GOP group of governors to spend at least $11 million on Arizona race | Government and politics

The Republican Governors Association will invest at least $11 million in ads to ensure Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s successor is from the same political party.

But don’t try to spend that money on touting Kari Lake, the GOP gubernatorial candidate. Instead, given the organization’s track record, the ads are more likely to be brazen and unrestrained attacks on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs.

Perhaps no one knows that better than Ducey, and not just because he’s the president of RGA.

He was the recipient of RGA money and attack ads against his Democratic enemies during his two terms as governor. Specifically, he publicly acknowledged that having the RGA say all these nasty things about his opponents freed him to campaign with more positive messages — and to deny any knowledge or responsibility for what was being said in his name.

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Arizona got its first look last week, before the Republican nominee was even known, as the RGA ran two ads in the Phoenix market targeting Hobbs.

One, using a mother of five and a video of people climbing a fence, links sex trafficking to President Biden’s border policies, says Hobbs will side with Biden, calls her “reckless and irresponsible” and says that “it is the women and children who will pay the price.”

The other features Frank Milstead, the retired head of the state Department of Public Safety, talking about the creation of the Border Strike Force, how “we saved children from sex trafficking” and saying that Hobbs supports amnesty and sanctuary cities.

Familiar playbook

These are straight out of the playbook used to elect and then re-elect Ducey.

In his first run in 2014, against Democrat Fred Duval, Ducey’s own expenses were dwarfed by more than $7 million in foreign-funded advertising, including the RGA. And the message of those ads was decidedly negative, decrying “lobbyist” Duval and blaming him for higher college tuition in his role as a member of the Arizona board of trustees.

Ducey insisted he had nothing to do with it. But neither did he disavow anything said in his name.

Yet just three years later, as governor, he defended the tuition charged at the state’s three universities against a lawsuit by Attorney General Mark Brnovich that the rates were unconstitutionally too high.

In fact, Ducey then tapped DuVal for another term on the Board of Regents.

The situation repeated itself in 2018 when Ducey was seeking a second term, this time against Democratic challenger David Garcia. And there was nothing subtle about the ads sponsored by RGA.

One began by telling viewers about 7,000 pounds of heroin seized, 4,800 criminal arrests for gang-related activity and “young girls rescued from sex trafficking”, all by Immigration and Customers Enforcement.

“But now David Garcia and other radicals are demanding that we take out ICE,” he said, saying such a move “would mean more drugs across our border and more gang members in our quarters”. message across, the ad featured a sinister-looking black-and-white video of someone in a hoodie carrying what appeared to be a gun.

The ad was based on a comment by Garcia about “replacing” ICE with another agency, not just to eliminate it and what it does entirely. But it gave the RGA the ammunition to pursue him.

“Firewall” for Ducey

Asked about the RGA-funded anti-Garcia publicity, Ducey pointed out that it was legally prohibited from coordinating with any outside group that makes “independent expenditures” on its behalf.

The governor, however, also said he had no particular problem with what RGA said to Arizona voters on his behalf.

“My opponent did some reckless things,” he said. “And people talked.”

Ducey praised the RGA — and the corporate executives and lobbyists who fund it — for funding the attacks.

Speaking after the election at an RGA meeting, Ducey told donors that much of the credit for her ability to save her own donations to tell her positive story was due to the money they provided to the association.

“It was the RGA that was the firewall for me that allowed me to stand up for what we had accomplished and what we were going to accomplish in the future and create that separation to keep Arizona red,” he told them.

That “firewall” was the $8 million spent by RGA in Arizona – more than Ducey’s campaign spent on his behalf – which was not spent on positive publicity promoting the incumbent governor’s agenda, but rather to the attack of Garcia.

RGA sees this as their job

Jon Thompson, RGA’s spokesman at the time, defended the tone of the ads.

“I wouldn’t say they were designed to scare,” he told Capitol Media Services.

And what about the images, like the criminal in the hoodie and a hypodermic needle falling into a pile of white powder?

“I don’t think it’s overdone,” Thompson said. “I think it was to make sure voters understood what was at stake in the election.”

As for today, “A lot of times we get negative publicity,” said Will Reinert, the RGA’s current regional press officer. “But that’s not all we do.”

Yet, he said, that’s what the RGA is supposed to do.

“Our mission is to elect Republican governors,” Reinert said. “And often, we’re tasked with educating voters about the dangers of our Democratic opponents.”

Democrats expected in the fray too

That’s not to say the Democratic Governors Association will likely play better in 2022 in Arizona.

Hours after Lake snagged the GOP nomination Thursday night, DGA Executive Director Noam Lee called her a “hardcore MAGA extremist who has centered her campaign on far-right conspiracy theories and dangerous policies.

He also pointed out that Ducey, who backed Lake’s Republican rival Karrin Taylor Robson, lashed out at Lake during the primary, accusing her of “misleading voters without any evidence.”

“She’s been tagged by her opponents with a nickname, Fake Lake, which seems to stick and do damage,” Ducey said on CNN last month.

So far, however, there have been no DGA ad buys in Arizona.

Yet in May, the organization announced more than $70 million in initial television bookings across seven states, including $23 million in Michigan, $21 million in Wisconsin, $10 million in Nevada and 2.5 million dollars in New Mexico.

But DGA spokeswoman Christina Amestoy said she “views Arizona as one of our best pickup opportunities in the country.”

Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has reported since 1970 and has covered state politics and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on Twitter at @azcapmedia or email [email protected]

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