© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

2024 Could Be David Schweikert’s Toughest Election Cycle Yet

The conservative Arizona Republican is facing a host of hurdles, including a potential abortion amendment that could boost Democratic turnout.

Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz.
Rep. David Schweikert speaking in 2022. Ross D. Franklin/AP

Democrats see Arizona’s first congressional district as one of their best chances to flip a seat from red to blue in their efforts to win back the House. It also happens to be one of the districts President Biden needs to win the state.

With so much attention on the district, Republican Rep. David Schweikert is looking at one of his toughest election cycles yet — and it’s likely to only get tougher if a measure to enshrine abortion rights in Arizona makes it onto the ballot.

The seven-term representative has long been considered one of the most conservative members of the House; a good credential to have when he represented the much redder Sixth District. But those bona fides could turn into a liability as Schweikert faces a host of hurdles that include not only the potential of an abortion amendment that could boost Democratic turnout but a district that is becoming less conservative and an expected influx of heavy Democratic spending on the presidential and Senate races.

Schweikert eked out a win in the newly drawn district in 2022 by less than a single percentage point and it’s the rare Republican district Biden won in 2020.

Democrats now make up about 28% of voters in the district. While many still lean Republican, Schweikert’s victory in 2024 hinges on his appeal to Arizona’s largest bloc of voters: independents or “party not designated” voters, said Doug Cole, a longtime Republican political consultant at HighGround Inc., a public affairs firm in Phoenix. To win reelection, Schweikert will need independent voters who likely support Biden.

Democrats hope to deter these voters by highlighting Schweikert’s position on abortion, which they view as a major vulnerability. Schweikert was a co-sponsor of the 2021 Life at Conception Act, which would extend equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment to fetuses.

“AZ-1 voters are amongst the swingiest in the state, having voted for President Trump in ’16, falling away from him in ’20, yet the district saw enough ticket splitters in ’20 to re-elect Schweikert,” Arizona GOP campaign consultant Brady Smith said. “AZ-1 could absolutely come back home for Trump in 2024, especially given his recent surge in general election polling, but for Schweikert to control his own destiny, the congressman must maximize his delta over President Trump.”

A spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Lauryn Fanguen, told NOTUS Schweikert’s “extreme record of voting to take away abortion rights … is out of touch with Arizona voters.”

Some say that the lawmaker has moderated his image in other ways to make himself more appealing to the electorate, pointing to his votes in favor of some continuing budget resolutions, raising the debt ceiling, and exiting the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

“When he was in the legislature and when he was [Maricopa] county treasurer, Arizona was bright red. Things are now more purple,” Cole said. “It’s more of a centrist district. And I think he has moved himself on some votes to the center.”

The Schweikert campaign rejects the assertion that he has become less conservative.

Schweikert “remains just as focused on core economic issues, growth and prosperity and protecting taxpayers as he has always been,” his campaign consultant Chris Baker told NOTUS.

While Schweikert faces more challenges this election year, he does have some advantages. This includes a late, seven-way Democratic primary race.

“The stars aligned for Arizona Democrats’ most chaotic infighting in years, forcing their extreme candidates to spend to zero in this drama-filled, race-to-the-left primary,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Ben Petersen told NOTUS.

Schweikert also leads all the Democratic candidates in fundraising, an area he had lagged in for several cycles.

That financial edge may not matter. Cole believes that the eventual Democratic nominee for the first district will benefit from the money invested in the state for the presidential election, critical to a Biden win and for Democrats to maintain control of the Senate with a potential three-way-race for independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s seat.

“Arizona is going to be in the top five states of political spending, if not the highest. It’s probably going to be the highest spend-per-voter in the nation,” Cole said. “That affects all the races.”

Despite this, Baker is confident in Schweikert’s chances of keeping his seat.

“We feel pretty good about where things are right now in Arizona 1. We expect it to be a competitive race but we’ve had competitive races these last three election cycles and Congressman Schweikert has always come out on top. We expect 2024 to be no different,” he said.

Tara Kavaler is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.