WASHINGTON – For David Schweikert, politics is ultimately a numbers game.
And it’s one the Arizona Republican congressman is confident he can win – even though he is the subject of an ongoing ethics investigation as well as a targeted effort by Democrats to deny him a sixth term.
“You appreciate the theatrics, but at some point, politics is math,” he recently told the Arizona Mirror.
The math is certainly in his favor. In 2016, President Donald Trump carried the Scottsdale-based 6th District by a 10-point margin. GOP presidential nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain won the district with even wider margins when they ran in 2012 and 2008.
Schweikert, for his part, has mostly cruised to reelection ever since first winning the seat 2010, and handily won a fifth term last year against Democrat Anita Malik. He’s especially optimistic about the 2020 landscape because he anticipates high voter turnout among his suburban constituents in a presidential election year.
“It’s less about me,” he said. “It’s just the math.”
But Democrats say there’s a major factor that scrambles the political calculus for the 6th District: an ethics investigation into allegations that Schweikert used his congressional office funds for campaign purposes and that he did not properly disclose campaign finance information.
The U.S. House Ethics Committee announced last month it had found “substantial reason” in 2018 to believe that Schweikert authorized impermissible expenditures and did not ensure his campaign committee complied with campaign contribution rules. In December, it expanded the investigation to determine whether he did not properly disclose campaign finance information and review other allegations.
Schweikert told the Mirror last month that he expects the investigation will conclude soon and clear him of wrongdoing.
But Brooke Goren, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said in a statement that the ethics problems “aren’t going anywhere – they’re actually getting worse” and are “going to cost him this seat next year.”
That is one big reason, the DCCC – the House Democrats’ campaign arm – listed Schweikert as one of 33 Republicans it is targeting this year. The group also placed him on its “retirement watch list” – even though the 57-year-old has not given any indication he intends to step down from office.
Emily’s List, a political action committee that supports pro-choice Democratic women who back abortion rights, also sees an opportunity for a pickup in what they consider a “flippable” district. The group is “actively recruiting” and working with candidates to turn Arizona’s 6th and 42 other red districts blue, Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement.
Democrats also point to what they say is Schweikert’s “extreme” record, such as his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and his opposition to the For the People Act, an election reform package. (So far this year, Schweikert has voted with President Donald Trump about 90 percent of the time – the same percentage he voted with Trump in the last Congress). And they point to “inflammatory comments,” such as when Schweikert said the organized political opponents of GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko in her 2018 bid to represent the 8th District were part of the “parasite class.”
The DCCC says Schweikert’s ethics issues and his voting record will combine with trends among suburban GOP voters to make him vulnerable in 2020.
But Schweikert shrugged off questions about his chances for reelection. “There’s just no mathematical path” to victory for Democrats, he said.
Torunn Sinclair, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, agreed, saying: “You have to look at the numbers.”
One number in particular Sinclair pointed to was the number of Democratic candidates vying for the seat, which she said bodes well for the GOP.
Malik, who lost to Schweikert by about 10 points last year, is trying again to oust the incumbent. Two other Democrats have also announced their intentions to run: Stephanie Rimmer and Hiral Tipirneni (who lost by about 5 points in her special election race against Lesko for the 8th District seat last April and who lost again by 10 points in a general election rematch in November).
It’s “great for Republicans just because the Democrats have this primary where they duke it out over who’s more of a socialist and then somehow have to turn around and win a general election in a solidly Republican district,” Sinclair said.
Arizona’s early August primary is one of the latest in the nation, and winners of those contests will only have about 13 weeks to campaign until Election Day in November.
Jessica Taylor, an analyst with the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter covering campaigns and elections, is not surprised Democrats are making a play for the seat, given the ethics investigation. And she said that the political landscape in the district – and the state – are changing, noting that Trump won Schweikert’s district by a smaller margin than did Romney or McCain. The presidential race, meanwhile, is expected to be competitive in Arizona next year, especially in light of Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s 2018 victory.
Still, the race is an “uphill climb” for Democrats, she said: “A lot of things have to go right for Democrats to win here.”
Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, another nonpartisan campaign newsletter, agreed.
“We still have to see how the race plays out, but I think Schweikert still has the advantage,” he said.
Newsroom D.C. Bureau Chief Robin Bravender contributed to this report.