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Lessons from last week's election

Why did Randy Graf kick Steve Huffman's ass in the Congressional District 8 GOP primary?

Huffman had plenty of advantages in this race: The backing of the business community, a campaign war chest packed with more than $670,000 (we'll be really interested in seeing the final spending figures when he files his next Federal Election Commission report), six-figure support from the National Republican Congressional Committee, the endorsement of outgoing Congressman Jim Kolbe and the general perception that he was the moderate alternative to Graf. But on Election Night, he got less than 38 percent of the vote, while Graf walked away with 42 percent and the win.

How come? Huffman was an aloof candidate who thought he could buy the seat with enough advertising. As a result, he arrogantly snubbed party activists, debate organizers, the press and anybody else who wasn't giving him money. Huffman has never been all that good with political schmoozing, but in this campaign--the most important of his life--he came across as particularly socially retarded. He skipped a lot of events; even at the ones he bothered to attend, he left early instead of shaking hands and making friends. On Election Night, Huffman's party was at his own house, while Graf had a lively affair at the Doubletree, and the official GOP soiree was down the street at the Clarion.

Bottom line: Huffman confused getting checks with getting votes, while Graf worked the electorate. If Huffman ever runs for office again, maybe he'll realize it's important to campaign.

Can Graf beat Democrat Gabrielle Giffords?

Well, he can--but Giffords enters the race as the favorite. She ran a great campaign, grabbing more than 54 percent of the vote and beating out her closest challenger, former newscaster Patty Weiss, by more than 23 percentage points. Plus, Democrats appear much more united than Republicans, with most of Giffords' primary opponents backing her. Weiss in particular was a class act on Election Night, showing up at Giffords' celebration and throwing her support behind the nominee.

While Republicans are making a show of uniting behind Graf, there's a lot of pessimism in the smoke-filled back rooms about his chances. Just look at the Zimmerman poll released before the primary: Giffords was leading Graf by 10 percentage points.

Giffords is obviously an attractive candidate to Democrats, but she's also seen as reasonable by moderate Republicans and the business community.

But with all the money that's going to be tossed around, Giffords is going to have to work hard for a win. And if she wins, she's going to have to work even harder to hang on to it in two years.

What were the big upsets on Election Night?

In midtown District 28, appointed state Sen. Paula Aboud managed to fend off a challenge from Rep. Ted Downing, who tried to convince voters to promote him to the Senate.

Aboud beat Downing by more than 8 percentage points in the winner-took-all Democratic primary, 54-46 percent. Aboud ran a fierce campaign, hammering Downing for his meddling in the effort to extend Rio Nuevo funding--which didn't earn him that many friends around City Hall--and his vote against increasing the penalty for spousal rape.

In yet another example of how Clean Elections levels the playing field and leads to polite philosophical debate, Aboud was aided by an independent campaign committee, Protect Tucson Women, which spent about $4,500 beating up on Downing. The committee had funding from a handful of sources, including $1,000 from Arizona List, a local political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office.

Arizona List is headed by Pam Sutherland, who told the morning daily she had no idea that Protect Tucson Women, which was headed by Bridget Riceci, would use the money to run an alleged push poll and send out a mailer busting on Downing for his vote against a spousal-rape bill.

Sutherland's denials might have been a little more credible if Protect Tucson Women hadn't used her address as their headquarters on their campaign filing.

The other big upset of the night came in Legislative District 26, which includes the Catalina Foothills, Casas Adobes and Oro Valley, where incumbent Republican Sen. Toni Hellon was knocked out by conservative challenger Al Melvin by more than 13 percentage points. In the same district, Melvin's running mate, David Jorgenson, won one of the two Republican slots, beating out Carol Somers and Lisa Lovallo. Pete Hershberger, the moderate incumbent, held onto his slot in LD 26. Jorgenson and Hershberger will be heavy favorites against Democrat Lena Saradnik in the general election.

Check out that under vote in the LD 26 House race. Why didn't those people vote?

The under vote--or the number of people not casting both of their two House votes--in Pima County's portion of LD 26 was 8,269, which is particularly staggering when you consider that only 8,323 Pima County residents voted for Hershberger, who got the most votes in the race, according to numbers posted on the Arizona Secretary of State's Web site on Monday, Sept. 18.

Jorgenson ran a "single-shot" campaign. Although every voter in a House race can vote for two candidates, they can choose to only vote for one candidate. Withholding that second vote gives your guy a better chance of winning, because it doesn't add to the vote total of his opponents.

Jorgenson pushed the idea that voters should cast a ballot for only him in the race--and it clearly paid off.

What was with all the robo-calls?

Wasn't that a nightmare? Pima County Recorder Ann Rodriguez says she had to talk at least one voter out of canceling her registration just so she wouldn't get any more calls.

The Skinny had both Democratic and GOP early ballots at the midtown bureau, and we got hammered by phone calls, especially from the Huffman campaign.

Robo-calls are a cheap way of reaching voters. But are they effective? In Huffman's case, clearly not.

Given how much people are bitching about them, candidates may want to dial back the robo-calls--but don't expect any relief before November.

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