Republican voters in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District chose a political newcomer over a couple of familiar faces, giving Flagstaff dentist Paul Gosar a chance to retake a seat the GOP lost in the Democratic surge in 2008.
Gosar edged out 2008 nominee Sydney Hay and former Senate majority leader Rusty Bowers with nearly 32 percent of the vote in the GOP primary. He will face first-term Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, whose win over Hay gave Democrats a majority of Arizona’s seats in Congress – five of the state’s eight congressional seats are held by Democrats.
Hay was in second place with about 22 percent of the vote; Globe attorney Bradley Beauchamp got 16 percent; Bowers garnered 14 percent; and Show Low cardiologist Steve Mehta earned just under 8 percent.
Gosar said voters were impressed his small business-oriented message and the customer-service skills he’s gained during his career, and that served him well on the campaign trail.
“When you see me, you’ve got my passion. And you see that live it, I breathe it and I walk it,” Gosar said. “That’s what District 1 has been looking for. They’ve been looking for somebody that understands what Main Street America has been going through, and I do.”
Hay jumped into the race shortly before the May deadline, banking on the name ID she had built during her 2008 run for Congress. Hay, a mining lobbyist, put $100,000 of her own money into the campaign and raised a surprising amount of money in short period of time.
But Gosar was the runaway fundraising leader of the race, and touted big-name endorsements from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in his mailers and television ads. He raised about $420,000, mostly from other dentists across the country.
Candidates in the eight-way primary were hampered by the sprawling size and demographic diversity of a district that stretches from the Four Corners to Pinal County. Grassroots candidates such as Bowers and Beauchamp had trouble getting their message out in a district that is among the largest in the U.S.
As Gosar attempts a GOP comeback, Kirkpatrick will find out whether her centrist positions have endeared her to conservative-leaning independents who make up a major bloc in the disparate district. Republicans have attacked for her votes for President Obama’s health care bill and the federal stimulus package, and she looked out of touch with voters in 2009 after she walked out on hostile constituents during a town hall meeting in a Holbrook grocery store,
But Kirkpatrick has bucked her party at times as well. Her vote against the 2009 “cap-and-trade” bill riled environmentalists whose support helped her win the open seat vacated by former Rep. Rick Renzi, but may have helped her retain the support of voters who rely on mining and other industries that she said would have been hurt by the bill.
Kirkpatrick said she isn’t taking the campaign for granted, but said she thinks voters will look more at her independent record on issues like fiscal responsibility and bailouts than party affiliation, despite the Republican wave that many are expecting in November.
“I’m a true daughter of the district, and I think I reflect the values and the principles of the people who live there,” she said. “I think that in rural Arizona especially, people tend to vote more for the person than the party.”
Gosar’s fundraising advantage allowed him to outspend a slate of Republican rivals who couldn’t afford the same level of mail, radio and television advertising. But he is unlikely to have the same edge over Kirkpatrick, who showed about $870,000 in cash on hand in her last campaign finance report and is likely to receive more financial help from national Democrats before the general election.
“We’re probably not going to outraise her, but we’ll hold our own,” Gosar said.
With both parties eying the swing district, Gosar, too, may get some help from the national Republican Party.