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What the Devil won't tell you

D.C. smart guys aside, McSally still a favorite if she faces Kirkpatrick ... if

Cook Political Report too quick on the draw calling CD 2 race a toss up

So, I'm waiting to hear back on some information for another column and I clicked on an email that makes me empathize with U.S. Rep. Martha McSally.

Does her life really need to get harder?

The Cook Political Report has moved McSally's re-election bid from likely to iffy, by recasting the race to represent Arizona's 2nd Congressional District as a “toss up.” It had been “lean Republican.”

Now, I've been on the record saying McSally was in for the brawl of her life, carrying President Donald Trump around on her political shoulders. People thought I was crazy because no one in Southern Arizona Democratic politics could beat her. Au contraire, I argued. Opportunity knocks and someone will walk through the door.

Well, we were both right. Former U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick has moved from Flagstaff down to Tucson to take a whack at McSally's seat. Kirkpatrick is a proven winner, having twice turned red seats blue. She won her former rural Arizona seat in 2008, 2012 and 2014. She's twice been proven a loser, having lost her congressional seat in 2010 and then getting worked in 2016 by U.S. Sen. John McCain in a bid for the upper chamber. I'll say this much for Whiplash Annie. She seems to dig the adrenaline.

When I made that prediction I assumed the Southern Arizona race would included a couple, oh, I don't know, Southern Arizonans. Sorry Charlie, McSally is still a six-point favorite. Kirkpatrick knocks just a point or two off the spread.

The Cook ranking is a big deal. The change in classification won't do much to change how voters in southeastern Arizona will cast their ballot next year. But it should make the Democratic moneybags start scribbling out checks for the Kirkpatrick campaign.

I'll let you in on a secret. However important we think money is in politics, you are underestimating it. Democratic donors don't really care how their candidates would cast their votes. A candidate's position on the issues or passion for service are both for chumps and true believers.

The party moneybags and throngs of consultants ask candidates two things: How are you going to raise money? Can you win?

They stop paying attention after the first answer. Win or lose, the consultants get their cut — but only if the cash flows. And the big donors don't want to put themselves out by being the only one to back a candidate. That's more embarrassing than losing a good fight.

Candidates must raise money to pay for Beltway-approved consultants, thereby confirming their chops so they can raise the money to get the right message out, narrow the polling gap for the purposes of raising more money to pull into the lead and raise more money to defend that lead. If they can't raise the first round of cash, then the rest of it doesn't really matter, does it?

Kirkpatrick clearly will be able to pony up the entry fee for a race while Trump is unwittingly doing all he can to make sure McSally gets an ulcer.

The president's decision last week to end support payments to insurers as prescribed in the Affordable Care Act takes means McSally, as a member of his party who hasn't distanced herself at all from Trump, will own the ensuing health insurance rate increases.

Blaming McSally for a party-wide fail isn't particularly fair but life isn't fair. Conservatives should know that. The GOP mastered the art of using procedures protecting the minority to block legislation, then blamed Democrats in power for inaction. It worked like a charm in 1994 and 2010.

Republican efforts to blame Democrats for obstruction is a bit a kin to Abner Doubleday griping, “Oh, you are just playing baseball.”

When voters put one party in charge, they have proven to have limited patience with the argument that the other party is being mean and throwing rocks.

Magic carpet ride

Kirkpatrick's entry coincides with Cook's increased odds for a Democratic pickup, the unwritten message being clear enough: Kirkpatrick is inevitable. She secured an early endorsement from EMILY's List, which seeks out pro-choice women. Former U.S. Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Ron Barber have also saddled up with Team Kirkpatrick.

How will voters take this whole moving down from Flagstaff thing? I moved down from Flagstaff in 1998. I just didn't immediately run for Congress.

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Yeah, yeah, Kirkpatrick has family here. Sure, fine, she's got grandkids in town and their mom could use some extra help. OK, it's Tucson and we're all from somewhere else. I hear you, Team Kirkpatrick: she went to the University of Arizona during Nixon's first term. But dudes, she lost a Senate bid in November, moved down to Tucson in the spring and announced a congressional bid in the summer. It seems just a bit Glassmanesque or "pulling a Rodney" or whatever you call someone a bit too eager to get elected to something.

I'm going to make a prediction right here: The Democrats running who have lived in the district will get the cold shoulder from national D's, which is par for the freaking course. I cannot overstate how little the Harvard-Georgetown crowd thinks of those of us who lack the intellectual acuity to live in Washington, D.C., or New York. Bumpinville – basically all of America where theatergoers can't catch "Hamilton" – will take the Democrats we're given.

"You got Kirkpatrick and don't give us any lip."

Actually, I was under the impression Democrats see L.A. as Bumpkinville, too, but they can raise a lot of money between Interstate 5 and Venice Beach.

And when it comes to Bumpkinville, national Democrats love them some Blue Dogs like Kirkpatrick, who work over time to prove they're not liberal. In the age of Bernie and an increasingly obstinate base, she may not be what the Left is looking for.

Kirkpatrick's website is everything the Democratic base would hate. There's a video paused on an image of her talking to four white guys in cowboy hats, like they all just got done shooting whiskey at the the Rusty Nail Saloon. Bitching about the dangfool gubmint, no doubt. Even better is that her site contains three different to contribute but no info on where she stands. Gimme money. Look! White people like me!

The donors will love it. They think we all look like that. The base will hate it. They trust no one in a Stetson.

That message undercuts her legit narrative. Kirkpatrick defied odds in 2014 and won re-election doubling down on her support of Obamacare. The woman who likes to show off with her boots, was ready to die with them on and surprise, surprise, she lived to tell the tale. The Cook team said she plans on running as an “unabashed progressive.”

