Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ellen Simon runs for Congress

Democrat Ellen Simon plans to win the primary and unseat Republican Rick Renzi in the general election.
Democrat Ellen Simon plans to win the primary and unseat Republican Rick Renzi in the general election.

By Laurel Morales

Sedona, AZ – Ellen Simon is the first to admit she's not a politician.

SIMON: It's probably my best credential that I've never been in politics before.

But she says she is very patriotic. Her parents are Holocaust survivors. And every year her family celebrates the day they came to the United States.

SIMON: I'm simply a person who is disturbed about what is going on in this country and an individual who wants to help make a difference. (TRIM)

While she may not have political experience, the civil rights attorney does have experience fighting for individuals' rights.

SIMON: I represented a secretary who was fired for going to chemotherapy treatments. I represented a doctor whose contract was not renewed because she had a baby. I've represented many many older Americans who were tossed out from long term jobs simply because of their age and because they could be replaced with younger cheaper workers.

Simon says she's fed up with the current administration. And she says so are the people of District One. Simon believes incumbent Republican Rick Renzi isn't representing his constituents.

SIMON: He represents the wealthy. He represents large corporations, pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, insurance companies. He does not at all reflect the interests of the people in the district

Simon and Renzi do have a couple things in common. They both have deep pockets and haven't lived in Arizona long. Simon has lived in Sedona for about 5 years.

SIMON: I live in Arizona. I love Arizona. And I'm very concerned about Arizona issues as well as the issues that affect this great country. I would work very very hard to represent the people of the district.

Lately she's been working hard to raise money. Simon has raised about 500-thousand dollars in two months. And more than half that money is hers. The rest comes from individual contributions - many from her home state of Ohio. Fred Solop is a Northern Arizona University political science professor and pollster.

SOLOP: She really is not demonstrating substantial support within the district. Only about $25,000 has come from Arizona and very little of that within Congressional District 1.

Solop wonders how she will spend it. He says she's raised awareness among insiders but we haven't seen a big media blitz. And she missed a Winslow debate with the other Democratic candidates. Simon says she was in Washington D-C trying to garner support there.

Meanwhile, Renzi has raised more than a million dollars. Most of his money comes from political action committees. Solop says money is important in a race against an incumbent.

SOLOP: It's very expensive to run a congressional race in the United States today and generally speaking for a candidate thinking of challenging an incumbent the entry fee if you will is roughly a million dollars.

But he points out money doesn't always win elections. In the last election cycle Democratic candidate Paul Babbit raised one-point-three million dollars to challenge Renzi. Rick Renzi raised almost twice that. Babbit lost by 24 points. Prior to that Democrat George Cordova raised little money but he ran a strong race and the election was much closer.

SOLOP: Here we have Ellen Simon with less than half the money Paul Babbit had available, very little name recognition. It's hard to believe she's going to emerge victorious against an incumbent.

Simon says if she does emerge victorious, she would help bring the troops home from Iraq. She says she would also work to provide accessible healthcare.

Renzi also lists health care along with the right to carry a gun and Native American issues as his priorities.

In a district that has more Democrats than Republicans you would think Simon stood a good chance of beating Renzi. Solop says that's not necessarily the case.

SOLOP: People may be democrat in name but not democrat in action. When they actually go to the polls people split their vote. We have very little straight party straight ticket voting today. What we also see time after time is that republicans tend to turn out more frequently than democrats. In a rough sense this is linked to demographics that democrats tend to be poor, less well-educated and just don't turn out as often as republicans.

Voters will have five Democrats to choose from in the primary - former talk radio host Mike Caccioppoli (CATCH-uh-pol-ee), Bob Donahue, owner of an assisted living center, marketing director Susan Friedman, dentist Vic McKerlie and Simon. Mail-in ballots go out in about two weeks.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales.