Mano a Mano

08.26.12

Ben Quayle’s Election Fight Gets Ugly

Arizona Rep. Ben Quayle was locked in fierce primary battle—and then an Israeli skinny-dipping scandal made things even more sensational. He talks to Terry Greene Sterling.

On a recent afternoon, Rep. Ben Quayle and his wife, Tiffany, both seemingly lost in their own thoughts, climbed out of their large black SUV and marched toward a campaign event at a friend’s well-appointed, expensive home in northern Scottsdale. They broke into broad smiles when the hostess opened the door and beckoned them into a living room packed with young upper-middle-class white Republicans concerned about burdensome government regulations, taxes, and the national deficit.

Quayle desperately needs the votes of these like-minded constituents. Thanks to a newly drawn congressional district, Quayle, who was first elected in 2010, is locked in an ugly primary battle with another freshman congressman, Rep. David Schweikert.

On Tuesday, primary voters in the largely Republican district will decide a race that centers on social class, generational needs, and political ideologies.

This epic mano a mano bears national scrutiny not only for Quayle’s pedigree—he’s the son of former vice president Dan Quayle—but also for the way it pits extreme and moderate factions of the Arizona Republican Party against each other. In one corner: the patrician, privileged, well-mannered 35-year-old Quayle. In the other: the engaging, uncompromising, down-home, self-made 50-year-old Tea Party favorite Schweikert.

It’s one of the election season’s most colorful primary contests, made all the more enticing by recent Politico stories that reported Quayle and a group of other Republican congressmen and aides took a late-night (and perhaps drunken) dip in the Sea of Galilee last year while on a junket to Israel.  (Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Kansas Republican, allowed he’d plunged naked into the biblically sacred waters.) Politico reported that the FBI was looking into whether the congressional dippers’ bar tab was paid for illegally.

Quayle told me, as he has told countless other reporters, that he did nothing wrong, had little to drink, briefly entered the lake (in shorts) to collect sacred water for his child’s baptism, and that the moment was “very spiritual.” Tiffany told me she was with her husband on the trip, and saw nothing amiss. Tiffany, who sells software and graduated cum laude from Arizona State University, told me she didn’t grow up in a political family, like her husband, and is learning to be increasingly “thick-skinned.”

Quayle’s spokeswoman characterized Schweikert’s ads as “lies and innuendo.”

In the Phoenix valley, where tempers are fraying in the waning days of a record-breakingly sizzling summer, l’affaire du Galilee has given some locals a reason to chortle. A fun-loving poll launched by Phoenix New Times recently found that most readers didn’t believe Quayle’s story. A conservative PAC supporting Schweikert reportedly sent Quayle a Speedo. And in Scottsdale, where resorts and bars frequently offer weekend pool parties to beat the heat, a local watering hole called The Spanish Fly invited Quayle to emcee a gala at the pool, reasoning that it’s closer than the Sea of Galilee.

Quayle, a lawyer, told me “circumstantial evidence” might lead one to believe someone in the Schweikert camp leaked the Galilee story to gain political advantage “right before the primary election.” Schweikert denies he leaked the story. Politico concurs with Schweikert.

But in this bitter race, the saga surely helped Schweikert galvanize his base, which will be critical to winning the primary. The newly redrawn 6th Congressional District is a Republican stronghold, and includes rich enclaves like north Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, where Ben Qauyle lives and where few care about what happened at the Sea of Galilee. But CD6 also includes scrappy, Tea Party–friendly towns like Fountain Hills, home to “Toughest Sheriff in America” Joe Arpaio, as well as Schweikert, an uncompromising former state legislator and county treasurer who uses words like “patriot” and “republic” a lot.

Quayle’s dad, Dan, is an entrenched national political insider who has endorsed Mitt Romney. Ben Quayle has been endorsed by other national political insiders—Arizona senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, and Condoleezza Rice.

Schweikert, conversely, has been endorsed by dozens of established local hardline-conservative Arizona Republicans, the editorial board of The Arizona Republic, Citizens United, and the Tea Party–associated FreedomWorks.

