With more than a year left until the midterm election, three Democratic U.S. representatives from Arizona who are considered most likely to face strong GOP challenges have big leads in fundraising.
But it’s soon to tell whether that means an easy road for Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Gabrielle Giffords and Harry Mitchell, said Frederic Solop, a political science professor and department chair at Northern Arizona University.
“The seats look safe to me for now, but now is the time when Republicans come forward,” he said.
According to Federal Election Commission reports for the quarter ending Sept. 30, Kirkpatrick, whose district includes much of northern and eastern Arizona and much of Pinal County southeast of Phoenix, had raised $708,768. That’s more than $600,000 ahead of her nearest challenger, Republican Paul A. Gosar, a Flagstaff dentist.
Kirkpatrick had $550,992 in cash on hand.
The state’s five other U.S. House members had wide leads in fundraising or no opposition.
Solop said he expects a tough fight for Kirkpatrick, a first-term representative who replaced indicted Republican Rick Renzi.
“The national Republican Party has targeted this office,” Solop said. “I would expect this race to produce $3 million-$4 million campaigns.”
Gosar had raised $107,701, while Republican Bradley Beauchamp, a Globe attorney, had raised $39,015. Russell W. Bowers, a former Republican state lawmaker exploring a run, hadn’t raised any money.
Jason Rose, a campaign spokesman, said he expects Gosar to emerge by year’s end as the leading GOP candidate.
“I think the Republican Party will donate robustly to this campaign,” Rose said.
In southern Arizona’s 8th District, Giffords had raised $905,154, leaving her with nearly $1.4 million in cash on hand. Republicans Jesse Kelly, Brian Allan Miller and Vincent Andrew Goss had raised $170,658, $57,079 and $3,678, respectively.
In District 5, covering communities south, east and northeast of Phoenix, Mitchell reported raising $644,860, with $626,577 cash on hand.
Among Republicans, David Schweikert, who opposed Mitchell in 2008, had raised $303,478, which included donating $250,000 to his own campaign and $500,000 in debt. Jim Ward had raised $249,162, which included donating $96,854 his own campaign and $100,919 in debt.
Schweikert said the numbers don’t indicate how the rest of the race will play out, noting that he has yet to hold a fundraiser.
“The horse race really begins next year,” he said.
Ruth Jones, an Arizona State University political science professor, said the Republican Party has an incentive to go after vulnerable incumbents because the last election gave Democrats their first majority in Arizona’s U.S. House delegation in decades. But she said incumbents traditionally have an advantage, which will force Republican challengers to campaign strategically as well as raise enough money.
“If they’re going to be competitive, they’re going to pay attention to the incumbents and the constituents on issues like health care, tax issues, environmental issues and Afghanistan,” Jones said.