Mormons in Congress 2012: Part II

Another guest post from Kay Atkinson King. Long, detailed, and fascinating! (Part I is here.)

 Arizona U.S. Senate Race: Mormon vs. Mormon in the Republican Primary

On August 27-30 Republicans from all over the United States will be focused on the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.  The convention is where the Republican Party will formally select its presidential and vice presidential candidates.  (There is little suspense about the presidential candidate, since Mitt Romney has it, though the formal designation takes place at the convention.  If past practice is a guide, Romney will not announce his vice presidential running mate until about the beginning of the convention, in order to create a bit of suspense and create greater press interest in the convention.) 

The Arizona Primary on August 28

Surprisingly, the state of Arizona has scheduled its primary election on Tuesday August 28 – in the middle of the Republican Convention.  If Democrats were in charge in Arizona they would be accused of bad faith or worse for scheduling the state’s primary at the same time as the convention.  Arizona is a state with a large Republican majority in both state house and state senate, and the governor is Republican.

This year the Arizona primary election is a prime event for Mormon political junkies.  The State of Arizona has never been represented by an LDS Senator, though that could very well change in the 2012 election.  Two Church members are intensely competing for the Republican nomination to replace Arizona Senator John Kyl (R-AZ), who announced in February 2011 that he would retire after serving 18 years in the Senate.  The two leading contenders for the Republican nomination are both Church members.  U.S. Congressman Jeff Flake, who has served nearly ten years as an Arizona Congressman, announced his intention to seek the Senate seat just days after Kyle announced his retirement.  Somewhat later, Wilford R. “Wil” Cardon, head of a real estate investment firm, the Cardon Group, which was founded by his grandfather, announced that he also was seeking the Republican nomination.

Backgrounds of Flake and Cardon –

Not Exactly Tweedledum and Tweedledee, but Close

The Mormon credentials of Flake and Cardon are strikingly parallel.  Both were born in Mormon communities in Arizona – Flake in Snowflake and Cardon in Mesa.  Both are from old Mormon families.  Flake is the 2nd great grandson of Mormon pioneer William J. Flake who founded and gave his name to the town of Snowflake.  Cardon is the 3rd great grandson of Louis Phillippe Cardon, Mormon pioneer and one of the Mormon settlers in Mexico in the early 1900s, and a 2nd great grandson of Parley P. Pratt (which makes him a distant cousin of both Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman).  Both Flake and Cardon attended Brigham Young University.  Flake received his BA from BYU; Cardon attended BYU, but transferred to Stanford University where he received a BA.  Cardon also received an MBA from Harvard Business School.  Both Flake and Cardon have five children, and both currently live in Mesa.  Both were members of the same ward in Mesa, though apparently they are no longer in the same ward.

The post-college biographies of the two have diverged.  Flake has focused on public policy.  He served an LDS Mission in South Africa, and was later Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Namibia.  His continuing interest in Africa is reflected in his service on the Africa Subcommittee of the U.S. House International Relations Committee during his time on that committee in Congress.  Flake also had been Executive Director of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative Arizona-based public policy advocacy and research group.

Cardon’s post-college activity has been largely focused on the family business.  For the last ten years he has been president and CEO of the Cardon Group – an Arizona real estate development firm founded by his grandfather, currently chaired by his father, and involving a number of other family members.  The group has extensive land holdings and investments in a number of companies, primarily in Arizona and the Western United States, though there are also investments elsewhere.  Thanks to their very generous charitable contributions, the Cardon family has given its name to a Phoenix area children’s hospital.

One of the interesting anomaly of this Mormon-on-Mormon political contest is that Wil Cardon was one of Jeff Flake’s strongest and most consistent financial supporters for Flake’s earlier congressional career, and he contributed significant amounts to Flake’s campaign.  Until shortly before Cardon announced that he would run for the Senate seat that Flake had already announced his attention to seek, Cardon was on a Flake Senate advisory board and was considered a supporter.

The Primary Contest:

Political Experience vs. Money

Flake brings to the race extensive political experience, well-developed political connections, and, at least at the beginning of the contest, much higher name recognition.  Cardon’s principal asset has been his ability to contribute considerable personal wealth to his campaign.  According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission through June 30, 2012 and reported by August 5, 2012 on OpenSecrets.org, Cardon raised $7,073,183 for his campaign of which $6,265,768 or 89% was from the candidate himself, and a significant portion of other funds has has received (most of which are classed as “large contributions”) are from family members.  Flake, who is not personally wealthy, raised $4,887,785, none of which was from the candidate.  Some 85% of Flakes contributions are from individuals and 12% from political action committees.

