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Salmon bests Adams in CD5 GOP primary

Former House Speaker Kirk Adams (left) and former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon (File photos)

Even a last-minute endorsement from U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake and a Gilbert appearance by Sarah Palin wasn’t enough to turn the tide for Kirk Adams in his quest for the GOP nomination in Arizona’s 5th Congressional District.

Former U.S. Rep Matt Salmon appears to have won Tuesday’s election, with 54 percent to the Adams’ 46 percent in the East Valley district that includes Gilbert, Queen Creek, Apache Junction and parts of east Mesa and Chandler.

Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-1 in the district, and about a third of the voters are registered as independent or other. Salmon is considered the heavy favorite in the November election over Democrat Morgan Spencer, who ran unopposed for his party’s nomination.

“My message of going back to Washington (D.C.) and having the skill and experience and training to hit the ground running and not need on-the-job training at a very difficult time in American history, I think it resonated very well with the voters,” Salmon said.

Salmon, 54, of Mesa, represented the area from 1994 to 2000, when he resigned after completing his pledge to run only for three terms.  He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002, narrowly losing to Democrat Janet Napolitano.  Adams, 39, also of Mesa, has been running for the seat since he left his post as Arizona Speaker of the House in April 2011, but he has had trouble gaining momentum and money during his quest for higher office.

Adams said that he knew he was facing an uphill battle in taking on Salmon, who had better name ID and more money, and the margin was closer than many people expected. He said the momentum was on his side, and with Palin stumping for him, he almost pulled it off.

“While it’s not mathematically impossible, we realize at this point that it’s not likely (that we’ll win),” he said at midnight Tuesday. Adams said he had already called Salmon to congratulate him on a “likely win.”

With both candidates agreeing on many issues, the campaigns focused on who has the right kind of experience to serve the district in Congress. Salmon said he knows his way around the halls of the nation’s Capitol and would regain seniority if sent back to the Congress. Adams painted himself as part of a new generation of leaders. He pounded Salmon on his lobbying career after leaving Congress, saying he had lobbied for parts of Affordable Health Care Act. Salmon called the claim false, and said he will work to repeal the legislation.

Salmon credited the attack with helping push him over the edge on Election Day.

“I think that as the campaign moved forward, people just got sick and tired of the same old garbage of people making up stories about your opponent instead of talking about what’s good about you,” he said. “If your tactic is trying to tear down your opponent with false claims, I think it ultimately hurt him. I think it harmed him in the long run, too. When you run an honorable campaign and you lose standing up, great. You have a great future in this state. But when you lose your campaign without honor, making false claims about your opponent, people remember that for a long time.”

Salmon led Adams in fundraising, bringing in more than $903,000 in his quest for the seat. Of that, $138,000 came from political action committees.  He loaned himself $10,000. Adams raised a total of $696,000 with $92,000 coming from political action committees and $88,000 from a personal loan.

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