TUCSON, ARIZ.—In hopes of keeping Arizona’s 8th District in Republican hands, White House adviser Karl Rove came to town last Friday with this message: Democrats can’t be trusted to fight the War on Terror.
At the fundraising event organized by the Arizona Republican Party, Rove—the man President Bush calls “the architect”—derided the Democratic congressional leadership for a “cut-and-run philosophy on terror.”
“We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can walk out on Iraq—without having won—and not embolden the terrorists,” Rove told the crowd of Arizona Republicans, including U.S. House-hopeful Randy Graf.
Citing Republicans’ recent legislative victories in Congress, including the renewal of the Patriot Act earlier this year and the just-passed Military Commissions Act, Rove said: “If the Democrats had their way we would be weaker and the enemy would be stronger.”
But for all the talk of Republican victories and right-headedness in the war against the terrorists, what Rove didn’t talk about speaks louder to Arizona Republicans than all the administration’s talking points about the war: Illegal immigration and the perceived GOP betrayal of Graf, Republican candidate for Arizona’s 8th District .
Illegal immigration is the major issue in this district and across the state. A recent poll by Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Eight/KAET-TV found 48% of Arizonan’s support building a border fence, enforcing existing immigration laws more strenuously and insist immigrants enter the country legally.
Similarly, 83% of respondents favor harsher penalties for those who employ illegal immigrants.
Seen by many in the state as an immigration hardliner, Graf has made border enforcement, including a building a border fence, the cornerstone of his campaign.
But Graf’s relationship with national GOP leadership has been tepid, at best.
During the primary campaign, national Republican support fell to Steve Huffman, a move which angered the Graf camp and other GOP hopefuls. To Graf and the other candidates, the Republican National Congressional Committee’s meddling in the primary—including shelling out nearly $200,000 for Huffman campaign ads—was less than welcome.
After his victory in the primary September 12, Graf and the GOP seemed to make amends—at least publicly. Party leaders even agreed to support the Graf campaign and dropped $10,000 into Graf’s war chest.
Now that public contrition appears to have rapidly fizzled.
Immediately following the primary election, NRCC spokesman Jonathan Collegio was positively laudatory of Graf, saying, “Arizona is a low-tax border state, and this campaign is going to focus on two issues: extending the tax relief and the border issue. Randy Graf is perfect on both issues.”
Last week, however, the national Republican Party announced plans to cancel Graf advertisements by October 3, more than a month before the election on November 7. The GOP pullout leaves a $1 million hole in planned campaign ads supporting Graf.
The news didn’t bode well for the Graf campaign that already lagged well behind Democratic candidate Gabrielle Giffords, who raked in nearly $1.2 million on her own before the primary.
As of August 23, the most recent Federal Election Commission filing date, Graf had yet to surpass $500,000 in campaign funds and had just $82,000 on hand—well short of Giffords’ more than $300,000 cache.
Coupled with recent polls which put Graf up to 25 points behind Giffords in a general election and a Democratic smear tactic attempting to tie Graf with the Ku Klux Klan and white-supremacist David Duke, the chance to keep Arizona’s 8th in Republican hands appears fleeting.
While the Democrats’ effort to manufacture a pre-existing relationship between Graf and Duke fell flat—even drawing condemnation from the reliably-Democratic editorial page of the Arizona Daily Star—it seems clear that Graf has a difficult road ahead.
Whether or not the GOP will re-enter the fray or simply surrender to Democrats a district which Republicans have held since 1984 remains unclear.
Karl Rove’s silence may be telling.