In order to woo ideologically driven primary voters, both congressmen have highlighted their solid conservative records.

But at the meet and greet in north Scottsdale, Quayle, a slender man of average height dressed in a gray business suit  that complimented his blue eyes and dark hair, revealed his willingness to forge bipartisan consensus to pass legislation to “get back on track.”

Getting back on track, to Quayle, includes repealing Obamacare, curbing the power of the presidency, simplifying the tax code, and instituting business-friendly regulatory reform, like curbing the power of the EPA. It also includes reforming the immigration system to allow workers to come to the United States legally.

Team Schweikert seems less willing to compromise, and has claimed internal polling puts their man ahead of Quayle by double digits. But a Quayle aide told me their internal polling indicates the race is “very, very close.”

“And when you’re leading by double digits, you don’t run a dirty campaign,” the Quayle aide told me.

Ads funded by Schweikert supporters have branded Quayle as a rich boy tethered to his family’s money and power. One ad hints Quayle can’t spell, just like his dad. Another ad inferred Quayle is bisexual, still another that he is not a real conservative and “voted for billions less in spending cuts than David Schweikert.” Schweikert has often pointed to Quayle’s youthful behaviors—Galilee, for one, and Quayle’s admission that in 2007 he wrote about the pursuit of hot chicks on a racy Scottsdale Web site under the name of Brock Landers (a reference to the porn-themed film Boogie Nights)—as indicators of Quayle’s poor judgment. (Quayle’s parents dubbed their son’s 2007 posting as “satirical fiction” that takes a jab at Scottsdale’s club scene.)

Quayle’s spokeswoman, Anna Haberlein, characterized Schweikert’s ads as fiction, too, dubbing them “lies and innuendo.”

Shortly before my deadline for this story, the Quayle campaign directed me to a Web site where a Quayle surrogate claimed Schweikert’s real-estate company was involved in a “loan scam,” and that Schweikert recently desperately infused his campaign with $130,000 of his own money.

“Come on,” Schweikert’s spokesman Chris Baker wrote me in an email. “Asking us to reply to an insane and thoroughly discredited blogger who has made no secret of his fondness for Ben Quayle is a bit much. But I do think it speaks volumes about where the Quayle operation is if they are relying on this loon.”

Earlier in the night, the Quayle campaign also accused “Dave Schweikert’s dishonest and dirty campaign” of issuing “defamatory ads” that were removed “from traffic on multiple TV and radio stations which attempt to smear Ben Quayle by reference to an FBI investigation which never happened.” (The FBI investigation pertains to the Galilee bar tab, not Quayle.)

Baker, shot off a text message to me: “Not true. Our media buy hasn’t changed from last week or the week before that. We’re not going to let the false ads being run by Quayle’s super Pac [sic] go unanswered. The primary difference between the candidates is that Quayle is having his family members fight his battle through donations to the Super Pac. David Schweikert fights his own battles.”

Later, Baker sent out another email. Quayle’s campaign, the email said, “makes the laughable claim that they somehow got a Schweikert campaign ad pulled. Simply put, not true. While we are not surprised, given Mr. Quayle’s difficulties with the truth, that he would literally just make things up, we aren’t going to ask you to take our word for it (though, we would most certainly provide evidence that the traffic switch was part of a scheduled switch heading into the weekend) instead, I would direct your attention to this article by factcheck.org which explains very clearly that ads sponsored by candidates cannot be removed by stations…I don’t know about you, but I love spending my Friday nights responding to crazy assertions by the Quayle campaign.”  (The factcheck.org article explains why some false political ads are legal.)

Given the building ugliness of the race, I asked the Quayles before they left the meet and greet in north Scottsdale why they chose to go into politics, since they could pretty much write their own tickets in life. Tiffany said: “Because we care” about America. Next, I asked Ben Quayle why he chose to be a conservative. His answer: He grew up in a conservative family and he believes conservative principles work best.

I asked him what he’d do if he lost the race. He said he hadn’t considered it.