A national Democratic group is pumping millions into congressional races across Arizona and large swaths of the East Valley, giving its candidates a huge financial advantage over their Republican rivals.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, so far has spent $5.8 million on independent expenditure ads in four of Arizona's eight congressional districts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based group that tracks campaign spending.
The money has helped Democrats run competitive races in areas of the state which have historically gone Republican, and gives Democrats a better shot at winning a majority of Arizona's congressional seats for the first time in nearly three decades.
In some cases, the independent expenditures that are not controlled by the actual candidates have prompted the GOP to accuse Democrats of dirty campaigning as many of the ads have attacked Republicans on a host of issues from the war in Iraq to the economy.
Independent expenditures are made by political committees and are not coordinated with the individual candidates or their campaigns.
As Democrats have dumped unprecedented amounts of money on the state, the cash-strapped Republican Party has spent little to defend its own seats or win new ones. Traditional GOP-leaning organizations such as anti-abortion groups have dished out some cash, but it's a pittance compared to the Democratic Party. Independent expenditure groups other than DCCC have combined to spend about $800,000 total, according the Center for Responsive Politics.
In two of Arizona's congressional districts, the DCCC has shelled out more money than the Democratic candidates raised, including more than $2 million in District 3 where attorney Bob Lord is trying to oust longtime incumbent Republican Rep. John Shadegg.
Shadegg announced plans earlier this year to retire from Congress, but reconsidered after fellow Republicans pleaded with him to run again in the traditionally GOP-dominated region, which includes northeast Phoenix, Cave Creek and Carefree.
Lord has raised a total of $1.5 million to wage his campaign, according to his most recent campaign finance reports. Shadegg, on the other hand, has raised about $2.2 million to defend his office. The cash being spent by the Democrats has helped erase that fundraising deficit.
Democrats also are making a strong play in District 1 in northern Arizona, where indicted Republican Rep. Rick Renzi is not seeking re-election. The DCCC has showered more than $2 million on their candidate, Ann Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick has raised $1.7 million compared to her Republican challenger, Sydney Hay, who has raised $596,000, according to federal election documents.
Yoni Cohen, a spokesman for DCCC, said both races rank in the top 10 when it comes to money the group has spent across the country.
However, both he and the state party remain tight-lipped when it comes to explaining how they decide on which races to aggressively spend money. Cohen would not say anything other than the party feels "Arizonans have suffered for the last eight-years under the failed economic policies of this administration."
Emily DeRose, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party, said she wouldn't comment on independent expenditures. But Arizona State University pollster Tara Blanc said the money has the potential to radically alter the political map of Arizona as Democrats aim to win a majority of the state's eight congressional seats, four of which are now held by Republicans. She said the money spent by the DCCC on ads leaves money in the candidates' political coffers, which they can spend on grass-roots organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts.
"Having lots of volunteers and high visibility and the ability to get the issues out there is key," Blanc said. "We might rail against all the money being spent in modern politics, but candidates certainly can't get your message out without money."
The DCCC, which focuses on congressional races, has outspent its Republican counterparts, in a stark reversal from the 2006 mid-term election which saw Democrats regain control of Congress. As of late Friday, Democrats have doled out about $72 million in independent expenditures throughout the country, far more than the roughly $20 million paid out by Republicans. Two years ago, the numbers were nearly the opposite.
Sean McCaffrey, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, said his party's candidates are playing defense this year, not just in the state, but in the country. But he warned that Democrats risk a backlash from voters if they are perceived as engaging in negative campaigning.