PHOENIX (AP) — Republican efforts to pick up seats in Arizona’s nine-member U.S. House delegation run right through the northeast Phoenix suburbs, where six-term Republican Rep. David Schweikert is trying to persuade voters that multiple campaign finance violations don’t disqualify him from office.
Early voting began Wednesday across Arizona, with less than a month to go until Election Day on Nov. 8.
In his last two reelection races, Schweikert managed to fend off challengers despite campaign finance allegations that eventually led to fines for him and his election committee.
Now, Democrat Jevin Hodge insists Schweikert’s lapses aren’t behind him.
Hodge pointed to the $125,000 fine imposed by the Federal Election Commission on Schweikert’s campaign committee earlier this year for misreporting spending and diverting some campaign funds for his own use.
“He continues to make headlines for himself,” Hodge said.
Two years earlier, Schweikert paid a $50,000 fine and acknowledged 11 violations to settle an investigation by the U.S. House Ethics Committee, which found he was indifferent to repeated campaign finance violations and used his official staff for campaign work. He won his 2020 reelection bid by nearly 5 percentage points over a well-funded Democrat anyway.
Schweikert, who has blamed his former chief of staff for many of the issues, said he isn’t concerned about the scandal hurting his reelection chances.
“I can show you in the polling that nobody cares,” Schweikert said.
Democrats are looking to unseat Schweikert in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, which includes parts of north Phoenix, Scottsdale, Fountain Hills and Paradise Valley. The wealthy district was renumbered and its lines redrawn during last year’s once-a-decade redistricting. It became a little less Republican, although the GOP still ranks first in voter registration there.
Democrats currently hold five of Arizona House seats, but Republicans hoping newly drawn district maps that favor them will help them pick up one — or even two — of those. A poor showing by Schweikert could dash those hopes.
Hodge, who serves as board president for a Head Start program in Phoenix, turned heads in 2020 when he came within 403 votes of winning a county Board of Supervisors seat. He chose not to challenge the results, saying he trusted the election process and the people who run it.
He hopes the slightly more moderate district, where a third of voters are registered as independents, will be receptive to his messages of lowering prescription drug costs, protecting democracy and codifying abortion rights.
“It’s a bluer district,” Hodge said. “I talk to the voters every single day.”
Schweikert maintains that his focus on the effects of inflation and federal deficit is in step with a wide range of voters in his district.
“We feel comfortable where we are right now,” Schweikert said.
Stan Barnes, a political consultant in Phoenix and former Republican state lawmaker, said Schweikert isn’t vulnerable, in part because he is well-known in the district and has Republican winds at his back this election cycle.
“Congressman Schweikert has been in tough races before, but I don’t think the 2022 general election is one of them,” Barnes said.
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has also gotten tangled up in the race. Hodge tried to attack Schweikert when the Democrat’s campaign paid $35 for a celebrity video by Arpaio. In the video, the nationally known Republican who lives in Schweikert’s district urged a person named Dave to stop committing wrongdoing, saying that jail was a bad place to be and that Dave will probably get fired from his job.
Although Schweikert’s last name was never mentioned in the video, it was clearly directed at the Republican incumbent. Hodge posted a link to the video, tweeting that even “Joe Arpaio knows David Schweikert is as shady as they come.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, the 90-year-old former sheriff maintained that he was tricked by the person who requested the video, saying he didn’t know it would be seen as an attack on Schweikert, who the former sheriff supports. Schweikert has been critical of the video.
“Childish, amateurish game,” Arpaio said. “Why did he throw me into this?”
Arpaio had been convicted of contempt of court in 2016 for disobeying a judge’s order from six years earlier to stop his traffic patrols targeting immigrants. Later that year, he lost his bid for another term as sheriff.
Nine months later, President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio.
Hodge said he wasn’t the person who asked Arpaio to make the video, but he stood behind the decision to pay for the video and promote it on social media. “It was a business transaction,” Hodge said. “He has a Cameo (account). We submitted everything that was required.”
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