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The Strange Case of The Congressman And The ‘Rocket Scientist’

by Sandi Behrns

Conservatives are positively giddy at the prospect of unseating the face of the House Progressive Caucus, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ7). Of course, that’s crazy, right? Arizona’s 7th District is about as solidly blue as they come. Nate Silver has it rated as a 99.3% near-certain hold for Democrats. In fact, Democrats hold a nearly 2 to 1 advantage in registration.

Demographically, the district is 55% Latino. Grijalva, the successful first generation son of Mexican immigrants and vice chair of the House Hispanic Caucus, has represented the district since it was created in 2003, never winning reelection with less than 60% of the vote. In contrast, his opponent Ruth McClung’s strongest tie to the Latino community seems to be her short stint at Del Taco while attending community college.

It’s a tough district for any Republican, let alone one of the Tea Party ilk, and yet we have Ruth McClung. While the district suffers from a 16.7% poverty rate and 18% of the population is uninsured, McClung is of course advocating for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, preferring to replace it with tort reform, health savings accounts and charity.

Yet, in this very strange midterm season, new polling shows Grijalva leading McClung by a mere two points. This week, Grijalva’s campaign will be airing his first television advertising since he first ran in 2002. He has never been this vulnerable. What has changed this year? Two things:

  • SB-1070 When the Arizona legislature passed the controversial immigration enforcement bill, (perhaps better known as the “Papers, please” law), Rep. Grijalva took the unusual step of calling for a boycott of his own state. He now admits, “On my part it was a strategic mistake to call for the boycott.” This comes too late, as the anger of immigration foes has kindled state-wide interest in this race.
  • Unemployment Latest figures from the Arizona Department of Labor show the jobless rate in Yuma County surging to 23.7%. According to CareerBuilding.com, Yuma County was among 15 metropolitan areas in the U.S. with the greatest job losses over a six-month period last year.

Combine painful unemployment with a highly publicized call for an economic boycott, and even this solid blue Democratic stronghold is in play. The tragedy is that Rep. Grijalva is the biggest Progressive in Congress; if anyone is going to fight for the kinds of stimulus and jobs programs that could end the pain, it is Grijalva. He is a tireless champion of the working class and the environment, but right now he’s in the fight of his political life with a Tea Party-supported 28-year-old “rocket scientist.”

Ruth McClung never misses an opportunity to say, “Maybe it does take a rocket scientist to fix Washington!” She’s particularly fond of looking at “the physics” of everything from climate change to border security. Speaking of climate change, Ms. McClung is one scientist who rejects that it is man-made, instead claiming, “The number 1 factor contributing to global warming is the sun!” She has signed the pledge to oppose cap and trade legislation, and has even tweeted that she’s “waiting for global warming to give me my ocean front property in Arizona.”

The claim to being a rocket scientist gives McClung a cute hook, but it also is a tool to imply that she’s intellectually superior to you, me, and of course, Raúl Grijalva (himself a former university dean). Let’s just put this “rocket scientist” thing to bed: Ruth McClung attended Pima Community College for two years, transferred to the University of Arizona, and in 2004 received a Bachelor’s degree in Physics. She is employed by Raytheon Missile Systems with the job title “engineer.” Any claim to the title “Rocket Scientist” is tenuous at best. She is a typical conservative, but with a science degree to shield her. We are assured on her campaign site that, “With her scientific background, politicians using pseudo-science to push an agenda will not fool her!”

The biggest trouble for Democrats in AZ-7 is that is was assumed to be safe. This means that crucial funds have not been flowing to the Grijalva campaign. Less than four weeks from the election, needing to mount a vigorous campaign on Tucson airwaves, the campaign is struggling with less than $80,000 cash on hand. This is shaping up to be the sleeper race of the year.

About Sandi Behrns

Sandi Behrns is a noted policy nerd, new media & web developer, and consultant to progressive organizations and campaigns. She is a senior contributor to Liberaland, and the Executive Editor of Progressive Congress News.

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