Less than three months after Ann Kirkpatrick lost her seat in Congress, the former representative of Arizona’s 1st Congressional District announced that she would challenge the Tea Party-endorsed dentist Paul Gosar again for control of the expansive rural district.
The battle, which has drawn national attention, is already heating up.
Kirkpatrick was the first Arizona candidate to announce a congressional campaign for 2012. She touts superior fundraising, an active advertising campaign and a top-priority status with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Gosar has secured high-profile endorsements from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. He also has been driving hard during his freshman U.S. House term to get a land-swap bill passed that would allow the construction near Superior of the largest copper mine in North America, potentially creating thousands of jobs in the district.
With the initial political shots already fired and still more than a year remaining before voters go to the polls, both campaigns appear primed to launch several more strikes before their second battle for the northern and eastern Arizona congressional district is ultimately decided.
One of Kirkpatrick’s biggest pieces of ammunition is her fundraising advantage.
Kirkpatrick out-raised Gosar during the first half of the year by about $75,000. Gosar’s campaign downplayed the numbers, saying at the time that Kirkpatrick “outspent us two-to-one last time, and we still won.” Gosar’s campaign also promised more impressive campaign finance numbers at the end of the current quarter.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also put its full support behind Kirkpatrick, announcing in July that hers is among 25 priority campaigns that it will target in an effort to regain control of the House of Representatives.
Amber Moon, Western regional press secretary for the DCCC, said Gosar is a vulnerable candidate, and that the group’s decision to put full and early support behind Kirkpatrick was an easy one. “Gosar is easy to peg,” Moon said. “He stands up for millionaires. He’s focused on dismantling Medicare and giving tax breaks to the rich.”
The DCCC launched an campaign in August highlighting Gosar’s support for Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal.
Kirkpatrick said Gosar’s support of the deep-cutting “Ryan Budget” will allow her to paint him as a supporter of dismantling Medicare in favor of health care vouchers. That framing of the issue, Kirkpatrick said, will be a strong message moving forward.
“The problem he’s got now, is that he’s got a voting record. And no matter how he tries to explain that, he voted to end Medicare as we know it, and replace it with a voucher system. People know that,” Kirkpatrick said. “We don’t want to lose Medicare and get a voucher instead. It’s just not what people want.”
Kirkpatrick said she supports alternative ways to reduce the burden of what she sees as indispensable entitlement programs like Medicare, specifically mentioning a reduction in military spending.
Both candidates have said they intend to make their 2012 campaigns about jobs. Gosar has widely touted his work in pushing the Resolution Copper Mine land swap bill that could lead to thousands of mining industry jobs in Arizona.
“We’ve been told there are 1,400 direct mining jobs. And these jobs are going to pay well in excess of $60,000, plus benefits,” Gosar said. “So these are the jobs that really make a difference.”
Gosar added that the ancillary service-industry jobs that would follow the mining jobs will also be significant. “The total worth of this over the estimated project life is over $64 billion,” he said.
Dave Cook, the former president of the Gila County Cattle Growers Association, said those sorts of bills that have tangible impact in the district will be able to sway a large number of voters.
Kirkpatrick, who will predictably argue that Gosar hasn’t done enough, has said she will also make infrastructure development projects a core mission if she’s elected again. She says Gosar is not effectively representing the Native American tribes in the district.
“He doesn’t seem to be willing to ask for any appropriation requests to help them with infrastructure,” Kirkpatrick said. “And that’s the other critical component. In greater Arizona, we have transportation projects, we have levee projects, we have flood plain projects that are critical to building up the infrastructure to long-term economic development that he’s refusing to champion.”
Both candidates have also shown that they are willing to highlight the other’s strife and turmoil.
During the 2010 campaign, Gosar painted Kirkpatrick as an out-of- touch, “Washington insider.” To reinforce that notion, he used a 2009 video showing then-U.S. Rep. Kirkpatrick walking away from a crowd of angry, yelling constituents at a Holbrook grocery store.
Last month, a revamped version of the same video, replete with a soundtrack, was posted to YouTube and a link to it was sent in a state GOP press release, “celebrating” the two-year anniversary of the incident.
Kirkpatrick’s campaign sent out a press release highlighting internal strife in Gosar’s campaign based on information from a July Politico article.
The article detailed alleged staff mismanagement and top Gosar staffers’ ineptitude. Gosar, however, dismissed the charges as the result of big egos and run-of-the-mill workplace grumbling.
“You know when you put people together that are big boys and girls with egos and attitudes, not all the time do they play fairly or play well in the sandbox,” Gosar said.
Ultimately, regardless of the campaign attacks, the race may come down to something over which neither candidate has control.
David Wasserman, House dditor for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, said he thinks the key to the Kirkpatrick-Gosar rematch will be redistricting.
“A lot will depend on whether the (Navajo and Hopi Indians) are united in one district, and whether there are any other Republican areas, like Yavapai County, that end up in other districts,” Wasserman said. “If they’re reunited, that creates a little better district for Kirkpatrick.”
Wasserman said the race is Gosar’s to lose in a year when President Obama will be on the ticket again.
“By the numbers, northern Arizona ought to elect a Republican, given Obama’s standing in rural areas like these,” Wasserman said. “But Gosar’s problems have created some signs of an unnecessarily competitive race.”