward 1, is sitting on $4,194.
At this rate, they'll be fierce contenders by 2019.
Of the three Democratic incumbents, Paul Cunningham is the slowest of the incumbent fundraisers with $17,221 in the bank. Regina Romero, facing her first general election Republican in three races, raised the most money of all Council contestants and still has $47,926 in the bank. Veteran Shirley Scott had $27,926 stashed as of early September.
Here are the numbers raised through Sept. 6:
- Jonathan Rothschild (D incumbent, unopposed): total raised $118,362; $93,143 remaining cash on hand.
Ward 1: Downtown/West Side*
- Regina Romero (D incumbent): $54,432 total raised (plus $20,000 in matching funds); $47,926 cash on hand
- Bill Hunt (R): total raised $8,140; $4,194 cash on hand
Ward 2: Northeast Side
- Paul Cunningham (D incumbent): $38,882 total raised; $17,221 cash on hand
- Kelly Lawton (R): $10,665 total raised; $7,962 cash on hand
Ward 4: Southeast Side
- Shirley Scott (D incumbent): $39,801 total raised; $27,926 cash on hand
- Margaret Burkholder (R): $10,009 total raised; $4,559 cash on hand
*The general election is city-wide but I included the ward locations to give a sense of geography. All city voters can cast ballots in all three races.
Check back after Thursday's deadline for updated numbers.
See, Republicans are forgetting the part about being a candidate where you have to do "the ask." The ask is like that part of the email back home, after you explain what is new with you, when you tell your dad the water pump on your Ford Escort just "blew." The ask starts with, "So is it possible you can give me ...."
It sucks. I get it. We all get it. Rare is the candidate or party leader who likes doing this. About the best anyone can hope for is not minding it. I know for a fact that Pima County Democratic Party Chairwoman Cheryl Cage doesn't mind it. Having worked with her in the past, I know she just sees it as part of the process.
Cage's no-nonsense approach teamed with recently resigned (in the onward and upward sense) Executive Director Shasta McManus' fundraising prowess may help explain why the Pima County Democratic Party has raked in $353,368 during this election cycle. Sure, they've spent more than $340,000 but they still have $10,000 in the bank and seem capable of hauling in more than $17,000 per month.
Meanwhile, their counterparts over at county Republican headquarters have raised $56,579 and have spent more than $58,000 because they're the party good with money.
Are there other nooks and crannies in which to find cash? Absolutely. Political action committees seem ready to throw in during the race and they are exclusively Republican.
The Tucson Police Officers Association was flush with a whopping $79,000 as of July 20, but failed to file an August report. How involved the police officers' union will be in the 2015 election remains to be seen. TPOA tends to lean in the direction of Republican sympathies when they do get involved.
The Southern Arizona Home Builders Association have candidate and issues PACs, which have a combined $28,745 that they've raised for the campaign so far. Of course an issues campaign would never seek to endorse one candidate over another ... hah ... hah ... hah.... Another group, Revitalize Tucson, has raised $35,000 to buy billboards to whack the Democrats.
Even the $63,000 raised by SAHBA and Frank Antenori doesn't get conservatives to where Romero is all by herself.
The other bit of geography we can't yet examine, because he would have us arrested if we tried, is Jim Click's wallet. The Tucson auto magnate has historically come in with hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of Republicans in Council races and in 2011 he came in late through the state Republican Party's door. The state party hasn't raised any money or spent any money that has been reported on the Tucson City Clerk's website.
So we have no evidence yet of Jim Click playing a hand, or signing a check, in the race.
Nothing is over until we say it's over
The GOP's slow fundraising is not necessarily a sign that they won't run a credible race.
The cash dash is to the ultimately attainable $55,000 mark, because of how city rules govern elections.
Tucson's approach is a better way to provide public funding than the state's "Clean Elections" process. City candidates can get up to $55,000 in matching funds, requiring them to raise the money with a $500 limit from individuals and $1,000 from political action committees. They have to prove themselves at least somewhat worthy of community buy-in before the city starts writing matching checks.
So if the Republicans can get to $55,000, the city will give them another $55,000 and then they must agree to a cap of those two amounts combined. It's enough to get the word out and mount a challenge — and that one-to-one match provides a disincentive to run "not-clean."