The news media reported in late May that Cardon had put “at least $4.2 million of his own money into his campaign” and at least $2 million had been spent on television and radio advertising before May 22 (three months before the primary election date).  This was the principal reason Cardon was able to move up in poll numbers from single digits in March to 20% support in May (“Ads helping Cardon close the gap on Flake,” Arizona Republic / AZcentral.com).

Reflecting his extensive political experience and his ties to other House and Senate members, Flake has been endorsed by a number of leading conservative legislators – Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Mike Lee (R-UT),  as well as Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of the “Ryan Budget,” and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  Flake also received the endorsement of the Club for Growth, a politically conservative organization with an agenda focused on economic issues, reducing the size of government, and cutting taxation.  Sarah Palin also came out with an endorsement of Flake (“Sarah Palin endorses Flake in GOP primary,” ArizonaCentral.com)

Flake has received the endorsement of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and of the legislator he seeks to replace, Senator John Kyl.  Both senators are appearing in Flake political ads.  Cardon has dismissed the impact of the McCain and Kyl endorsements and said the two senators are “part of the old guard” (“Flake touts Kyl endorsement in new tv ad,” Arizona Daily Star;  “Sens. Kyl and McCain endorse Flake in U.S. Senate race,” Arizona Daily Star;  “Wil Cardon Dismisses Jeff Flake Endorsements,” Roll Call).

Cardon has sought endorsements, but has not received the “A List” endorsements that Flake has garnered.  He has been endorsed by some of the candidates for Congress in Arizona and the mayor of Mesa, but they have limited value.  Rick Santorum – the last of the Republican nominee wannabees to recognize that Mitt Romney had wrapped up the nomination – appears to be his best national endorsement (“Santorum endorses Cardon in Ariz. Primary showdown with Flake,” The Hill).  Cardon has been left in the position of pooh poohing Flake’s endorsements because of his own limited endorsers “Wil Cardon Dismisses Jeff Flake Endorsements,” Roll Call).

Ideological Positions of the Candidates

The political positions of the two candidates are very similar.  Flake has an established record in the U.S. House as a tough fiscal conservative – one of only eight Congressmen with a perfect 100% rating from the American Conservative Union.  He was rated the least profligate spender in Congress by Citizens Against Government Waste, and he has been a consistent and outspoken opponent of Congressional earmarks.  Because of his outspoken opposition to earmarks and his focus on fiscal discipline, Flake was removed from the Judiciary Committee during his early years in Congress and the Republican leadership would not appoint him to the Appropriations Committee.  After the 2010 election, however, the attitude of Republican House leadership shifted, in large part due to the influence of the “Tea Party” movement’s concern with government spending.  The Republican leadership was forced to adopt a more aggressive anti-earmark position, and Flake was appointed to the Appropriations Committee, where earmarks are an important issue.  On social issues Flake has been an opponent of abortion and gay marriage, though he did support allowing gays to serve in the military.  He has opposed illegal immigration, but he has supported increased legal immigration, particularly for the highly educated, and he proposed a guest worker program.  (See Wikipedia and Flake’s campaign web site for a summary of his political positions.)

Cardon has attempted to outflank Flake on the right by suggesting that if he were senator, he would take more conservative positions – though there is little room to the right of Flake.  Cardon touted an appearance on the radio program hosted by the former Arizona Republican Senate President Russell Pearce.  The state lawmaker told him, “You’re my kind of guy.” (Arizona Republic / AZcentral.com)  Pearce is the author of the controversial Arizona immigration law, (several parts of which were recently declared invalid by the U.S. Supreme Court).  Interestingly enough, Pearce is also a Latter-day Saint.  (Pearce is identified as a Mormon in “Arizona immigration law: Buyer’s remorse?” Salt Lake Tribune and Wikipedia.)  Touting Pearce’s positive comments is an effort to suggest that Flake is not as conservative as Cardon on the immigration issue.

A Phoenix journalist summed up the ideological dimensions of the race in a June 17th oped:

The Republican primary for U.S. Senate between Jeff Flake and Wil Cardon has been perhaps the most disappointing race in a generally demoralizing political season.

The race should be a referendum on Flake. Cardon has been politically inconsequential in Arizona. Except for his bank account, he wouldn’t be a factor. There’s really no reason to vote for Cardon except to vote against Flake.

The referendum on Flake for Republican primary voters should be pretty straightforward and substantive.

