Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Intensity and Obfuscation -- High Stakes Primaries

On Tuesday, the dog days of summer will be over in Arizona, at least as far as the 2012 primary election season goes.

Given that it takes a "special breed" to be a successful politician these days, it should be no wonder to anyone that the intensity of hard fought primary battles can bring out the worst in people sometimes.

This link, which I provide in a sort of tongue-in-cheek gesture, shows what people can think it takes to be a successful politician. Google the question, "what makes a successful politician?" and you'll find a wide range of answers, from academic to cynical. One might want to hope for a different perspective on politicians than that, however. But really, an intense primary election differs from highly contrasting partisan general election races even though many citizens think there is "no difference between the major political parties."

Ideally, any political campaign would be focused on issues and ideas. But for that to happen in practice, opponents would have to be comparable in other ways. Think of the expression, "all else being equal..." The fact is, all other factors are NOT equal. Character, integrity, education and communications skills are among the factors that come into play besides values, issue positions and world view.

Case in point, the Republican primary race for nomination to be Arizona's U.S. Senator. Four candidates appear on ballots throughout the state and two more are qualified as write-ins. But anyone paying attention knows that the reality is only two of the six have made a serious campaign of it. Current Republican Congressman Jeff Flake and the largely self-financing political newcomer Wil Cardon are the two. Most watchers believe that even Cardon has at best only a very slim chance to earn the nomination.

Because of the divisiveness of that campaign, we've seen Arizona Republicans express a great deal of concern that Cardon's intense attacks on Flake weaken Flake's chances to win in November.

History shows those GOP fears to be legitimate. Consider the following, about the last Democrat Arizona sent to the US Senate, Dennis DeConcini.
He was elected to the Senate in 1976 as a Democrat, having defeated Republican Party (GOP) U.S. Representative Sam Steiger for the open seat left by retiring GOP Senator Paul Fannin. Steiger had first won a bruising primary in 1976 against the more conservative U.S. Representative John B. Conlan.
Democrats avoided this dilemma, this time, because challengers to its likely nominee, former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, voluntarily withdrew from the race.

However, Democrats in the primary election race for Arizona's newest seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (Arizona's Ninth District) are not so blessed.

I should preface my discussion of the three Democrats in this race by observing that the SEVEN Republicans in the CD9 primary have not exhibited the same degree of intensity or divisiveness. At least not as anyone has reported in local media.

But Democrats have three candidates: David Schapira, Kyrsten Sinema and Andrei Cherny.

All three have at least some political experience, but that experience has obvious contrast. All three have loyal volunteers and campaign staff. Among those, there is also obvious contrast. And all three are articulate on issues that are important to voters.

So, how the heck do we tell who really is the best one?

Each has presented what they believe are the best aspects of their political history. But like a job applicant, it's difficult to get them to be candid about what might be (their OWN) personal weaknesses.

Cherny has played up the fact that he served in the Clinton administration, on White House staff. He also has been quick to point to his association with Elizabeth Warren, the originator and driving force behind establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But what was Cherny's ACTUAL role as a White House staffer, and what exactly does it mean that he personally KNOWS Elizabeth Warren? Cherny wrote speeches. That was his job.

If you listen to his rhetoric, however, he claims to have been responsible for Clinton adminstration accomplishments and for the CFPB. Look beneath the surface and Cherny's political experience is woefully thin.

Add that to dramatic weaknesses he exposed in how he campaigns for public office. In his California Assembly campaign a decade ago, he went embarrassingly negative. That strategy arguably cost him the election. He has admitted having done so, but his current campaign is being conducted with just as much, or more, distortion and misleading accusations against his opponents.

Paid Cherny campaign workers have repeatedly made the claim that opponent David Schapira supported establishing vouchers to divert funding away from Arizona's public schools system.

Schapira did vote for a bill that included an amendment for vouchers. He addressed the situation as soon as he realized the mistake and took steps right away to deal with it. His vote, however, did not make the difference on whether the bill passed or failed. Anyone can make a mistake, but when you compare how Cherny, Schapira (and Sinema) addressed this mistake, it becomes clear which of the three of them has more integrity and strength of character.

Nevertheless, Cherny campaign workers, and this is simply one example of a pattern that has pervaded the former speechwriter's campaign, have been making the outrageous claim that Schapira INTENDED to undermine public education. Actually, Sinema's mailers have made the same false claim. Avid Cherny supporter and former Democratic state lawmaker Rae Waters acknowledged that Schapira's vote on vouchers was nothing but a mistake and publicly chided at least one Cherny's staffer.

Oh, yes, and Cherny's paid staffer has put a good deal of effort into trying to convince people that Schapira is a McCain supporter.

There's a reason the oath witnesses in court take before testifying specifies "the whole truth and nothing but the truth." The Cherny staffer's claim about McCain comes from an interview published by the National Journal in 2004. Cherny's staffer said:
"I just knew about his work with John McCain. 'I worked for, supported and will continue to support John McCain in whatever he does....' David Schapira, Jan. 6, 2004."
Here's the same thing WITH context:

NJ: Who did you support/work for in 2000, 1992, 1988, 1984, and 1980 primaries?
Schapira: 2000 -- I worked for, supported and will continue to support John McCain in whatever he does, but I was all for Gore in the Democratic primary and general. (emphasis mine)
Again, this was taken in 2004. Schapira worked for McCain as an unpaid undergraduate intern but made it clear that in the general election he wholeheartedly supported the Democratic nominee, Al Gore in that 2000 campaign.


Kyrsten Sinema has also made the intentionally misleading claims about the voucher vote situation. While technically correct, the mailer intentionally misleads by suggesting, with bold images, direct language and citing a Goldwater Institute report praising the vote, that Schapira's vote was done for the purpose of undermining public schools. And nothing could be farther from the reality of this situation.


So, WHY does a candidate have to resort to intentional misrepresentations and mischaracterization to try to win an election?

Because that's a question with many possible answers, I cannot say with authority what motives are at work here. Obviously, there are economic incentives and psychological incentives. But those are just possibilities. I can't help but think that there has to be some kind of deficiency in the candidate who feels they cannot win without resorting to obfuscation of the issues.

Regardless of the actual results of any given primary election race, many (most?) politically active people realize that candidates and supporters must shift gears for the general election campaign. Because candidates and supporters can become heavily invested emotionally in a primary, that transition can be difficult.

Take care in the next few days to prepare for that transition. And let's win in November.


  1. Steve,

    Andrei was Senior Economic Policy Advisor in the Clinton White House, part time advisor to Barack Obama's presidential campaign and co-authored "Change We Can Believe In". Andrei also was Policy Director, lead negotiator, and chief drafter of the 2000 Democratic Platform. There is more but you get my point. Andrei Cherny is a very accomplished gentleman.

    1. That comment would have been appropriate as a paid advertisement. However, I have not been set up to facilitate direct posting of paid ads yet.

      The fact of the matter is that Cherny ran a despicable, shameful campaign. He may have had other people making the statements, but it all was done with his name on the campaign. The buck stops there. Where does one go when he has done nothing but burn bridges? Andrei Cherny and his campaign manager, Seth Scott will get to decide that for themselves in the next days.