The race for Arizona’s contested U.S. Senate seat just took an aggressive turn. Democratic challenger Jim Pederson on Tuesday launched the first in a series of new television commercials that suggests Republican incumbent Jon Kyl rewards special-interest groups that funnel campaign cash to him.
Kyl called the approach negative and said he plans to keep his campaign positive, at least for the moment. But GOP party operatives already have been playing political tricks for weeks.
There’s plenty at stake.
The race remains up for grabs, according to the results of a statewide survey conducted by Arizona State University and KAET-TV (Channel 8) and released Tuesday. With two months to go before the November election, Kyl leads by 10 percentage points.
“Almost one in five voters still are unsure about how they will vote, so Kyl does not have the campaign sewn up at this time,” said poll director Bruce Merrill, a professor at ASU.
Meanwhile, the Cook Political Report, a Washingtonbased organization that analyzes political races nationwide, rates the Arizona race as “Leans Republican.” The nonpartisan organization considers the race competitive, but still says Kyl has the advantage.
Cook rates six other Republican-held seats up for election nationwide as “Toss Ups,” and eight other Republican held seats as either “Likely Republican” or “Solid Republican.”
Pederson, the former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, has contributed nearly $8.3 million of his personal fortune into the effort to unseat Kyl. His latest effort is a TV ad that he said marks a new phase in the campaign.
It focuses on Kyl’s voting record on oil and energy issues. The commercial states, “Jon Kyl has changed. Twenty years in Washington has changed who he represents. Big Oil has showered Kyl with big money and he’s returned the favor.”
The 30-second ad says Kyl has accepted $275,182 in campaign contributions from oil interests while he has voted to give oil companies tax breaks, voted against criminal penalties for price gouging and voted against funds for alternative energ y. The spot depicts Kyl with President Bush, and shows Kyl looking sullen as a gas pump rings up a sale behind him.
“Today we begin to hold Jon Kyl accountable for what he’s been doing in Washington for the past 20 years,” Pederson said at a press conference at his campaign headquarters in Phoenix.
Kyl’s votes in the Senate have increased prices at the pump and increased the country’s dependence on foreign oil, Pederson said.
Pederson favors a plan to develop alternative energy, an approach that he said would reduce the amount of U.S. money heading to oil-rich countries in the Middle East that pose national security risks to the U.S.
During Pederson’s press conference, someone placed two buckets of mud and fake money outside Pederson’s office, but Pederson denied that the new phase of his campaign amounts to political mudslinging.
The early part of Pederson’s campaign focused on his own background as a shopping mall developer, his values and his views on leadership, introducing the largely unknown political figure.
The new ads will target the differences between Pederson and Kyl on topics including minimum wage, immigration, health care, foreign policy and other issues. “It’s time for this campaign to really get down to the core issues,” he said.
Pederson spent $484,000 on TV ads last week, while Kyl was running commercials at a $238,000-a-week rate. Neither side has shown any indication of letting up.
Kyl previewed his new television commercial Tuesday after an event with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez to launch “Viva Kyl,” the senator’s Hispanic voter outreach program.
Kyl’s ad focuses on his work on water issues. It’s the third in a series of ads that also focused on his work on victims rights and national security. The water ad hits the airwaves today.
It’s distressing that Pederson has chosen to “go negative,” Kyl said.
“I gather that he is trying to change the dynamic of the campaign, since he can’t succeed at persuading people to support him based on his own ideas and experience and background,” Kyl said.
Ads that compare candidates’ views on the issues are fair game, Kyl said. However, Pederson’s new ad is negative because it suggests Kyl’s votes on oil legislation is motivated by campaign contributions, Kyl said.
Kyl noted that he has taken only $80,700 from oil and gas interests during the current election cycle and that he voted against the Energy Policy Act of 2005 because it was a “staggering special interest giveaway” that increased the federal deficit. Bush favored the legislation.
“We’re going to continue, at least for the time being, to focus on positive messages. And I think it sets up a contrast between the two campaigns and the two candidates very clearly,” he said.
In the past weeks, the state GOP has aggressively denounced Pederson as trying to buy the election with his largely self-funded campaign. Party operatives have distributed fake money with Pederson’s portrait and put up roadside signs stating that “Arizona i$ NOT for $ale.”
Both Kyl and Pederson said they were encouraged by the ASU poll results. Kyl said it showed that he held the lead, while Pederson said he has moved into striking range.
“Kyl is maintaining his lead over Pederson by winning the party crossover battle and by attracting socially conservative voters to his campaign,” Merrill said.
The poll showed 22 percent of registered Democrats are defecting to Kyl, while only 11 percent of registered Republicans support Pederson.
The statewide telephone poll of 846 registered voters was conducted August 24-29 and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.