TUCSON, Ariz. — Four-term Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Rep. Raul Grijalva (D) is locked in the fight of his political life against a 28-year-old rocket scientist.
Raytheon physicist Ruth McClung does not have the most sophisticated campaign operation this election cycle — it’s being managed by her mother, Gini Crawford — but the Republican nonetheless finds herself running neck and neck with an established Democrat.
McClung’s sudden rise has taken many — including Grijalva — by surprise. She entered the GOP primary race in May 2009, defeated four challengers in August and now finds herself on the verge of a stunning election upset, according to a number of polls.
The Cook Political Report moved the race between McClung and Grijalva to “toss-up” in early October despite the registration edge for Democrats in the district.
In recent weeks, McClung’s campaign has benefited from an influx in outside cash and donor dollars spurred by endorsements from conservative heavyweights Sarah Palin, Michelle Malkin and Tammy Bruce.
In an interview with The Hill after a town-hall event Tuesday, McClung said the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) had dismissed her chances against Grijalva.
“[The NRCC] wrote it off,” McClung said. “We have very little contact with them.”
One source close to the McClung campaign said she recently turned down offers of support from national Republicans because of the “strings attached.” The source said the NRCC had previously told McClung she was on a “political suicide mission” for entering the race against Grijalva, who was then thought to be a shoo-in for reelection.
A review of Federal Election Commission records by The Hill showed the NRCC has not yet spent any money to help McClung’s candidacy.
Though she enjoys widespread popularity among Tea Party activists, McClung said she hasn’t been endorsed by any of the groups in the movement.
“They don’t really endorse people in this area. They are all different. I go to Tea Party events,” she said.
Freedom Works, the advocacy group led by former House GOP leader Dick Armey that is closely tied to the Tea Party, has sponsored campaign signs for McClung that read, “Grijalva Kills Jobs.”
Grijalva has been trying to win back voters who balked at the lawmaker’s decision to call for a boycott of Arizona after the government passed a strict immigration enforcement law.
The Democrat has since explained that he made a “strategic mistake” in calling for the boycott. McClung’s mom-and-pop campaign — with a little help from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — has seized on the issue as a point of attack.
Despite the close race, McClung isn’t looking past Nov. 2. She declined to say whether she’d support John Boehner (Ohio) for Speaker if the GOP captures the House.
“You know, I want to get there and actually meet people,” McClung said. “I’d like to get there and talk to people.”