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GOP outlines strategy to unseat freshmen Arizona Democrats in Congress

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, said that the good things that have happened as a result of health-care reform have been lost in the “partisan noise-making” by opponents of the law. (Cronkite News Service photo by Michelle Peirano)

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, said that the good things that have happened as a result of health-care reform have been lost in the “partisan noise-making” by opponents of the law. (Cronkite News Service photo by Michelle Peirano)

WASHINGTON – The midterm congressional elections are still a year off, but the Republican Party started ratcheting up its campaign this week against three freshman Arizona Democrats it has targeted in the race.

In a conference call Monday, strategists for the National Republican Congressional Committee said they would try to tie “the disastrous rollout of Obamacare” to Democratic Reps. Ron Barber of Tucson, Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff and Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix.

NRCC political director Rob Simms said the problems with health-care reform, combined with President Barack Obama’s rapidly declining approval rating, leaves “the door wide open for us to come in and win several seats” in Arizona and the nation.

“The Democrats who have championed the law, like Ron Barber and Ann Kirkpatrick, are going to have to answer for the fact that they supported a law that is having a huge impact in a negative way on the people of Arizona,” Simms said.

But an official with the Arizona Democratic Party said the “very moderate and pragmatic” voters in those districts would not take to a strategy of bombarding them with the Affordable Care Act. DJ Quinlan called that strategy an “insult on the intelligence of the voters.”

“They (Republicans) were saying the same thing last year but they lost all three elections in these targeted districts,” Quinlan said.

He said voters in those three swing districts will opt for lawmakers who best represent their interests in Washington. Besides that, he said, once the problems with the federal health-care website are addressed, the law will benefit tens of thousands of people in Arizona and in the country.

Political analysts said there is little doubt that Obamacare will be an issue in the 2014 elections, but it is still too early to say how it will play.

“A few months later we will have a better idea of how the broad midterm narrative is and how to evaluate the races,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

That report rated the targeted Arizona districts as three of the 52 “seats in play” for Congress in 2014. Gonzales said he was not surprised the GOP wants to keep the issue of Obamacare in the forefront for the next year.

“The House is more prone to electoral waves,” he said. The next few months will determine how popular the Affordable Care Act is, whether people like it or not and if any electoral wave develops as a result.

On Friday, Barber and Sinema joined 37 other Democrats who voted for a GOP-backed bill aimed at letting people keep insurance policies that had been canceled under the new, tougher requirements of Obamacare.

Quinlan said that vote showed the Democrats, unlike their Republican challengers, are able to put aside partisan games and look at the needs of their constituents.

But Simms dismissed the idea, saying Barber and Sinema voted Friday for purely political reasons.

“I wouldn’t give them credit for being against Obamacare when they have been for it before,” he said.

“Voters in Arizona will see the blatantly transparent actions of the two members who are in deep, deep trouble and now trying to walk back their previous support for what is a very, very unpopular program that is affecting thousands of Arizonans in a very negative way,” Simms said.

But Barbara Norrander, a professor from the University of Arizona’s School of Government and Public Policy, agrees with Gonzales that a lot can happen between now and the midterm election.

“We need see how the policy works in the longer run,” Norrander said of its potential impact on the election. “It really depends on how the public feels about the Obamacare next year, not now.”

Calls seeking comment from Barber, Sinema and Kirkpatrick were not immediately returned Monday.

Republican challengers have already filed in each of the targeted districts, including Martha McSally, who was narrowly defeated by Barber in 2012, and Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin, who is seeking to unseat Kirkpatrick.

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