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Cash is already pouring into races that will determine control of AZ Legislature in 2025

By Wayne Schutsky
Published: Friday, January 26, 2024 - 4:46am
Updated: Monday, January 29, 2024 - 10:36am

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The Arizona Capitol in downtown Phoenix.

Campaign season hasn’t yet reached a fever pitch, but the fundraising arms race is already in full swing in Arizona’s competitive legislative races that will determine which party controls the state Legislature in 2025.

Republicans hold slim one-vote majorities in both the Arizona House and Senate. That means the winners in just a handful of districts could swing control of a chamber to Democrats or keep Republicans in charge.

Republican consultant Chad Heywood said there are only a few competitive districts across the state that receive a bulk of campaign cash. And those races are receiving even more attention this campaign cycle now that Democrat Katie Hobbs is in the governor’s office.

“The stakes for Republicans maintaining some check on executive power is very high, and then the stakes for the governor and Democrats to be able to roll back is also very high,” Heywood said.

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In Legislative District 2 in north Phoenix, the money started pouring in before the calendar even turned to 2024.

Campaign finance reports show that Sen. Shawnna Bolick, a former state representative and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, raised around $96,000 in 2023. That’s more than some candidates in uncompetitive districts raise in an entire election cycle. Judy Schwiebert, a Democratic state representative now running for the Senate seat, wasn’t far behind, raising $81,000 last year.

judy schwiebert
Arizona Legislature
Judy Schwiebert

“It's always been a battleground district, but we know that Representative Judy Schwiebert is incredibly popular in her own community,” said Ashton Adams with the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Even more money is flowing into Legislative District 4, which covers parts of Paradise Valley, Phoenix and Scottsdale. Voters in that district elected a split ticket in 2022 that included Democrats Christine Marsh and Laura Terech to the Senate and House, along with Republican Matt Gress to the other LD4 House seat. 

Marsh raised $83,000 over the past 12 months, more than any other incumbent Senate Democrat.

Adams touted Marsh’s history of success in the district. She upset incumbent Republican Kate Brophy McGee in 2020 and defeated Republican Nancy Barto in an expensive race in 2022, when both candidates raised well over $350,000.

“Sen. Marsh has defended her seat in the past against interests, against some of the most well-funded candidates,” Adams said. 

Marsh now faces Republican Carine Werner, a Scottsdale school board member who raised just $21,000 since entering the race in November. But Heywood said Werner’s campaign should be buoyed by her running mate, Gress, who raised $211,000 in 2023 alone.

“Look at what people raised but then you also need to look at who is running as a slate or a ticket, because it basically doubles or triples what they’re able to spend,” Heywood said.

Gress’ resources should also benefit Republican Pamela Carter, who is seeking to unseat Terech. Carter raised $23,000 after entering the race in November to Terech’s $60,000.

Democrats have not yet fielded a candidate in Legislative District 16, another competitive district that covers Casa Grande and a large chunk of Pinal County. But Adams said Democrats are planning to run a candidate in the race.

“You might be thinking that Senator TJ Shope is a safe incumbent, but this district is certainly a battleground,” Adams said.

TJ Shope
Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
T.J. Shope at the Arizona State Capitol in 2023.

Whoever that candidate is will face an uphill battle. Republicans hold a slight voter registration advantage in the district, and Shope out-raised his Democratic challenger by over $100,000 in 2022, when he won the election by 11 points.

“Of the five swingiest, it’s probably the least swingy, if you will,” Shope said. “And it has a lot of the traditional rural voter that may be registered Democrat but hasn’t voted for one since Jimmy Carter or so.”

The lack of a named challenger didn’t stop Shope from raising over $81,000 last year. Shope said some people may not focus on their reelection until the race is right in front of them, but he takes a different approach.

“I never turn it off, which may be a difference,” Shope said. “But I don’t think that’s any different than any time before in the 12 years I’ve been down here.”   

Heywood, the consultant, said dollars don’t vote, but early fundraising creates momentum in a campaign.

“If you compare fundraising to investing, like people want to buy a hot stock and they want to buy stocks when they’re going up,” he said.

The caveat, Heywood said, is elections with competitive party primaries. Money still matters in those races, but swaying the base and coming out on the winning side of intra-party battles will also determine whether a candidate advances to the general election. 

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