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Desert Warfare

Two Republican congressmen fight it out near Phoenix.

Aug 20, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 45 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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In separate interviews, Arizona congressmen David Schweikert and Ben Quayle shake their heads and shrug their shoulders at their political predicament. The freshmen members are running against each other in a Republican primary for the House in what local and national observers alike have labeled one of the nastiest primaries of the cycle. How nasty? Most recently, Quayle has called on Schweikert to apologize for a campaign mailer that claimed Quayle “goes both ways” on the issues, saying the phrase is sexually charged. The Schweikert campaign says Quayle should get his head “out of the gutter.”

Schweikert, left, with Quayle

Schweikert, left, with Quayle

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After the 2010 census, the state of Arizona, fresh off a 10-year population boom, received an additional congressional seat. With a Republican-controlled legislature, the new lines might have benefited the GOP, but the state uses an independent reapportionment commission to draw the districts. Republicans argue the commission has a Democratic bias, and it’s easy to see why. The new Ninth District, centered around Tempe, leans Democratic, leaving Phoenix’s affluent eastern suburbs with two Republican congressmen but only one Republican district, the redrawn Sixth.

“It was an obvious Democratic ploy,” says Arizona Republican senator Jon Kyl.

Perhaps, but even Democrats couldn’t have plotted an intra-party conflict this bitter. At the time he decided to run against Schweikert, Quayle actually lived just barely inside the (Democratic) Ninth, a few hundred yards from the district line. Quayle has since moved into the Sixth. Schweikert has called Quayle a “carpetbagger.”

“Some of us live in the district, some of us don’t,” Schweikert said during a televised debate in July. “I mean, my whole life and infrastructure is in the district.” He gestured toward Quayle, sitting to his right. “His is not.”

In May, the Quayle campaign even accused the Schweikert campaign of spying. As a Quayle spokesperson told the Daily Caller, a young woman came to the Quayle headquarters and asked to volunteer. A staffer tried to verify the young woman’s contact information and found she had listed as her home address a local Islamic community center. The staffer later stopped by the Schweikert headquarters and claimed to have found the would-be volunteer sitting at the front desk, along with 18 “Quayle for Congress” yard signs.

On policy, Schweikert says Quayle isn’t a purist when it comes to tax increases, and Quayle says Schweikert isn’t committed to national -security and defense. But it’s worth noting that both the American Conservative Union and Heritage Action give Schweikert and Quayle high ratings. Both voted for the Ryan budget and support repealing Obamacare. The real distinction, both candidates say, is in the men themselves—a difference in “leadership styles,” says Quayle, or a question of “character” and “trust,” as Schweikert puts it.

At 50 years old, Schweikert has an upbeat, youthful personality. He’s perpetually sporting a wide, toothy grin, whether he’s pointing out a framed copy of a capital formation bill he crafted (“There’s not a lot of freshmen who have one of those hanging on the wall!”) or telling the story of meeting his birth mother three decades after he was given up for adoption. Maybe it’s the four to five cups of coffee he says he drinks every day. 

“Arizona has a coffee culture,” says Schweikert, who keeps a fully stocked coffee bar in his congressional office. When I show up to our interview with my own cup of Starbucks, he jokingly points to the door and tells me to “get the hell out.” He met his wife, Joyce, at a coffee shop. During our interview, in the middle of a sentence, Schweikert pokes his head out of his office door to ask his receptionist for a vanilla coffee. He segues back into his answer on the national debt, speaking a mile a minute while clutching his bottle of Dr Pepper.

In the House, Schweikert has a reputation for being “the smartest man in the room.” He was on the majority whip team for a brief time in 2011—exiting with an “agreement to disagree,” in Schweikert’s words. Hill sources say he was asked to leave over internal disputes and that he wasn’t a reliable member of the team. But those who work with Schweikert on the Financial Services Committee say he’s intelligent, particularly in the area of financial markets. “I’m doing my very best to become a subject-matter expert,” he says.

A real estate financier in Fountain Hills near Scottsdale, Schweikert has been in politics for more than 20 years. He served four years in the Arizona state house, including two as the majority whip, before running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1994. After spending a few years in local government, Schweikert was elected treasurer of Maricopa County in 2004. In 2008, he took on Democratic congressman Harry Mitchell. Schweikert lost that race, but came back in 2010, riding the Tea Party wave, and beat Mitchell in the rematch. 

Quayle, too, has been surrounded by politics for more than two decades. Born just after his father, former vice president Dan Quayle, was elected to the House, the younger Quayle grew up in Washington, where his father served 12 years in Congress and 4 in the White House.

Quayle looks younger than his 35 years and suffers, unfairly or not, from an image of a fortunate son. To counter this, he has made an effort to look and sound like he’s earned his standing. Recent campaign ads feature a serious-looking Quayle, in a suit and tie, looking straight at the camera and furrowing his brow. “Still no jobs,” he says in one spot. “Spending and debt are crushing us. And President Obama’s big solution? Spend more.”

Another ad features his wife, Tiffany, and their infant daughter. “Meet Evie. She’s our first child,” Quayle says, with only a hint of a smile. “And born with more than fifty thousand dollars of debt,” his wife adds firmly.

A lawyer and entrepreneur, Quayle insists he wasn’t always interested in getting into the family business.

“If you had asked me four or five years ago, I would have said never,” he says about running for public office. “I saw what the media did to my dad, and I didn’t think I wanted to put my family through that.” But he says he grew frustrated with how congressional Republicans in the George W. Bush era became complicit in big government spending, which went into overdrive after the Democratic victories of 2006 and 2008.

“I just decided that I have to be willing to put up with the arrows I know are going to be pointed at me in order to try to do something,” Quayle says.

In 2010, Quayle won a contentious 10-way GOP primary and beat his Democratic opponent by 11 points. He says he’s tried to keep a low profile in his first term, focusing on building relationships with his colleagues and reducing regulatory burdens. He’s made a name for himself on the Judiciary Committee, firing off tough questions for Eric Holder during the Fast and Furious hearings.

Polling for the August 28 primary has been infrequent, although in late July one survey commissioned by a conservative group backing Schweikert had him 13 points ahead. Quayle says he feels confident running in a district where nearly two-thirds of the residents are already his constituents. It’s no use asking Schweikert how he feels about the race so far—he’s on his fifth cup of coffee and excited about everything.

Michael Warren is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

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