What matching funds mean in Tucson is that Romero, Cunningham and Scott will likely stop raising money once they hit $55,000 apiece.
In 2009, Shaun McClusky stood right about where the Republicans are now in terms of fundraising, with $8,449 in the bank; $12,639 raised in total by the post-primary reporting period. He was a candidate who responded to a robo-call search for contenders in Ward 5 because the party couldn't find an obvious civic leader from the Southwest Side to run the race. McClusky lost by just five points to Richard Fimbres, a former Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Person of the Year.
In 2011, Tyler Vogt had raised $16,363 by the end of the primary and was sitting on $4,384, and still nearly beat Scott. She won by less than a percentage point.
No one can say the 2015 fundraising efforts are fatal, but they sure aren't best practice.
The last Republican to win a city race was Steve Kozachik in 2009. At this point in the election he was sitting on $35,116, having raised $51,990 through early September. He would beat Nina Trasoff, who then had $33,002 cash on hand. Ben Buehler-Garcia did well against Karin Uhlich and by this point in 2009 (he would lose by fewer than 200 votes), he had a war chest of $21,620.
Early money allows the Council incumbents to start now, if they choose, inoculating themselves from charges of mishandling the Sun Tran strike, which lasted 42 days and only got settled after the Council and city manager got off the dime and basically told Sun Tran's management to settle it. The Council can leave out how it failed to show leadership during the first month of the strike, after failing to account for the possibility of a work stoppage during budget sessions.
Absent cash to make an argument, the Republicans will answer with silence.
Sure, it's early to go up on television or radio, but there's never been this juicy a story line out there to exploit in September.
As seen on TV
Here's another bit of insider knowledge that should be inspiring Republicans: Democrats don't like to do TV. This is true. The conventional wisdom inside Democratic politics in Tucson is that TV is a waste of money and mailers win races.
"Dominate the dominant medium" is how the consultants put it, and the dominant medium is direct mail.
Maybe this is why Republicans so outperform their voter registration numbers in city elections. They go up on the nightly news with ads savaging Democrats for a month and Democrats respond with junk mail — sorry, "well-targeted" junk mail. So the 20-point leads they see in their July polling absolutely evaporate come Election Day.
However, TV costs money and Republicans don't yet have it.
Someone who has it burning a hole in his dockers is Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, with his $93,000 on hand and zero opposition.
Rothschild can't put up ads on behalf of the Democrats but he can tout his record and city accomplishments, which improves perception of the whole Democratic slate, thereby improving the odds of the incumbents. I strongly suggest television and not a five-by-seven two-sided mailer. If the races are close, Rothschild can make the case that he saved the Democrats from annihilation. He'd be a strong mayor no matter what the City Charter says.
National mood and the base
What I'm really curious about is how much of the slow start is a result of candidate sloth and how much has to do with apathy within the ranks of the GOP base.
The national mood in odd-numbered years can expose local partisans to national flare-ups and local races can be affected to larger trends.
In 2005, with Iraq aflame and New Orleans submerged, incumbent Republicans Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar got annihilated in a surprise upset by Karin Uhlich and Nina Trasoff.
In 2009, with the Tea Party stirring to life across the country, Tucson conservatives saw the Democratic City Council as surrogates for slicing pounds of flesh from the White House. Meanwhile, Democrats had gorged themselves on their victory the previous year.
In 2011, the Republican Party had seriously undermined its brand with the debt ceiling stand-off to the point where pollsters told Democratic leaders in Tucson that modifiers like "extreme" and "out-of-touch" were unnecessary to describe Republicans. The word "Republican" was bad enough.
You have to work or at least be a part of a campaign season to understand the ebb and flow of enthusiasms. The press might like to play civics and point out that local races are different than statewide or national races but they aren't.
They tap the same fundraising base and the same volunteer pool. Nothing inspires a base like losing an election and nothing deflates one like winning something big.
Hey, we elected Obama in 2008. Everything is fixed.
We beat U.S. Rep. Ron Barber and elected a superstar in Rep. Martha McSally; we're happy.
Today, with never-ending national and state email solicitations, politicos everywhere are competing for the same donor base and tapping it out.
People get sick of it.
