PHOENIX — The Arizona Democratic Party is outraising the state GOP — by a lot.
The Arizona Republican Party collected just $81,320 in the three months that ended Sept. 30, new campaign finance reports show. By contrast, Democrats raked in $347,841.
And this isn’t just a one-time problem.
Republicans managed just $382,582 for the first nine months of the year, including nearly $180,000 from political action committees, an analysis by Capitol Media Services finds. Democrats took in $641,345, with $339,312 from PACs.
“I think it’s too early to declare this some sort of crisis for the Republican Party,” said GOP political strategist Stan Barnes.
The phenomenon is not new. An energized Arizona Democratic Party raised more cash during the two-year 2018 election cycle than the Republicans, though by nowhere near the current disparity.
“But it’s fair to say the world’s going to be watching whether or not this leadership of the party can raise the kind of money necessary to be relevant,” Barnes said. “And that question still remains.”
That “leadership” issue refers to the decision by precinct committeemen in January to oust party Chairman Jonathan Lines, who had been the establishment favorite, in favor of the far more conservative and overt Trump supporter Kelli Ward.
Ward, a former state senator from Lake Havasu City, had failed in two prior attempts to gain statewide office: a primary challenge to U.S. Sen John McCain in 2016 and, just last year, her bid to become the Republican nominee for Senate in a primary eventually won by Martha McSally.
Political consultant Chuck Coughlin said Ward’s history as a candidate — and an unsuccessful one at the statewide level — is part of what’s going on now with fundraising.
“It’s a different role,” he said of being the party chief.
“It’s really behind the scenes,” Coughlin said, with the party chair working closely with other elected officials “and being very servant-oriented to their needs and solicitous of their needs and desiring of their support.”
“She seems much more comfortable in front of the scenes,” Coughlin said.
That includes most recently her role in leading some anti-impeachment demonstrations. And Ward has taken a much higher public profile than her predecessors.
“Of course, that doesn’t sit well with major donors,” he said.
Zach Henry, spokesman for Ward and the state party, did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
But the issues for the GOP go beyond who is leading the party. There’s the Trump factor.
“The Donald Trump cloud over the state of Arizona is a consequence,” said Barnes. “And I think one of those consequences is traditional large-gift donors are unsure.”
None of that, he said, means that Trump himself is in danger of losing Arizona.
“But donors and their money are emotional people,” Barnes said. “And the president’s impact on some of those egos is probably meaningful and having an impact on contributions.”
Put another way, Barnes said the history of the GOP is that its fundraising has done better when the party apparatus was controlled by the more “country club establishment wing.”
Former state House Speaker Kirk Adams said that, in some ways, the lag in donations to the state party following Ward’s selection is not a surprise.
He said the ability of the party chair to connect with donors and rake in cash is built on relationships.
“Do you have existing relationships and do you have the ability to make new relationships?” he asked. “It’s a lot of work.”
That, however, leaves the question of whether Ward will get to that point.
“I believe she has the ability to build relationships,” said Adams, who until last year was chief of staff for Gov. Doug Ducey. “I don’t know that’s she’s doing it yet.”
Barnes said Ward will come around.
“It seems to take time for that new chairman to figure out where the love is among the contributors that support that chairman’s point of view or that chairman’s agenda,” he said. “I have long-term confidence that Kelli Ward is going to figure that out.”
So what’s the impact of the party having less money?
“You can’t win elections without money,” said former Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.
She said it’s critically important now, on the heels of some key Democrat victories in 2018, “to help these candidates take back the seats that we lost last time.”
That includes trying to wrest control of the state’s congressional delegation, with Democrats holding five of the nine House seats, and the fact that the GOP edge in the state House slid by four, to the bare minimum 31-29.
And McSally hopes to hang on to the U.S. Senate seat that used to belong to McCain.
Still, Brewer said any reticence by GOP faithful to give to the party need not be fatal. She said there are other options.
One, said the former governor, is to give directly to the candidates. Brewer said donors also can write checks to the Republican National Committee.
Still, she said, that could be a hardship on some candidates.
“They’ve always counted on the party,” Brewer said.
Coughlin said there already are mechanisms in place to find other ways to help.
He noted that Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers have formed what amounts to a political action committee to solicit donations for GOP legislative candidates. And consultant Nathan Sproul said the Trump reelection campaign is expected to pump major dollars into the state, with dollars also expected to flow in to keep McSally’s Senate seat from falling into Democrat hands, as happened last year with the election of Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.
Still, Coughlin said, it would be more efficient to have these kinds of campaigns coordinated by the party, even to the point that it gets a better rate on its postage.
“But if they’re not bringing anything to the table themselves, and particularly because it’s a caustic relationship with the other electeds, then maybe you rethink that,” he said.