The race between Republican David Schweikert and two-term Democratic Rep. Harry Mitchell was told the larger tale of Election 2010. It featured an incumbent under fire for supporting the Obama administration agenda and a conservative challenger touting his outsider credentials. This well-educated district, the wealthiest in the state, had been tacking slightly to the left in recent years, but Schweikert’s election leaves Republicans in control for now. Schweikert was born in a Catholic home for unwed mothers in downtown Los Angeles; he was adopted and raised by a family in Arizona. As a young man in Scottsdale, he was involved in sports and in a club for Republican teens. He credits his early affinity for politics to former President Reagan. “We had a president [Carter], who would go on television wearing a sweater and demanding that we adjust our thermostats because we were living in a world of shortages,” Schweikert recalled. “Then, all of a sudden, there’s this gentleman” galvanizing a “wave of young people.”
As an undergraduate at Arizona State University, Schweikert focused on finance and real estate. “I have spent almost all my life within a 20-mile radius,” he said, but he was “fiercely independent,” refusing to accept his parents help to finance his education. He acquired a real-estate license at the age of 18 and worked full-time while taking classes at night. He graduated in six years. “There was never a time I wasn’t working six days a week,” Schweikert said.
He ventured into the political arena at age 26, when he lost a bid to represent the Scottsdale area in the Arizona House. Two years later, he was elected to an open seat, and at the end of his freshman term, he became majority whip. He was 30 and one of the youngest whips in state history, yet his greatest legislative allies were party elders. “Oddly enough, the oldest members were often the greatest to work with because they were less concerned about their personal ambitions.… If you were the hyper-energetic young guy, you were their best friend,” Schweikert said. He worked to pass legislation that laid the foundation for tax cuts, tort reform, and charter schools, as well as a bill shortening the legislative session from 170 to 98 days. In the course of his public service, Schweikert returned to ASU to get a master’s degree in business administration. He was persuaded by Doug Todd, the outgoing treasurer of Maricopa County, to run as his successor; Schweikert did and won. In that role from 2004 to ’07, he managed a $4 billion budget, created a program to help low-income seniors pay their property taxes, and corrected thousands of deed errors.
In 2008, Schweikert was the Republican nominee to challenge Mitchell, who had dethroned six-term GOP Rep. J.D. Hayworth two years earlier. Schweikert lost by 9 points in an inhospitable year for Republicans. This year, however, Democrats could not catch a break from a disillusioned, recession-weary electorate. The economy was the main issue in the Tempe-based district, and Schweikert made Mitchell’s vote for President Obama’s $787 billion economic-stimulus bill a central point in his campaign. His campaign signs called Mitchell a “lap dog” for liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and among what Schweikert calls Mitchell’s “list of sins” were his votes in favor of the financial-industry rescue in 2008 and Obama’s health care overhaul.
Mitchell countered that he’s been among the Democrats most likely to buck his party, emphasizing his support for extending the Bush-era tax cuts and his opposition to the Democrats’ bill to impose limits on carbon emissions. The incumbent had the money edge. Mitchell raised $1.4 million, and Schweikert raised just under half that amount, according to the most-recent campaign finance reports.