The Arizona Republican Party is losing momentum, mired in the somewhat new, but increasingly familiar position of trailing the Democratic Party in both new voter registration and fundraising.
Explanations and blame for the GOP’s woes vary, but the evidence that the party is losing its appeal is incontrovertible.
New voters who registered as Democrats outnumbered Republicans by nearly a 4-1 margin statewide during the third quarter of 2007, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.
In Maricopa County, Democrats picked up more than 6,000 new voters from July through September. In contrast, Republicans lost nearly 300 voters during the same period.
Furthermore, the state Democratic Party outpaced the Republican Party nearly 3-to-1 in raising money in the quarter.
Democrats, who benefited from a fundraiser headlined by former President Bill Clinton, raised $79,800, according to the Federal Election Commission. The Republicans raised $27,100.
Similarly, Democrats have outpaced Republicans nearly 2-to-1 in fundraising so far in 2007. Democrats have collected $712,600 since January, while Republicans have bagged just $365,600.
Republican insiders are searching for answers.
GOP political consultants Nathan Sproul and Bert Coleman both said that state party leaders have failed to acknowledge two critical matters:
First, the Republican brand is at its lowest point in 35 years and needs serious rehabilitation. Second, the state party’s voter registration programs pale in comparison to the Democratic Party’s programs.
Worse yet, they said, state party leaders actually are driving away voters and financial supporters.
“The Republican Party has spent the majority of the past year in a divisive state over issues such as immigration,” said Coleman, president of Coleman Dahm & Associates, a Phoenix-based political consulting firm.
“People are not going to part with their dollars to a party that isn’t seen as accomplishing anything but fighting. I think that says a lot about the leadership of the Arizona Republican Party,” he said. “Republicans need to work together, and Randy Pullen doesn’t seem to know how to make that happen.”
Pullen, an outspoken critic of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and of state and federal immigration reform efforts, serves as chairman of the state Republican Party.
During the summer, Pullen led a multimedia campaign against the U.S. Senate’s compromise immigration bill, legislation that McCain and fellow Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona helped draft.
State party officials declined to make Pullen available for this article.
Coleman, who served on former President George Bush’s staff, said Pullen has created a split with the national party. As a result, GOP headliners are reluctant to appear for party functions in Arizona.
“In the big picture of a very important election year, the Arizona Republican Party’s fundraising can be described as nothing but pathetic,” he said.
The timing couldn’t be worse, said Sproul, president of Sproul & Associates, a Tempe-based consulting firm.
Public sentiment toward Republicans has crumbled because of the Iraq war, Republican corruption in Congress and overspending.
“All of those things created the perfect political storm for the Republican Party to go through what arguably is its lowest point since immediately after Watergate,” Sproul said.
Cycles are normal in politics, but state party leaders have done little, if anything, to recapture the party’s brand for fiscal restraint and small government, said Sproul, who was the state party’s executive director from 1999- 2002.
The party’s lackluster voter registration efforts are a direct result of its of poor fundraising, he said. The party’s top priorities should be raising money, registering voters, recruiting candidates and training candidates to run.
However, Pullen has charted a different mission, said Sproul, who was interviewed separately from Coleman.
“The state Republican Party was never intended to be an anti-illegal immigration lobbying organization — and that’s almost what they’ve become,” he said. “When the party starts weighing in on specific social issues, it will inevitably split right down the middle.”
Arizona Republican Party executive director Sean McCaffrey attributed the difficulties to a number of factors, none of them tied to Pullen.
Concerning voter registration numbers, he said voters were sick of both parties because of overspending and ethics problems prior to the 2006 elections. But he said Republicans have learned from their mistakes.
However, congressional Democrats have tried to surrender to “anybody who remotely looks, sounds or acts like a terrorist 10,000 miles away,” and have pushed big budgets and tax increases, McCaffrey said.