Rep. Paul Gosar easily fended off a Republican primary challenge from Anne-Marie Ward, a Prescott teacher and businesswoman.
Statewide, incumbents mostly had an easy time of it in their party primaries on Tuesday, but this will likely prove the lull before an unprecedented storm in the general election.
Arizona this year ranks as a swing state, after years as a Republican bastion. Republican President Donald Trump and Republican U.S. Sen. Martha McSally both trail in the polls behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Senate candidate Mark Kelly.
So national money will likely pour into the state between now and the general election, with ripple-down effects on state legislative races. Currently, Republicans hold a 31-29 seat edge in the House and a 17-13 edge in the state Senate. Democrats hope to gain control of the state House and perhaps even the state Senate, although that remains unlikely.
In the primary race, Rep. Paul Gosar faced a rare, vigorous challenge from Ward in rock-solid Republican District 4, which stretches from the Colorado River through Prescott and into Rim Country. Gosar, one of the most outspokenly conservative Tea Party supported members of the House, amassed 63% of the Republican vote, to Ward’s 37%.
On the Democratic side, nurse and health care consultant Delina DiSanto took 74% of the vote, easily besting educator and frequent candidate Stuart Starky.
DiSanto’s campaign website advocates expanding access to health care, improving veterans services, controlling prescription drug costs, criminal justice reform to reduce imprisonment for drug crimes and eliminating racial discrimination, increased funding for schools, greater reliance on solar and other “clean energy” sources, protecting the rights of tribes and Native Americans, decriminalization of marijuana, immigration reform and high-tech surveillance on the border.
The district has a big Republican registration edge, making DiSanto’s bid a longshot, despite Rep. Gosar’s penchant for courting controversy.
Ward started her campaign talking about pragmatic problem solving and bringing more young people into the party. Vigorous and telegenic, she criss-crossed the district, making frequent local appearances from Yuma to Payson. However, her campaign later shifted to an attempt to outflank Rep. Gosar on the right, although he ranks as among the most conservative members of Congress.
For instance, she criticized him for refusing to attend the House impeachment hearings, although he was endorsed by President Trump and stridently supportive of the president. Gosar labeled as traitors to their country FBI agents and Justice Department officials who investigated alleged coordination between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian hackers.
Gosar has championed western mining, logging and grazing interests against federal regulation. He chairs the Western Caucasus, a group of lawmakers who have pushed to roll back federal regulations, especially environmental restrictions on industries relying on public lands.
He has repeatedly prompted national media stories on things like a tweet suggesting sex-predator Jeffrey Epstein didn’t hang himself in jail, a Photoshopped image seeming to show former President Barack Obama meeting with the Iranian president and his insistence on calling the virus that causes COVID-19 the “Wuhan Virus.”
The vast District 4 includes all or part of seven counties. Ward got buried across the board.
In Gila County, Gosar got 4,478 votes and Ward got 1,808. That amounts to 29% of the votes cast in the county — a little worse than her districtwide performance.
Statewide, incumbents coasted to easy primary wins in Arizona’s closely divided congressional delegation.
Rep. Tom O’Halleran fended off a challenge by Eva Putzova in the primary in District 1, which stretches from Flagstaff nearly to the New Mexico border and includes the White Mountains as well as the Hopi, Navajo and Apache reservations.
On the Republican side in that race, Tiffany Shed got 54% of the vote to Nolan Reidhead’s 46%. The seat is one of the most competitive in the state, with a narrow Democratic advantage in registration.
The congressional race likely to attract the most attention in the general election pits incumbent Republican David Schweikert against Tipirneni Hiral in District 6, which is in the Valley. Schweikert has been battered by a House ethics probe, prompting him to admit to campaign finance violations from previous elections.