Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Simcox bid will rely on GOP grassroots, but support might be thin

By Matt Bunk
Arizona Capitol Times

A top advisor for Chris Simcox said the Minuteman founder will rely on ground-level support in his bid to knock off incumbent Sen. John McCain, but so far it's not clear whether Simcox will be able to rally the necessary support and financial assistance from Arizona's grassroots GOP.

Hours after news broke that Simcox is gearing up to take on McCain (http://www.azcapitoltimes.com/freestory.cfm?ID=11000), some Republican Party activists said a Simcox candidacy is good for Arizona and will provide voters with an option between McCain, who has shown a moderate streak on immigration, and Simcox, who started the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and has aggressively pursued increased military presence along the border and the construction of a border wall to halt illegal immigration.

Eric Johnson, an acting advisor for the Simcox campaign and a former staffer for Don Goldwater's gubernatorial bid, said the plan is to target Republicans who feel disenfranchised and may have left the party in recent years.

"There are a lot of people who left Republicans and became independent because of McCain," he said.

Rob Haney, chairman of Maricopa County Republican Committee and one of McCain's most vocal detractors, told the Yellow Sheet Report he's glad Simcox is running.

"I think we need someone in there that represents the grassroots, and certainly John McCain does not," Haney said.

Others, though, flatly refused to consider Simcox over McCain.

Farrell Quinlan, a lobbyist who is also a Maricopa County Republican Party precinct committeeman from District 20, was skeptical of Simcox's ability to mount a viable campaign against such a strong incumbent.

"It looks like this is a vehicle to make a point on certain issues," Quinlan said. "I think McCain has strength in Arizona that has yet to be tapped... McCain will do a thorough job of defending his seat."

Some Republican leaders were circumspect about which candidate they would support.

Tom Husband, Executive Director of the Maricopa County Republican Committee, wouldn't say who he would vote for, but he acknowledged the need for change and speculated that the race would come down to one issue: border security.

"We'll have to see what they say for the future," Husband said. "We certainly have enough problems...a lot of discontent with where we've been and where we're headed."

Husband said Simcox would have a difficult time raising enough money to take on a candidate as entrenched as McCain.

"McCain has a tremendous machine," Husband said. "I certainly don't know where (Simcox's) funding will come from. We're going to have to wait and see."

Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen was attending a meeting of the Republican National Committee and was unavailable for comment.

Haney, though, said Simcox has done an outstanding job running the Minuteman organization. "If it hadn't been for him, this issue would not have come to the forefront as far as what the grassroots are feeling as opposed to what's being dictated to us."

Anybody who is strong on border issues, strong about defending the Constitution and strong on national security gets attacked, Haney said.

"I'm glad that we do have an alternate opinion, an alternate candidate so I would support anybody's candidacy that's going to support our national security, as opposed to dissing our Constitution the way that John McCain has."

Attempts to reach Sen. John McCain's office April 21st were unsuccessful. McCain has said he plans to run for re-election in 2010.

Campaign adviser Johnson said Simcox's campaign will be about more than immigration.

"(Simcox) is a true conservative Republican. His platform is what it should be," Johnson said.

McCain has strayed from GOP principles numerous times over the years, Johnson said, including the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation and efforts to limit sales of firearms at gun shows. "He went after the First Amendment, then the Second," Johnson said.

However, illegal immigration does figure to play a major role because it is a common thread through many of the problems facing America now: health care, schools and prison overcrowding, in particular, Johnson said.

Robert Kiley, a California political consultant who will manage the Simcox campaign, said the candidate's national profile will allow him to raise the $10 million to $15 million needed to take on McCain, who has served in Congress for the past 28 years.

"We don't think there's going to be an issue raising money," Kiley said. "There's a lot of anger out there."

But for now, the campaign organization is minimal. Simcox reportedly told the -- Washington Times -- that "I have a Web site, SimcoxforSenate.com, two paid campaign staffers and a bank account of zero, so the American people will let me know if I'm the one they want to send to Washington."

Simcox will join state Rep. Carl Seel at a press conference at 11:30 a.m. April 23rd to urge elected officials to take a stronger stance against all forms of illegal immigration as border violence increases.

Simcox is expected to step down from the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in order to focus on the campaign.

- Staff writers Jim Small, Tasya Peterson and Capitol Times intern Trevor Guyette contributed to this report.


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