For Republicans to win in Tucson — and if they flipped two percentage points over the last six years, they would have done it three times — the base must be energized. Volunteers and contributors must be willing to walk neighborhoods, sit in phone banking sessions and sign checks to turn out the vote and win.
In terms of dollars and cents, the Republican base doesn't exactly appear to be on fire in 2015.
Figuring the end game
What we don't know and can't know is how much late money may drop into the race and from where it might launch itself. Here's where Click comes in (and has come in previously). I'm not picking on him, because Democrats have names like Bill Rowe who can drop money on the race. But he and other Democratic money people don't tend to play the late game. They like to get started early.
They are all free to focus on local politics because the 2015 cycle is a quiet one nationally, with just three governorships up for grabs and 33 cities holding races. Could Click make up the funding gap by bringing in some national money? Sure. God knows he's well-connected enough.
Ambassadorships are often doled out based on who raised the most for a national race. Do a little and become ambassador to Uruguay. Do a lot and you enjoy a post in Stockholm.
Click was a huge donor to former President George W. Bush.
No, Jim Click wasn't ambassador to anything. He had a job as "co-managing partner of Click-Tuttle Automotive Group." The other managing partner, Robert H. Tuttle, however, was named ambassador to the United Fucking Kingdom. It doesn't get more choice than that.
Yeah, Team Click got the ambassadorship to the Court of St. James. See, the founder of the car-dealing empire was a guy named Holmes Tuttle, who once told an actor named Ronald Reagan "you oughta run for something" and served as one of the Gipper's closest business confidants.
Really funny aside: Tuttle got one of the most plumb government jobs anywhere in the world and with it came a salary, a car and a house. All he had to do was maintain the peace between the Washington, D.C. and London (it shouldn't have been hard). Let's just say his stay made Mitt Romney's infamous trip to the Thames ahead of the 2012 Olympics look like Kennedy's trip to Berlin in 1962. Tuttle refused to pay a traffic fee in London, calling it an illegal tax on ambassadors, prompting the right honorable Mayor of London to describe Tuttle as "a chiseling little crook." He took grief for the comment.
Suffice it to say, Click is connected to national Republican money. Gobs and gobs of it.
He has never tapped that outside cash for a City Council race and so I wouldn't call this anything other than a remote chance. but with the asking price for political influence skyrocketing post-Citizens United, havoc could be wrought here on the cheap.
Click could mention as an aside during a round of golf, "Hey, for 50 grand we could screw some Democrats up in Tucson" and the foursome could in fact, jack up the race with an extra $200,000. It's so cheap to affect the outcome here for the super rich (and I don't begrudge Click a dime), they could do it for a day's worth of interest.
When we turn over the bankrolling of campaigns to a few folks, big surprises can happen.
The Democrats are vulnerable.
The City Council has been unpopular, the economy in Tucson is weak and the Sun Tran strike was exactly what the Council members don't need.
Shirley Scott has been a part of the solution/problem since her victory in 1997. She's not particularly popular among Democratic activists (in her defense, she doesn't glad-hand them either) and not particularly popular among business groups. She's had the fortune of running her last two races in 2007 and 2011, when the Republican Party had identity problems. She's never faced a woman before and Burkholder is an experienced campaigner, having held a seat on the Vail School District Governing Board.
Romero has not faced a Republican in either of her races in 2007 and 2011. She simply had to get passed the electoral juggernaut that was Green Party candidate Beryl Baker — and Baker won 30 percent of the vote in 2011. But Romero is popular among the base and the various interest groups, who will support her with gusto and that's important when Democrats have such a city-wide edge in numbers over the GOP.
Paul Cunningham has his own problems. A big one is a San Diego junket in 2012 when he got drunk and acted in a manner toward female city staffers that required sensitivity training. He manned up and apologized. Political insiders may shake their heads at his frat-boy antics but the undeniably likable Cunningham does seem to exceed expectations. Kelly Lawton seems the Ward 2 antidote for Cunningham, but again, he's good at being underestimated.
Credit Democrats for knowing how to take the stage.
Republicans running for Tucson City Council face a steep disadvantage in partisan voter registration, but when they have mounted races in the past, the races have been tight because those independents who bother to show up to the polls tend to break Republican in Tucson elections.
Without money in the Republican's bank, though, all of this is moot.
Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.