"It was a strategic mistake because we weren't influencing any of the decision makers to change their minds. And then the court case happened," he said in an interview, referring to a federal injunction halting portions of the law, "which was good, it means we have some time and then we'll live through that whole court process and see what the final decision is."
Three recent polls have shown the race to be very close, something altogether unexpected in such a liberal district. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) reacted by spending more than $62,000 on an ad hitting McClung for being "radical" in her tax proposals.
The ad ends with the tag line: "Ruth McClung: radical ideas we can't afford."
The potential of a competitive race has drawn more than just national dollars. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed McClung last week.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that our country is on the wrong track under the leadership of Obama, Pelosi, and Reid; but Ruth actually is a rocket scientist!" Palin wrote on her Facebook page.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also endorsed McClung.
In the period ending Sept. 30, Grijalva had outraised McClung by a margin of 7-to-1, according to federal campaign finance records. But a McClung campaign staffer said they have raised a lot of money in October and now have about $200,000 cash on hand.
McClung has been campaigning since May 2009, but only in the last few weeks has she started to get national attention and national money. She mentioned her campaign had recently raised more than $100,000 online in a little over a day.
"We were a campaign that was pretty much under the radar, it was all grass roots," she said. "Suddenly both of us have ... have had a lot of money coming into this district. So it's kind of revamped the whole campaign."
Besides the DCCC, other national organizations have thrown their money into Arizona's 7th district, according to federal campaign records.
Last week two conservative groups put money into the district: Americans for Limited Government spent more than $20,000 on direct mail in opposition to Grijalva and Americans for Tax Reform, a group pushing for a flat income tax, put more than $30,000 into TV ads against Grijalva.
Grijalva decried the money being spent against him and said, along with the Arizona immigration bill and economy, it explained why the race appeared tighter for him than in 2008.
But the national mood is also at play in his district.
"I'm a Tea Party-backed candidate," McClung said. "I believe in less government spending ... and I'm a big believer in getting the power back to the local level. I've been to many tea parties across the district and that seems to be the unifying theme," she said.
But McClung also explained that she strived for and succeeded in getting bipartisan support.
"I'm just really excited going out, meeting the people. It's quite a bit of bipartisan support in this district, which I have to have -- it's more than two-to-one Democrat to Republican," she said.