Gila County voters decisively rejected Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s bid for re-election to her First Congressional District seat in favor of Flagstaff dentist Paul Gosar.
Kirkpatrick’s ouster spurred privately expressed concern among some top Payson officials based on fears of losing Kirkpatrick’s hands-on support for the Blue Ridge pipeline, forest thinning and a federal land exchange to enable Arizona State University to build a college campus here.
Gosar won the sprawling congressional district with 99,000 votes in the preliminary count compared to 87,500 for Kirkpatrick. Districtwide, Gosar had 50 percent of the vote compared to Kirkpatrick’s 44 percent. Libertarian Patti Nicole picked up 6 percent of the vote. In Gila County, Gosar piled up a more impressive margin, with 55 percent to Kirkpatrick’s 36 percent.
Voter registration in Gila County is almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with a large contingent of Independents. However, precincts in Northern Gila County with stronger Republican registrations had turnouts around 50 percent, while the Democratic precincts in the mining towns of Globe and Miami and the huge San Carlos Reservation often came in at 20 to 30 percent. Pine and Strawberry precincts had the highest turnout in the county, generally from 50 to 60 percent.
Gosar campaigned on a sharp criticism of federal spending and the Democratic efforts to revive the economy and a pledge to do everything he can to repeal the recent health care reforms.
He also called for extension of the Bush tax cuts even for high-income taxpayers, a balanced federal budget and a 10 percent cut in federal discretionary funding, from which he excluded Social Security, Medicare and the military, which together with interest on the debt, account for more than 80 percent of federal spending.
He called for an end to earmarks and criticized Kirkpatrick for supporting some $100 million in earmark projects in her home district. Among other things, Kirkpatrick pushed for Payson’s $10.5 million stimulus grant to build the Blue Ridge pipeline and millions of dollars to thin overgrown forests to protect Rim communities from wildfires.
Gosar did not return calls prior to press time seeking comments on his lopsided win over a determined and well-financed, one-term incumbent.
However, his campaign released a statement saying: “This election is about empowering the American people and bringing responsibility back to Washington. We can see from the election results that Arizonans have spoken and decided to put Main Street America first. But the work isn’t done. Now we must come together and find common sense solutions to the problems facing our nation, state and district. Gone are the days of special interests dictating what does or doesn’t get done. Pork is finished here in the first district.
“I am proud of the campaign we ran. We ran on the idea that America is the greatest country in the world and that our people, when given a voice, can ensure that our children and grandchildren will have the same opportunities you and I had growing up. Today opens up the doors for us to build a plan and then put that plan in place to restore America’s greatness. Let’s dig in to dig us, the U.S., out!”
Kirkpatrick also released a statement, congratulating Gosar on his win and observing, “Even though the outcome was not what we wanted, I feel so lucky to have had the chance to serve the First District of Arizona. I am proud to have stayed focused on what really matters to folks here — creating jobs and getting folks back to work. We cannot give up. We need to fight harder than ever for better jobs and a diversified economy, for a secure border, for fiscal discipline, for quality health care and education for our kids, to protect Social Security and Medicare, and for a government that answers to the people and not to special interests.”
Gosar made a handful of stops in Payson during the campaign, but never took a strong public position on Blue Ridge or the current effort to convince the Forest Service to award long-term contracts to timber companies to thin millions of acres of overgrown Rim Country forests and use the small-diameter trees to generate electricity and made things like roundwood and particle board. Kirkpatrick had also pushed legislation to speed the construction of the Blue Ridge pipeline by making the Bureau of Reclamation the lead supervising agency and was directly involved in the effort to speed up the sale of 300 acres of Forest Service land for an ASU campus in Payson.
Gosar did make one comment concerning the ASU campus during a campaign stopover in Payson. However, during that appearance he said he didn’t understand why Payson was negotiating with ASU to build the campus instead of Northern Arizona University, which he said had the primary responsibility to offer satellite programs in rural communities.
The sharply fought campaign mostly financed by out-of-district donors on both sides turned mostly on Gosar’s focus on Kirkpatrick’s votes in favor of health care reform and the federal stimulus package. He lambasted her as a “liberal” supporter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Kirkpatrick tried unsuccessfully to stress her disagreements with President Barack Obama, including her support for the extension of all the Bush tax cuts, a balanced budget amendment and her opposition to the auto industry bailouts, the overhaul of the bank regulations and the bank bailouts and gun control.
However, she couldn’t resist the Republican massacre, especially in Arizona where the voters shifted the state Legislature decisively to the right and picked Republicans in every statewide office. The Democrats lost three seats in Arizona’s congressional delegation and a fourth normally safe Democratic seat in Southern Arizona remained in play this week, waiting for the final count of the provisional ballots.