Hit Pieces

In close legislative races, attack mailers are flying

Hit pieces are filling your mailbox and draining candidates' bank accounts. They're nasty, dirty—and effective.

In the Legislative District 26 Senate race, state Sen. Al Melvin has been playing catch-up, trailing money machine Cheryl Cage as she surpassed $100,000 in her second campaign against him to represent the Oro Valley-area district.

But in October, Melvin got a break. In just two weeks, Melvin got nearly $30,000 in independent-expenditure support from the private- and charter-school tax-credit advocates at the American Federation for Children; from the Arizona Association of Realtors; and from the Arizona GOP, according to the latest round of campaign-finance reports, which covers Sept. 14 through Oct. 13.

That boost helped him close the gap between him and Cage, who is Southern Arizona's best-funded legislative candidate. Though Melvin has only raised about half of the $120,000 that Cage has, he has been thrifty with his money and was holding about $6,000 more than Cage heading into in the final weeks of the election.

Cage has bought roughly $14,000 worth of TV time and has three commercials running on local stations. Only one is a hit piece, bashing Melvin with black-and-white footage from a debate where he said Arizona could get paid to store nuclear waste from other places.

Melvin has put up a pair of his own commercials. One shows him as a reasonable person who has protected education while cutting spending, but the other calls Cage an "Obama Democrat" and features a black-and-white photo of her alongside photos of President Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

"He's trying to tie me to (Obama and Pelosi), like I have all these high-powered friends," Cage says. "It's amazing how he refuses to run on local issues."

At a debate hosted earlier this month by the Explorer newspaper, Melvin complained about Cage's cameraman in the audience, saying he follows Melvin in an attempt to get footage for another commercial.

"This is a tactic used by the Democratic Party," he says. "... They take the tape, and they slice-and-dice it to see if they can come up with a hit TV piece."

In LD 26 House race, Democratic Rep. Nancy Young Wright has raised $108,000 in her campaign for re-election. That's more than double the amount that each of her Republican opponents have. Her hit pieces have been storming mailboxes; in October so far, Wright sent out three of them.

Her "the two sides of Vic Williams" piece shows a mirror image of her Republican seatmate, who "tells us one thing in Tucson and votes another way at the state Capitol in Phoenix," the mailer says.

Another looks like an old record called "Greatest Hits From Phoenix, Sung by Vic Williams and Terri Proud." The first song is called: "We Don't Need More Money (Last in the Nation Is OK With Us)."

Neither of those mailers bothered Williams, but another of her hit pieces did. It featured pictures of the three murderers who escaped from a private prison earlier this year and allegedly killed two people before they were caught. It reads, "Vic Williams voted to put convicted killers in private prisons—three killers escaped."

He calls the mailer "ugly and vulgar" and says it preys on "absolute misery in the state."

"To me, it's a sign of a flailing campaign," he says.

Wright hasn't only been dishing it out; she's been hit quite a few times herself.

Proud has been a little slow in raising money, but has picked up more than $20,000 in independent expenditures from organizations like the Arizona Republican Party and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, which have sent out mailers on her behalf.

One mailer, sent out as an independent expenditure paid for by a committee called Save Our Jobs, asks what Wright has done to secure the border. It shows a silhouette of a person running from what looks like a Border Patrol van and is covered with a newspaper clipping that says, "Mexican cartels planned to send armed assassins into Arizona."

Another one, sent out by the Arizona Republican Party, hits both Cage and Wright as "Radical. Liberal. And very wrong for Arizona."

The two, of course, are shown in black-and-white.

In the midtown Legislative District 28 Senate race, Ted Downing, a former Democratic lawmaker turned independent, is not only battling his opponents; he's picking a fight with the United States Post Office.

Besides running against Democratic Sen. Paula Aboud, independent Dave Ewoldt and Republican fighter-pilot Greg Krino, Downing is taking on the Post Office over the discounted rate offered to candidates from the major political parties, but not to independents.

"I'm getting half the number of mailers for the same price," he says. "It's not right, and I'm going to change it."

Downing has filed appeals with the Post Office, which he says are being forwarded up the line.

In part because $24,000 of the roughly $32,000 in his campaign coffers is his own money, Downing has taken to issuing long press releases claiming that Aboud has faked endorsements, refused to debate and issued false hit pieces against him.

Aboud, who is running as a Clean Elections candidate, received $38,000 for her campaign and had roughly $10,000 left in the bank as of the latest reports.

One "candidate comparison" mailer by Aboud had Downing riled up. It says Aboud voted to stop payday lending, to fight for public education, to bring jobs to Arizona and to defend women against violence. It also says she works across the aisle. However, the mailer claims Krino and Downing are either against those things, or there's a question mark in their boxes next to the listed items.

Ewoldt, who Aboud helped get on the ballot, is not mentioned.

Aboud cites Downing's support for a bill that put a flag and, through his amendment, a copy of the United States Bill of Rights and Constitution in every classroom. She calls the bill, which the Democratic leadership of the time opposed, a "costly unfunded mandate."

"It's one of the best hit pieces going around," says Downing. "I've been a professor for 39 years, and now, suddenly, I'm against public education."

Krino, who has raised almost $19,000 and had spent nearly $10,000 of that, issued a piece against Aboud claiming she is an ineffective legislator. He cites an Arizona State University Cronkite News Service analysis that showed Aboud missed 21 percent of the 2009 Senate floor votes, and an Arizona Daily Star article that puts Aboud on a list of ineffective lawmakers.

"While Arizona is in crisis," it says, "State Senator Paula Aboud is out to lunch."