Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick will have to mount a fierce struggle this year to hang onto her Arizona Congressional District 1 seat.
The former prosecutor won the seat two years ago in the wake of redistricting that made it a virtual toss-up seat. The new district lines split off Northern Gila County, but left in her district Southern Gila County.
Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin has announced plans to run against her on the Republican ticket, but first he’ll have to defeat challengers in the Republican primary in August. So far rancher and Realtor Gary Kiehne of Eagar and Oro Valley State Representative Adam Kwasman have also expressed interest in the seat.
Meanwhile, the arch-conservative Americans for Prosperity has announced plans to spend heavily to defeat two Arizona incumbents — Kirkpatrick and Rep. Ron Barber, a former aide to then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who narrowly survived an assassination attempt in Tucson.
Congressional District 1 stretches from the Grand Canyon, through Flagstaff and the Navajo Reservation and then drops south almost to Tucson. More than 20 percent of the voters are Native American, who typically heavily favor Democrats. However, when it comes to total registration it’s a toss-up, with 39 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republicans and 30 percent “other.”
Kirkpatrick ranks as a “centrist Democrat” according to a voting tally maintained by Govtrack.us. Ideologically, she fell right in the middle, based on her votes in a Congress where there’s astonishingly little overlap between Republicans and Democrats.
She does have one of the best records in Congress for bipartisan bills she co-sponsored. Only one of those bipartisan bills actually became law - an amendment to a defense appropriations bill intended to reduce the 250-day wait time for acting on a claim for veteran's benefits by requiring the VA to shift over to electronic record-keeping by the end of 2013.
By contrast, Congressional District 4, which includes Northern Gila County, has a registration that’s 63 percent Republican, 33 percent Democratic and 33 percent “other.” As a result, Rep. Paul Gosar will probably not face any serious opposition in either the Republican primary or the general election.
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is one of a growing number of political groups who have taken advantage of a Supreme Court decision that essentially gutted campaign contribution limits.
The group has already launched a three-week, $650,000 ad blitz to attack Kirkpatrick and Barber for supporting federal health care reforms.
The ads key on President Barack Obama’s statement that people who liked their health insurance plans could keep them even after the reforms kicked in this year. However, the health reforms required insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, spend no more than 20 percent on administrative overhead and cover things like birth control and pregnancy. Health insurance companies canceled many policies that didn’t meet the new minimum requirements, which prompted critics of the health care reforms to insist President Obama had lied in his earlier statement.
Independent political groups have become a major factor in campaigns ever since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned campaign finance laws. The groups can now spend as much money as they like without reporting the source of that money so long as they don’t directly coordinate their activities with the candidates they’re supporting.
In a press release, AFP Arizona Director Tom Jenney said, “Our media blitz is really aimed at pressuring Arizona lawmakers to take a look at the pain they’re causing and change tracks. We won’t be satisfied without a full repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.
Kirkpatrick supported the Affordable Care Act when she first represented Congressional District 1. Paul Gosar, a Flagstaff dentist strongly supported by the Tea Party, then unseated her. Gosar served two years representing Rim Country in Congressional District 1, but then moved to Prescott to run in Congressional District 4 after redistricting turned CD1 into a toss-up seat. By contrast, CD4 is a Republican bastion now with Northern Gila County pasted onto a district dominated by western Arizona and running almost the whole length of the Colorado River.
Kirkpatrick has since been frequently critical of the Affordable Care Act. After computer problems botched the launch of the online marketplace, she decried “the stunning ineptitude of the ACA marketplace rollout is more than a public relations disaster. It is a disaster for the working families in my Arizona district who badly need quality, affordable health care. I have often said that the Affordable Care Act is not perfect and I am willing to work across the aisle to improve it.
Lost in all the partisan noisemaking are the people who have been waiting years for quality, affordable health care. Thousands of them are in my Arizona district. Millions of others are across the country. They elected us to solve problems, so let’s stop playing games and start finding solutions.”
The Republican Party nationally has listed Congressional District 1 as one of seven seats held by Democrats they hope to win this year. They’re also targeting Barber’s seat as well as swing seats in Georgia, Utah, North Carolina, Minnesota and West Virginia, according to a report in the National Journal, based on a memo.
Americans for Prosperity was among a number of groups initially supported by the Koch brothers, oil tycoon billionaires who have bankrolled many conservative groups. AFP has sometimes mixed in Republican primaries.
Meanwhile, Tobin has launched an aggressive campaign for the Republican nomination to run against Kirkpatrick — who has been raising money furiously almost since the moment she took office.
Tobin has worked to round up endorsements and raise money, hoping to deter a serious challenge in the primary. He recently trumpeted 19 endorsements from assorted local officials in the sprawling district, including Camp Verde Mayor Charles German.
As Speaker of the House Tobin pushed through budgets that cut state spending by about 25 percent, which included the deepest cuts in school funding in the country. At the same time, he supported the biggest tax cuts in state history, according to a press release promoting his candidacy.