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Arizona’s 1st Congressional District: Dems stay home while primary opponents schmooze in Washington


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“I was intrigued and disappointed,” said Kurt Kroemer, who was one of those candidates not invited. There are “wonderful, brilliant people that they’re meeting [in Washington], so that begets other things that begets other things that begets other things.”

The Democratic Party has long been criticized for how it operates in open races, both for backing candidates early and for not supporting candidates enough in previous cycles — all boiling down to accusations of unfair play, including in Arizona’s 1st district.

“They’re definitely playing favorites here,” said an Arizona-based Democratic leader familiar with the campaigns in the district who was granted anonymity to discuss internal party dynamics.

Two of the top three Democratic fundraisers in the race were also not invited, Conor O’Callaghan and Andrew Horne. Though both have also made personal loans to their campaigns.

A person close to Horne said the campaign was “disappointed” by not getting an invite, and added that the campaign has been doing what the DCCC asks of it.

“While the campaign was disappointed in the decision, the fact is the voters of AZ-01 will decide who wins this primary, not the DCCC,” O’Callaghan campaign spokesperson Matt Grodsky said in a statement to POLITICO. “Voters care about nominating an actual Democrat who can win next November.”

The DCCC rejected the idea that any of the candidates were getting special treatment from the party committee by getting an invite to candidate week. But there is a recognized advantage to rubbing shoulders in D.C.

The candidates from the race who were invited, all highlighted their trips to Wasington on social media. State Rep. Amish Shah said on X that he was “honored to be one of the few selected for DCCC Fly-In Week.” Andrei Cherny, who was president of Democracy Journal, a former state party chair and a co-founder of No Labels, tweeted live from a meeting at the DNC headquarters, where a pro-Palestinian protest drew national attention. And Marlene Galan-Woods, the widow of late-Sen. John McCain’s chief of staff, shared a sentimental recap of her week from the Lincoln Memorial.

“The DCCC is committed to strengthening the Democratic battlefield, which is why multiple candidates across targeted districts who have ongoing partnerships with the Committee were invited, including in AZ-01,” said DCCC spokesperson Courtney Rice, in a statement to POLITICO.

“It’s clear a consultant gave their candidate bad advice about how to approach a relationship with the DCCC and is now trying to land a negative story to make up for it. If there’s been a change of heart, and they would like to work together moving forward, we would welcome it,” she said.

The bluing district includes Scottsdale suburbs as well as much of the Navajo Nation. Moderate Democrats like Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema have performed well there, while Republicans in the mold of former President Donald Trump, like Kari Lake and Blake Masters, failed to win over voters. The district also became more Democratic after redistricting.

The competition to win over DCCC support will be crucial to flipping the district. Arizona’s 1st District was not on its initial target list last cycle but ended up drawing significant spending from both parties. Schweikert was outraised and outspent by his Democratic rival, but the National Republican Congressional Committee and other Republican-aligned groups supported Schweikert with about $2.8 million to support the incumbent compared to $2.1 million from Democratic groups in 2022, according to OpenSecrets.

The DCCC can also extend extra support when it comes to campaign software, lists of the best consultants and campaign support in addition to its outside spending.

Kroemer found out about the meeting from another candidate, who was also not invited, and when he confronted the DCCC about being excluded, he was told that he hadn’t yet raised enough money to qualify for an invitation. He’s raised $250,000 since getting in the race in April, self-funding more than half of that haul — the lowest of all the major candidates.

Kroemer said that the DCCC’s focus on fundraising numbers when the primary is not until next August creates the wrong incentives for candidates.

“I don’t have any animus toward the DCCC. The DCCC is doing what they think is the right thing. What I’m suggesting is there’s some probability that they’re wrong,” Kroemer said.

O’Callaghan, meanwhile, has seeded his campaign with $637,000 of his own money and already run some TV ads in the Phoenix market.

Schweikert has raised $1.3 million so far, the most of any declared candidate.

Rice denied that there was any fundraising metric needed to get an invitation to candidate week.

“This is a mischaracterization of a comprehensive process of holistically evaluating our partnerships — or lack thereof — with campaigns over an extended period of time. Candidates in battleground districts that have an ongoing partnership and open line of communication with the DCCC were invited,” she said.

The local Arizona Democrat said the DCCC showed preferential treatment in the AZ-01 primary before. Last cycle the DCCC favored Jevin Hodge over Adam Metzendorf — and failed to flip the seat. Though the committee played a limited role, spending only $95,000 on the race, according to OpenSecrets.

This time around the local Democrat told one candidate who wasn’t invited that “these DCCC people aren’t here on the ground and they don’t understand what’s happening … I tell [the candidate], ‘don’t worry about them. They’ll come after the primary.”

“If you spend all of your time worrying about people at a desk in D.C.,” they said, “then you’re going to lose.”

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