By Aaron Blake - 09/26/06 12:00 AM EDT
At this point, when you broach the subject of national Republican support with Randy Graf, all he can do is offer a knowing chuckle and remain characteristically optimistic about it all.
The saga that has unfolded between the Arizona 8th District Republican nominee and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has enough ups and downs to fill out several days of a soap opera plot. The latest chapter came last week when the NRCC pulled about $1 million in ads marked for Graf, who trails by double-digits in polls.
Now national Democrats have also pulled their ads and are declaring that the race, long projected as one of the closest in the country, is finished.
But even after the national Republican Party appears to have snubbed him for the second time, just one week after an impromptu post-primary trip to meet with party leaders, Graf shrugged it off and said he and his campaign are moving forward just as they did in the primary, relying only on themselves to prove their doubters wrong.
At the same time, he still holds out hope that the national party will play some kind of role in helping him erase the deficit.
This week should provide some answers on that front, as Graf prepares for a more formal visit to Washington on Wednesday and Thursday to meet party leaders and hold a fundraiser with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
Graf will not meet the NRCC during the visit. Spokesman R.T. Gregg said the campaign is “going directly to the members.”
“I’m confident, at the end of the day, they will see through independent polling numbers that we are not some tremendous underdog here, and we’re going to keep this seat Republican,” Graf said.
It all began in May when retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) announced he was supporting opponent Steve Huffman in the Sept. 12 primary. Kolbe has said Graf is too extreme for the district.
Graf took 43 percent of the vote in a 2004 primary against the two-decade incumbent, who still refuses to endorse him. Graf said he is not actively seeking Kolbe’s support, and Kolbe couldn’t be reached for comment.
Then the NRCC went against policy by intervening late in the primary and running ads in support of Huffman, the only candidate nationwide for whom they ran primary ads. Graf and the other three candidates publicly denounced the committee for getting involved, saying it broke a promise not to.
But just days after edging out Huffman 42-38 in the primary, Graf was in Washington meeting party leaders and proclaiming their support.
Three days later, the news hit that national GOP was dropping its ad buys in the district.
But Graf is not criticizing the NRCC as he did a week before the primary, when he and Huffman’s other opponents expressed their “unified outrage” and one of them reportedly called the NRCC “idiots” and told it to “stay the hell out of southern Arizona.”
Graf said it wasn’t difficult for him to forgive and forget because Republicans need to pull together. And he still believes that, even though the ads have been pulled.
“To the extent that folks make an issue of this, I guess they will,” Graf said. “I don’t deal that way. We’re going forward.
“They’re not working against us (as in the primary). It’s a strategic move on their part, and I’m sure they’re trying to evaluate races all over the country. ”
The NRCC supported the more-centrist Huffman because it took the view that he was more likely to keep the seat red. Polls that have come out since the primary suggest the committee and Kolbe may have been right about Graf.
A poll released by Democratic nominee Gabrielle Giffords’s campaign gave her a 19-point margin. Graf challenged the poll’s credibility, but an independent poll released over the weekend put Giffords’ lead at 13.
A Democratic source familiar with the race said, “From our perspective, this race is over.” But Republicans have reiterated their full support for Graf and say issues such as tax cuts and illegal immigration will expose Giffords.
Despite their victory declaration, Democrats are still working against Graf, an immigration hard-liner, labeling him extreme .
Democrats said the fruits of Graf’s post-primary trip to Washington – his campaign reported he raised $20,000 and received $100,000 in pledges – are paltry and show a lack of support. Giffords raised $100,000 and received $200,000 in pledges during a visit last week, according to the Democratic source.
Graf attributes his lower numbers to the fact that nobody expected him to be in town so soon after the primary. He’s aiming to raise $1 million between the primary and the general election, but he would likely still trail Giffords, who raised about twice as much as Graf and broke $1 million in the primary.
“We are on track here to raise the $1 million that we need, and I’m sure… that all the players will come back in here and that we’ll be in good shape,” Graf said.