Flake has been a towering national figure for fiscal conservatism and an important catalyst in transforming the Republican Party from the party of Tom DeLay into the party of Paul Ryan. So important a symbol of fiscal rectitude has Flake become that one of John Boehner’s commitments in his campaign to become party leader was to appoint Flake to the Appropriations Committee.

On the other hand, Flake has also been a forceful advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, including a relatively easy pathway to legal status for those currently in the country illegally.

He has since done a McCain two-step on the issue, saying that discussion of legal status has to wait until there is confidence that the immigration laws are being enforced and the border is secure.

Arizona Republican primary voters tend to be not just enforcement-first, but enforcement-only.

So, for Republican primary voters, the question should be whether Flake’s singular leadership on fiscal conservatism outweighs his apostasy on illegal immigration and whether his recent conversion on the latter can be trusted.

Instead of that substantive choice, Cardon’s campaign is trying to paint a fundamentally false picture of Flake as a typical Washington politician playing the game. Flake’s been anything but that. No one has fought the Washington status quo of spend-and-elect more than Flake, or with more success.  (Robert Robb, “The real issues in the Flake-Cardon primary,” Arizona Republic / AZcentral.com):

There are two other candidates competing in the Republican primary, but neither is a serious candidate and neither has sufficient funds to represent a serious threat to either of the two Mormon candidates.

The General Election Campaign

Facing the Primary Winner

In this kind of intense, bitter primary race, each candidate makes a major effort to drive up the negative ratings of the opponent, and the consequence could well be to make whichever candidate wins the Republican primary less electable.  (In fact, this was one of the reasons John Kyle gave for endorsing Flake.)  From the date of the Arizona primary on August 28 to the general election on November 6 is just ten weeks – a limited time to improve the public perception of the winning Republican candidate.  This nasty primary could well narrow the margin for the successful Republican.  Whether that would be sufficient to bring about a narrow Democratic victory remains to be seen.

The Democratic candidate who will face the winner of the Republican primary is Richard Carmona, a medical doctor from Tucson who is not a Latter-day Saint.  Carmona was born in New York of Puerto Rican descent, served in the Army Special Forces and was decorated for service in Vietnam.  He was the top student at the University of California, San Francisco, where he received his medical degree.  He was a vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and in 2001 was appointed by President George W. Bush to be Surgeon General of the United States. When he left office at the end of his four year term in 2006, he was highly critical of the Bush administration for suppressing scientific findings which conflicted with the Administration’s ideological agenda.  Though he was a registered independent, he announced his intention to run for the Arizona senate seat as a Democrat.  He is unopposed in the Democratic primary.  (Campaign web site:  Carmona for Arizona;  See also Wikipedia)

Four statewide polls of likely voters have been conducted on the Arizona Republican Senate primary.  In two polls taken in November 2011, Flake had 52-53% support while Cardon was supported by 4%-7% of likely voters.  A mid-February poll showed Flake supported by 56% of likely voters and Cardon by 7%.  In mid-May, Flake had dropped 14 points to 42% and Cardon was up 13 points to 20%.  It is clear that $2 million in television and radio ads makes a difference.  The last poll showing number for Flake and Cardon was in May, and Cardon has spent several million dollars more since that time attacking Flake and promoting his own candidacy, so all we have now in the Flake-Cardon contest are guestimates.

Polls indicate that in a two-way race between Flake or Cardon and Democratic candidate Richard Carmona, Flake does better than Cardon.  The average of three polls taken during the month of May 2012 shows Flake with a 7.4% margin over Carmona, while Cardon has only a 1.4% margin over Carmona.  (On the polling data, see Real Clear Politics.)  The most recent poll of general election candidates conducted during the last week of July shows Flake and Carmona both at 38% (Real Clear Politics).  This suggests that the negative campaigning in the Primary has driven Flake’s positive numbers down.  Arizona is not at this point a “swing state” that will attract presidential candidates and their resources, but Arizona is considered “pink” not “red.”  The nasty Republican primary and shifting public opinion could increase the changes of a narrow Democratic win.  Not likely, but possible.

Comments

  1. it's a series of tubes says:

    This has been a hideous, scorched earth primary race. The campaigning by both of these men has been atrocious, but Cardon’s in particular has been absolutely repulsive. I’ve never enjoyed NOT voting for a candidate more than I enjoyed not voting for that clown – and that’s saying something.

  2. The selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate should give Jeff Flake a boost in the Arizona Republican primary. Ryan endorsed Flake some time ago, Ryan came to Arizona last fall to headline a fundraiser for Flake, and in a recent interview with the Arizona Republic Ryan called Flake “one of the most effective, principled conservatives that I have ever known in Congress.”

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