By Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX — The more than $18 million Karrin Taylor Robson spent running for Arizona governor — including $15 million from her own pocket — may be the only thing that makes the Republican primary a competitive one raced.
“It’s remarkable that she spent $15 million and she’s tied with her right now,” political adviser Chuck Coughlin said of Robson, who made it a close race with Kari Lake, the Trump-backed former Phoenix television news anchor.
Due to her years on television reading the news in Phoenix, Lake began using built-in name recognition. And Coughlin said that all else being equal, Lake would have gotten away with the nomination.
“Without that money, this wouldn’t be a race,” he said of Robson, who, depending on whose poll is to be believed, is within striking distance in the final days of the campaign leading up to Tuesday’s primary.
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How much racing there is depends on who you ask.
Robson says her own internal polls show a virtual tie.
But a new poll released Friday by OH Predictive Insights shows Lake has an 18-point lead and just 12% tied, with the primary just days away and a 4.4% margin of error . And the poll, conducted earlier this week, found that nearly half of those polled have already voted.
It’s not just what Robson spends on her own campaign.
There is another more than $2.5 million that has been spent on them, mostly by Americans for Prosperity, a business-oriented group founded by the Koch brothers.
By contrast, as of July 16, the date of the most recent campaign financial reports, Lake had spent just $3.8 million. And independent expenses for them amounted to less than $ 1.3 million.
There’s no question that money matters in politics — and has made a difference in the GOP race for Arizona governor, said Constantin Querard, an advisor.
“You have to water the lawn to get green grass,” he said.
But how much is too much in a state like Arizona with 4.3 million registered voters – and fewer than 1.5 million of them are Republicans?
“Eventually you reach a saturation point where more water doesn’t make the grass greener,” Querard said. And he said he believes Robson and her supporters have reached that saturation point in terms of the message she’s trying to spread.
Consider this: Just last week, some Republicans received two pieces of mail on the same day from business-minded Americans for Prosperity, with double bullets about how Robson will fight inflation, how she is a “principled conservative,” and how she has a “safe “ will create and secure border.”
But does it make a difference?
Pollster Mike Noble, managing partner of OH Predictive Insights, agrees with Coughlin that Robson had no choice but to spend like mad when she entered the race.
“We know that Lake started in a great position on television for more than 20 years in Maricopa County, where six out of 10 likely voters are from, especially at Fox,” he said. In contrast, he said, Robson, a former member of the board of regents, owner of a land-use company and wife of developer Ed Robson, started with very low numbers.
That’s putting it mildly.
As of November 2021, it was just 1% among Republicans while Lake was already at 28%.
However, Noble said there is a point of “diminishing returns,” especially in a primary — and especially a primary in an election outside of the year when there’s no presidential race.
What that means, he said, is relatively low turnout, and more importantly, who is likely to cast a vote, Nobel said.
“These are your rather tough, highly inclined, much older folks,” he said. “And they’re usually quite engaged compared to the general electorate.”
This means that they have already formed an opinion based on what they have already learned.
“I think everyone knows who Kari Lake is,” Coughlin said. “I mean, they beat each other up on the airwaves.”
What that might leave behind, he said, is some last-minute positive messages about who they are, rather than slamming each other and basically making their closing arguments to get those who already support them to the polls. Anything else, Coughlin said, is not only wasted but ends up stifling the overall vote.
“Who is tied at this point in the game?”
Querard said money can only do so much, especially as the election approaches.
“If I’m not convinced of your position, then repeating it 10 times won’t convince me,” he said.
Still, Querard said, there are some people out there who haven’t made up their minds even a few days before the primary.
And he always finds that surprising.
“It’s a week before the election and you don’t know if you’re going to vote for Trump or Hillary,” Querard said.
“Well, how is that possible?” he asked, given how much each had spent, given that each had a full name ID. “And you can’t decide which vision of America you prefer, you can’t decide which candidate you like?”
Who is left in this group, he said, are those who choose not by subject but by “instinct.”
“If you’re an abortion voter or a Second Amendment voter or a ‘build wall’ voter, you made your choice three months ago,” Quearard said. And what remains, he said, is that voters are asking themselves, “Who does my gut like?”
“And from that point of view, big money doesn’t necessarily move these people,” he said. “It’s going to be the sense that they’ve developed who you are as a person.”
This, according to Coughlin, is an opportunity for candidates to spend money on positive ads about themselves without referring to their enemies.
“But I didn’t see that,” he said.
Noble has his own ideas about how candidates should spend the money in the final days of the campaign. He said they should try to get the vote out “and focus on their supporters who have identified them and who may not have voted yet.”
Querard said there’s another side to the money issue that could sway voters — but not necessarily in the way the bigger donor would like.
“It can feed the suspicion in voters’ minds that you’re trying to buy it,” he said.
“If you spend too much money, you’re not the establishment candidate,” Querard said. And that, he said, makes that person an “underdog” and in the minds of voters that “you’re more like one of them.”
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