The yocal Democratic field will undoubtedly not go quietly into the good night. I mean, former state Rep. Matt Heinz is in the mix and this guy just keeps coming, loss after loss.

Heinz, former state legislator Bruce Wheeler, former Assistant Army Secretary Mary Matiella and hotel manager Billy Kovacs will no doubt gang up on her as soon as they get their hands on some cash to get out the message and voters start paying attention.

Having written in January that McSally had a Trump problem, I wonder if the Democrats aren't getting a bit cocky. Did they learn their lesson in 2016? I don't know. Just empirically, a surprising number of Democrats have convinced themselves Trump will be removed by 2018.

Hubris remains everyone's greatest political foe.

I predict right now that the base will show up for Kirkpatrick, should she win the primary.

Tornadoes and tremblors

Mid-terms inevitably pit the disappointed against the pissed-off. The party that won the White House had such high hopes a couple years ago for a president who over-promised and under-delivered. They always do. The party that lost the White House can't believe (insert name here) is president and will brave tornadoes and earth quakes to make their voice heard.

Trump swore he could fix things. It would be easy. You wouldn't believe how easy it would be, remember? In fact, he was the only one who could fix the system because no one knew it better.

Trump's presidency has been about waging a rhetorical war on liberals, the professional media and taking NFL players to task for not properly venerating the military by dishonoring the “Star Spangled Banner” before football games. Did his voters want a culture war or a guy who will fight for the American worker to give them a fairer shake? We'll find out.

Repeal Obamacare, reform taxes and rebuild the infrastructure. That was the plan. None of it has happened. Republicans are bound to be disappointed, if not in Trump, at least the Republicans in Congress.

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Trump isn't standing up for them. He's adding himself to the list of critics.

“We're not getting the job done. I'm not going to blame myself, I'll be honest. They aren't getting the job done,” Trump said this week before a cabinet meeting.

Blame Congress. Voters may just take him up on it.

The real effing Martha

In May, a PPP poll found McSally losing to a generic Democrat by seven points. More worrisome, she was way upside down in her job approval (21 points) and even her likeability numbers were underwater (20 points). In fact, her numbers are worse than Trump's and the president lost the district by five points.

Generic polling like this is dubious on the one hand but can spook the hell out of politicos. In 2010 a generic number poll showed U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva down five to an unnamed Republican. It was Defcon 1 at Grijalva HQ. The prospect of losing such a seat sounded the sirens in then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and her people all but took over his campaign.

McSally also made a name for herself upbraiding her colleagues before the House vote on Trumpcare, “let's get this fucking thing done.”

Only 30 percent of her voters polled in her district wanted that fucking thing to become law and more than half told pollsters they'd be less likely to vote for McSally if she supported it.

The thing is, that's McSally. She's a fighter pilot, who likes a good cuss. Stuff like that makes her seem more authentic and voters like authentic. She's welded to Trumpcare's wing. She might as well follow it in for a landing.

McSally — who has a bit of "carpetbagger" luggage of her own to tote around, having hightailed it from a job teaching in Germany to Tucson just in time for the 2012 special election to replace Gabby Giffords — has built a reputation in Southern Arizona as a dog-loving pragmatist and big dogs at that. She's smart. She's savvy. She's a workhorse. In a lot of ways, she's like a Republican version of Giffords (absent the colorful vernacular).

Oh, sure. Some purists balk at her willingness to step outside rightwing orthodoxy. In that, she reminds me of Giffords. She routinely pissed off her base but when she showed up at Democratic headquarters, it was shoulder-to-shoulder kale eater and fleets of Priuses lined the street outside.

And remember the money. Few raise it better or faster than McSally.

CD2 still closely resembles a district conservative enough so that Jim Kolbe held it 22 years, easily beating Democrats like Tom Volgy, George Cunningham and Mary Judge Ryan. McSally should be a shoo-in barring a killer candidate or a nightmare of a president.

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She doesn't have the former. She's burdened with the latter and it's not getting better.

Her best news may be the Democrats' prohibitive favorite is wondering what happened to the suicide lanes and asking when the heck they moved Gentle Ben's.

Blake Morlock is a journalist who has spent 17 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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have your say   

3 comments on this story

Oct 20, 2017, 7:12 pm
-0 +0

The reason for the focus on Ann, is that’s what made cook bump the race to toss up. She’s smart and did well in Flag. Bruce, Matt, Mary and Kovacs ... who knows what Trump might spring forth. Martha’s going to have a tough go.

Oct 20, 2017, 7:03 pm
-0 +0

that was your take away? The column is “in the tank for Ann?”
Well, thanks for reading. Bruce is smart, experienced and passes the beer test. He could take it.

Oct 20, 2017, 4:17 pm
-0 +0

Morlock certainly likes to pretend he knows what he is talking about…but let’s face it, while he is good with putting words together very little of it is correct.
Two different recent polls put Kirkpatrick in third place even with respectable names endorsing her.  No doubt things will change with Mary Matiella running fourth with a long string of endorsements and a much more solid list of personal achievements.
Bruce Wheeler is working real hard early and has the strong support of rank and file Democrats.  No reason to expect him to lose his front runner status in the Democrat Primary.
Wheeler has a long history of solid years of public service that makes jolly come lately McSally blowing the trumpet and towing the Republican line too far out of step with folks in Southern Arizona on issue after issue.
Morlock needs to find a real job with guessing like this it may be too late.

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McSally and Kirkpatrick