Political novice Paul Gosar parlayed endorsements from Sarah Palin and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio into something of an upset victory in the Republican primary race in the first Congressional District.
In November, the Flagstaff dentist will face incumbent Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who coasted to victory without opposition in the Democratic primary.
In preliminary results, Gosar drew 31 percent of the vote in a field of eight. That placed him well ahead of former lobbyist Sydney Hay, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat two years ago. In Gila County, Gosar got just 29 percent of the vote, but still edged out Hay here.
Kirkpatrick immediately congratulated Gosar on winning the nomination and issued a challenge to a series of five debates, none of them in Payson — one of the largest towns in the rural district.
Then the race for a swing seat with control of Congress in the balance got off to a swift start, when Kirkpatrick in a mailer characterized Gosar as “out of step with the district.” Gosar wants to outlaw abortion, enact a federal balanced budget initiative, repeal the recent federal health care reforms, fence the border and pass a law that would deny citizenship to the children of illegal aliens born in this country. He also opposed any additional regulations of the banks in response to the recent bank meltdown and has called for reducing the size of government, taxes and regulations.
During one campaign debate in Payson, Gosar said that even if Republicans regain control of Congress they’ll have to merely “obstruct” the implementation of health care reforms unless “an act of God” removes President Obama and his veto.
Gosar this week announced a joint appearance in Prescott next week with Republicans on the top of the ticket in Arizona — Sen. John McCain and Gov. Jan Brewer.
Gosar’s campaign manager J.P. Twist also shot back at Kirkpatrick’s mailer, saying “Voters from across CD1 chose, overwhelmingly, to nominate a small-business man with deep roots in rural Arizona. Ann Kirkpatrick can try to run and hide from her record, like she did in Holbrook, but the truth is coming out.”
Kirkpatrick’s opening shot in a mailer described Gosar as the National Republican Campaign Committee’s “hand-picked candidate” who is out of step with “our values.”
Twist retorted, “If Ann Kirkpatrick believes opposing Obamacare, balancing the federal budget and securing our borders is out of touch, then clearly it is time for her to come home from Washington, D.C.”
The sprawling first district seat includes almost half of the land area of the state and all of Rim Country, extending from the Navajo Reservation to Casa Grande and including Flagstaff, Payson, Safford and a sweep of rural towns.
Kirkpatrick, a former state lawmaker and Flagstaff prosecutor, will enter the race with a big advantage in funds and name recognition. She reportedly raised nearly $1 million in her unopposed primary, about twice what Gosar raised in his fierce struggle to rise to the top of a pack of challengers — many with much greater name recognition in the district.
The 10th largest congressional district in the nation normally tilts Republican, with a 45 percent rural population. Kirkpatrick won the seat with 56 percent of the vote two years ago.
The district’s population has a median income of $33,000 and is 66 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic and 23 percent Native American.
This time, Republicans hope that they can turn the race into a referendum on the Obama administration, particularly Kirkpatrick’s support for the most sweeping set of health care reforms since the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid. Projections suggest the package of reforms will extend health care coverage to 31 million Americans, including 118,000 residents of the district. Other studies suggest that currently about 45,000 people die prematurely in the U.S. each year because they lacked insurance.