Tuesday, August 07, 2012

District 6 race: Ben Quayle touts credentials as a conservative by Dan Nowicki

Having served nearly a full U.S. House term, Rep. Ben Quayle is no longer just a political newcomer with a famous last name.

On Capitol Hill, he has worked on legislation related to border security and regulatory reform, emerging as a relentless conservative critic of President Barack Obama.

And in Arizona, the roots he has put down are getting deeper. Married in April 2010, Quayle and his wife Tiffany in September celebrated the birth of their daughter, Evie, and a photo of the family appears this year on his campaign signs.

And although he disagrees with the characterization, Quayle, 35, also finds himself portrayed as the establishment Republican candidate in his increasingly bitter Republican primary fight against fellow freshman Rep. David Schweikert, a seasoned conservative, in Arizona's newly drawn 6th Congressional District.

The son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, he is supported in his re-election bid by U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, whom he calls "a close mentor."

Schweikert, who before going to Congress served in the Arizona Legislature and as Maricopa County treasurer, is backed by national conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and Citizens United.

Two years ago, things were different. Although his family was well-known in Arizona -- his great-grandfather Gene Pulliam once owned The Arizona Republic and the now-defunct Phoenix Gazette -- Quayle was not. He had lived in the state only briefly, from 1996 to 2002, before moving back in 2006 -- a history that made him a target for criticisms as an outsider during the 2010 race.

During that 10-way Republican primary to replace the retiring veteran Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., Quayle, a licensed attorney, also found himself linked to a raunchy gossip website called "Dirty Scottsdale." Quayle acknowledged writing for the website at the time, but his campaign said he is no longer interested in discussing what he considers a "non-issue."

Quayle has been able to distance himself from some of the controversies that dogged his first run for Congress in 2010. Whether enough time has passed remains to be seen.

Quayle and Schweikert are squaring off in a Northeast Valley GOP stronghold that includes most of Scottsdale and part of Phoenix. The new district more closely traces Quayle's current congressional district than Schweikert's. However, Arizona's independent redistricting commission drew Quayle's former Phoenix home into a different district, where Quayle would have faced a more competitive general-election race.

Whoever wins the Aug. 28 Quayle vs. Schweikert primary will face only nominal Democratic competition in the Nov. 6 general election. Quayle has relocated to Paradise Valley, inside the 6th district, which includes Schweikert's Fountain Hills home.

"I've been representing two-thirds of this district for the last year and a half," Quayle said. "I've done a good job battling for conservative principles on a number of different fronts: fiscally, economically and on national defense."

Quayle raised more money than Schweikert. But two recently released polls indicated that Quayle is trailing Schweikert, although Quayle's campaign has dismissed the numbers as bogus. Quayle told The Republic his own internal polling shows him up slightly, but his campaign declined to release any details to support that.

One of the polls disputed by the Quayle camp, conducted by the Schweikert campaign, showed Schweikert with 49 percent support and Quayle with 33 percent support. Sixteen percent was undecided; 1 percent refused to answer. The poll of 300 likely Republican primary voters was conducted July 22 by National Research Inc. The margin of error was plus or minus 5.66 percentage points.

"Dave Schweikert's polls and those supposedly conducted by his self-styled conservative cronies have absolutely no merit," said Quayle campaign spokeswoman Anna Haberlein.

National political analysts contacted by The Republic agreed with the perception that Quayle is the underdog.

"He needed to serve in the House for a decade and then he could, through legislative accomplishments, put his past behind him, but two years is not nearly long enough," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, doubted that the "Dirty Scottsdale" baggage is much of a problem for Quayle, although one anti-Quayle super PAC already has brought it up in a television ad. Quayle's 2010 win over Democrat Jon Hulburd largely put those old stories to rest, he said.

"I think Schweikert starts off with a lead in this race because he's been on the ballot so many times in Maricopa County and is known as a rock-solid conservative," Wasserman said. "Quayle is still establishing his own identity and brand and even if Quayle started out with much more of the district than Schweikert, there's no meaningful geographic advantage for either candidate here."

Quayle bristled at the suggestion that he is an establishment Republican, saying his pro-growth record and conservative credentials are strong. He has consistently opposed President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul, which Republicans dubbed "Obamacare." As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Quayle has been outspoken against Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama Justice Department over the Operation Fast and Furious gun-trafficking scandal. He was the lead House GOP sponsor of a new law that heightens penalties for those who finance and construct border tunnels.

Quayle has gained attention in conservative circles in both of his congressional races with hard-hitting TV commercials slamming Obama. In 2010, Quayle called Obama "the worst president in history." This year, Quayle released a follow-up spot in which he says he "overestimated" Obama and that the president has turned out to be even worse.

Sabato said the anti-Obama ads may help Quayle increase his appeal to conservative-base voters but don't make him look particularly mature. "You have to be an extreme partisan to believe that Obama is the worst president ever," Sabato said. "Or you are desperately in need of a history lesson."

Quayle said his latest Obama ad has generated a positive response, although "I'm sure the Democrats don't like it."

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