Honing in on What Voters Want: Gabrielle Giffords


Situation

When long term incumbent and moderate Republican Jim Kolbe announced his retirement from Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, he set off a frenzy of local politicos looking to move up the political ladder. This Republican leaning seat was quickly identified by both parties as a leading target for the 2006 cycle; in fact, it was the most competitive seat in the country on every handicapper’s list.

Solution

Arizona State Senator Gabrielle Giffords, one of a number of local figures running for the Democratic nomination in Arizona's 8th Congressional District in 2006, hired GQR's Anna Greenberg and Dave Walker to help run her campaign. Early Democratic primary polling showed Giffords trailing well-known former news anchor Patty Weiss by double digits in a Democratic electorate that was incredibly angry at the Bush Administration and Republican majority.

Focusing research on the issues voters wanted their Representative to focus on, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner found an electorate just as interested in taking on local issues as fighting President Bush. Greenberg and Walker helped the Giffords campaign broaden its message, distinguishing it from the other Democrats in the race. As a former State Senator and small businesswoman, Giffords addressed voters’ local concerns with a credibility no other campaign could match. By focusing on “change,” Giffords was able to keep the anti-Bush majority in her camp without alienating Arizona 8’s moderate voters who favor Republicans in general elections. With a well honed message and a campaign superior to others in fund-raising and organizational strength, Giffords turned an initial double digit deficit into a 54 - 31 percent primary win over her closest rival in the Democratic Primary.

The General Election pitted Giffords against arch-conservative and anti-immigration activist Randy Graf. Immigration in AZ-8 is an issue of real resonance; one third of America’s illegal immigrants pour into the country through this border district - the home of the Minute Men. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner set to work helping Giffords navigate this issue, a critical challenge as a Democrat. As in the primary, our research honed in on what voters in Arizona wanted from their leaders on immigration. Sick of angry talk and political posturing, voters in this electorate wanted real solutions to immigration. Early advertising addressed this potentially explosive issue with a ‘let’s get it done’ message, neutralizing the Graf campaign’s potentially deadly wedge issue.

In fact, by early October, Giffords had moved so far ahead in the race that both party committees withdrew from the 8th District to invest in more competitive elections elsewhere. Giffords won the General Election by 12 points in a district the Republican incumbent had carried by 24 points two years earlier.

Methodology

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner team invested itself fully in the Giffords campaign, providing campaign polling and focus groups and helping to craft Giffords' television advertising, mail, press releases, and Internet outreach.