An insidious ad campaign in key Republican races "depressed" Arizona Democratic voters in order to keep them at home on Tuesday, says losing candidate Terry Goddard.
We ran into Goddard and Sandra Kennedy at Phoenix's Giant Coffee this morning and stole some of their time for a few election post-mortem questions. As you may know, Goddard, former state Attorney General, lost his bid for Arizona Secretary of State to Michele Reagan; Kennedy, meanwhile, lost for the second time in two years in her attempt to regain a seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Naturally, we were curious to ask why state Democrats had their butts handed to them by voters on Tuesday. Goddard's answer was somewhat surprising.
He says Republican ad campaigns funded by "dark money," including those by Governor-elect Doug Ducey, were "focused on depressing, not attacking."
If one were to compare GOP attack ads from two years ago to this year, the subtle difference in messaging can be perceived, he claims. We'll admit we didn't try to analyze the ads before writing this article. But that's in part because we're rather skeptical that anyone ran what would essentially be a subliminal ad campaign, or that such a strategy would work if it were tried.
Goddard wasn't able to provide evidence of the alleged GOP strategy at the coffee shop. Doug Ducey's campaign headquarters wouldn't provide a response on the allegation.
There's no question that voter turnout was dirt-low on Tuesday.
Goddard didn't have official figures, but says he's heard Democratic turnout may been around 40 percent, while Republican turnout was more like 55 percent.
"It was voter suppression," Goddard says. "I was ahead in every poll. They predicted 50 percent would turn out -- what we got was 40 percent."
He describes turnout as abysmal for Democratic voters under 30, and for Hispanics and other minority populations. Nearly 600,000 early ballots were ordered but not turned in, he says, and a majority of those likely had been in the hands of potential Democratic voters.
When a voter orders an early ballot, then sits on it past election today, that in itself is a statement about what the voter thinks about the political climate and his or her ability to influence it, Goddard says.
Kennedy has a more specific scapegoat for her loss: Personal attack ads against her, like one that points out her business failures. "Dark money" put $1.7 million into attack ads targeting her, she says, and those ads were "very effective."
Really, though, those ads didn't have to try very hard to make Kennedy's business acumen look poor. In a recent article about her business woes, Kennedy admitted the Denny's restaurant operation she ran "started going bad," but blamed the troubles on the national economy.
Kennedy also says that voters may have rejected her on a personal level, but feels certain they didn't reject the pro-solar-power values she represents. Kennedy's campaign focused strongly on a pro-solar agenda, as did that of Jim Holway, another Democratic candidate for the Commission who lost on Tuesday.
The all-GOP Corporation Commission seems to be wasting no time moving forward on a right-wing agenda, in Goddard's view. On Tuesday, the commission's staff filed a proposal supported strongly by Commissioner Gary Pierce to eliminate energy efficiency standards that are estimated to save ratepayers $9 billion by 2020. Pierce says the efficiency program isn't cost-effective.
With continued all-GOP representation at the utility-regulating commission, Kennedy predicts, Arizona's solar programs "will eventually just go away. We will go backward rather than forward over the next six months."
Solar probably won't really "go away." But last year the Corporation Commission made it less profitable for homeowners to purchase rooftop systems with an additional fee that was implemented, ostensibly, to avoid a future rate spike for non-solar customers.
In the analysis of Tuesday's results by Goddard and Kennedy, the issues made little or no difference. The biggest impact came because voters were fooled or influenced by ads paid for by "dark money" -- funds delivered in part, reportedly, from Arizona Public Service and the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, they say. Candidates like Sandra Kennedy, funded by the state's clean-elections system, didn't have as much of a "financially assisted megaphone" as Republicans, Goddard claims.
To get more of a feel for what happened to Democratic turnout, we talked to Jon Ryder, the executive director of the Maricopa County Democratic Party.
He says overall voter turnout from Tuesday's election in Arizona is expected to have been about 39 percent, which would be in line with national averages -- and also the lowest nationally since the middle of World War Two.
Ryder agrees with Goddard's consensus that a 10-point or greater difference may have existed in terms of Republican and Democratic turnout. Independents may have turned out to vote in even smaller percentages, he says.
One possible reason for the difference in turnout, an effect seen in many elections, is that Democrats "have multiple jobs and find it harder to get to the polls," according to Ryder.
Some good news came out of the election for Arizona Democrats, Ryder insists. In Maricopa County, Dems didn't lose any Congressional or state Legislative seats, he observes.
The lack of Democratic turnout wasn't due to a corresponding lack of effort to encourage voters to make it to the polls -- quite the opposite, actually, says Jane McNamara, a leader in the state Democratic Party.
She knows five of her own neighbors who are Democrats but didn't vote, she says, including one young couple who obtained an early ballot but failed to turn it in. She also recalled how when she tried to talk to one of her elderly neighbors, a guy she knows is a Democrat, a young man who lives with him told her not to bother.
"He's an 'I' for indifferent," he told her.
Before we wrap this up, we'll mention that we talked to Matt Roberts, spokesman for state elections, about the number of ballots left to be counted. He sent us some new info on that this morning: As of Friday morning, more than 218,000 uncounted ballots remained outstanding. Roberts says that's nothing out of the ordinary, but that a couple of factors may lead to slight delays in counting the last of the votes.
Election officials noticed that voters seemed to have held on to their early ballots longer this year, he says. Last-minute mailed-in ballots poured into the hands of officials on Tuesday, and polls around the state reported a heavy number of early ballots being dropped off. The state urges people to mail their ballots on the Thursday before a Tuesday election -- many voters seemed to have put theirs in the mail on Friday, he says.
Lastly, here are some of the latest developments in this week's election news:
* Democrat Felecia Rotellini finally conceded to Republican Mark Brnovichk in the state Attorney General's race.
* Republican Martha McSally leads Democrat incumbent Congressman Rob Barber for the CD2 race by less than 400 votes. Thousands of votes remain uncounted in Pima County.
* Republican Diane Douglas still has a slight edge over Democrat David Garcia for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.
* In southern Arizona's Legislative District Nine, State Representative Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, has fallen behind Democrat Randy Friese and appears in danger of losing his job.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.