by Ronald J. Hansen and Rebekah L. Sanders
Jan. 4, 2012
For weeks, U.S. Rep. Ben Quayle has remained silent about which congressional district he intends to run in this year.
If where his constituents live matters most, as he has said, his decision should be clear.
Sixty-three percent of the voters in the proposed Congressional District 6 are located in the district Quayle currently represents, according to an Arizona Republic analysis of voter information compiled by Strategic Telemetry, a Washington-based consulting firm that aided the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.
That’s compared with Quayle’s potential opponent, U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, whose current constituents make up only about 36 percent of the new district, records show. Schweikert, who lives in roughly the geographic center of the 6th District, wasted little time claiming it as his own, despite a majority of his current voters living elsewhere, in the neighboring 9th District.
Quayle lives in the newly drawn 9th District, which includes north-central Phoenix, Tempe, Chandler and Ahwatukee Foothills. But he, too, has shown little appetite so far for that seat.
The uncertainty swirling about the Valley districts is a byproduct of the redistricting process that this time boosts the number of districts from eight to nine to reflect population growth. The final map, which still requires approval from the U.S. Justice Department, has created surprising competition among Republicans. The state’s other freshman lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, is also weighing a re-election bid outside his home district.
For both Quayle and Schweikert, many factors will likely play into their decision, including whether they want to fight a tough primary battle against another Republican, the tendencies of voters and the wishes of campaign donors and party leaders.
For Quayle, voting patterns show that the 9th District has been friendly for Democrats even though it currently features more registered Republicans. By comparison, the new 6th District that Schweikert will run in and Quayle is considering holds the appeal of a likely safe-conservative seat for any GOP nominee.
Quayle spokesman Richard Cullen declined to comment Wednesday. Chris Baker, Schweikert’s campaign adviser, noted that Schweikert has lived most of his life in the same area in the 6th District.
“From our perspective, this is his district,” Baker said. “This is where he lives. That drives his decision to run for re-election in this district. Congressman Quayle does not have that going for him.”
Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter out of Washington, D.C., said he’s not surprised by the political calculation Quayle is apparently making.
“This is not unusual when you have redistricting,” he said. “You often see candidates will look at multiple districts to try to figure out where they can run and where they can win.”
Rothenberg said Quayle is likely polling voters in the 6th District now to see how he would stack up against Schweikert in a primary campaign.
During redistricting, Quayle’s district was split five ways, with the largest and most conservative portion landing in the new 6th District in the north Valley. The redrawn district includes north Scottsdale, parts of Paradise Valley, Fountain Hills, Cave Creek and Carefree.
The new 9th District combines north-central Phoenix with portions of the Valley in Schweikert’s current district that lean slightly left, including south Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa and northwest Chandler.
It’s no secret why Schweikert and Quayle would want to claim the 6th District: It comprises one of the most conservative areas of the state, based on a Republic analysis of voting patterns compiled by Strategic Telemetry.
The portion of Quayle’s current district that is in the new 6th District gave him a nearly 19,000-vote margin over his Democratic challenger in 2010. The portion of his district now in the 9th District went Democratic by nearly 3,000 votes.
The story is much the same for Schweikert. The portion of his existing district that is in the new 6th District supported him by a margin of nearly 23,000 votes. The portion in the new 9th District voted Democratic by more than 4,000.
Voters in the 9th District collectively supported Democratic candidates in 2010 by a slim margin over Republicans. That is especially notable because it was a banner year otherwise for the GOP. Voters within that proposed district also supported Democrats in 2008 and 2006.
Republicans enjoyed a small voter-registration advantage over Democrats in the 9th District as of July. But it is also the only new district in the state where independents or members of another party collectively outnumber both major parties.
State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced Tuesday that she is resigning from the Legislature to seek the Democratic nomination in the 9th District. She lives just outside the district but said she plans to move. A handful of other Democratic candidates are expected to run for the district as well.
Beyond the votes, there are also financial considerations, Rothenberg said.
It matters whether big campaign donors will pull away if their representative leaves for another district and whether local and state party leaders have weighed in behind the scenes.
“I would have to think there are state party people saying, ‘Look, we want to avoid a primary. You’re sitting members. You (Quayle) have an open district to run in (in the 9th District),’ ” Rothenberg said.
A primary would pit Quayle, whose father, former Vice President Dan Quayle, could help pour sizable cash into the fray, against Schweikert, a tough campaigner who has won at the county, state and federal level. All that could leave the new 9th District relatively lightly challenged.
Rothenberg discounted the notion that Quayle’s home a few houses away from the 6th District could be much of a negative in voters’ minds. “Let’s be totally honest, the Phoenix suburbs are one big sprawl,” he said. “It’s not like there are distinct communities” as in other states.
Rothenberg says the decision about where to run largely comes down to analytics.
“Much of this is what we think of as traditional politics,” he said. “You look at the numbers. Where are they gonna win?”