Maricopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock in recent weeks has ramped up his campaign efforts against his young Democratic challenger, tapping wealthy real estate developers for cash as well as hiring a high-profile publicist.
For much of the year, Brock, who hasn't faced a tough challenge in the general election since taking office in 1997, has been outraised by the 24-year-old Ed Hermes. But Brock has reversed that trend with the help of developers' deep pockets, according to the latest campaign finance reports. Brock also signed up hard-hitting political consultant Jason Rose, who has fed the media a steady diet of press releases attacking Hermes' record - or lack thereof - since he joined Brock's campaign late last month. Rose is a regular on the state's political landscape and has worked with marquee GOP candidates such as Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Brock, R-District 1, insists that his efforts are not a sign of desperation. Rather, they were done to raise more cash and get more information to the voters. He went on to criticize the county government for not touting his and his colleagues' work on the Board of Supervisors.
"For one thing, we have done a lackluster job at the county celebrating all our great achievements," Brock said. "We've gotten a lot of great awards that went nowhere."
To that point, Rose released an e-mail to local media on Tuesday highlighting Brock's record in areas such as tax cuts, supporting higher education and preventing animal cruelty.
Rose has also sought to paint Brock as a bipartisan figure in District 1, which includes a growing number of registered independent voters. Although the district, which includes Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert and Queen Creek, has traditionally been a GOP stronghold, it has changed in recent years, as voters in Brock's district have sent Democratic candidates to Congress and the state Legislature.
Rose has also given the Brock campaign a harder edge, attacking Hermes' inexperience by saying, "How can a guy who's never had a mortgage be responsible for a $2.3billion budget?"
Hermes responded that Brock has resorted to false personal attacks in his bid to retain a seat on the board, which now has four Republicans and one Democrat. As for his experience, Hermes said that while he served as the student member of the Arizona Board of Regents, he helped oversee $3.2 billion in university spending.
Brock has stepped up his fundraising and turned to Rose for political advice because he knows voters are impatient with the status quo, Hermes said.
"He definitely seems to be fearful of the tide of voters who are wanting change and a fresh perspective on the Board of Supervisors," Hermes said of Brock.
Besides sharpening his campaign message and tactics, Brock has stepped up his fundraising efforts. In the latest reporting period, Brock outraised Hermes for the first time this year. Between Aug. 14 and Sept.22, Brock took in $17,810 to Hermes' $10,289, according to campaign finance reports.
Of the nearly $18,000 Brock raked in, at least $10,640 came from donors who identified themselves as developers or connected to the real estate industry. A majority of the 33 developers gave the $390 maximum donation allowed under state campaign finance laws.
At first glance, it would seem Brock would be a safe bet to win re-election in a district that tilts heavily toward the GOP. The latest registration figures from the county show 158,599 registered Republicans in the district to 115,986 Democrats.
But all bets are off this year, as many political experts describe a toxic environment that could spell doom for incumbent Republicans. With a sluggish economy and slumping housing market, voters are in a bad mood, said Tara Blanc, a pollster for Arizona State University.
Blanc pointed to the 2006 election, in which GOP candidates across the country went down because of unhappiness with the Republican Party.
"A lot of voters are seeing problems," Blanc said. "And they're blaming the incumbents, whether it's deserved or not."