The race between the two candidates vying for the Republican nomination in Arizona’s 5th Congressional District in southeastern Maricopa County boils down largely to a difference in experience.
Former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon and former Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams have offered similar platforms, such as promoting economic growth, reducing government debt, repealing the health care overhaul pushed by President Barack Obama and strengthening border security. So experience is the key difference separating the two Republicans in the low-wattage primary race.
Salmon touts his experience and connections in Congress, while Adams promotes himself as having none of the entanglements from a career in Washington.
Salmon and Adams are seeking the Republican nomination in the race to fill the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat that is opening up with the retirement of U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl. The 5th Congressional District includes Gilbert, most of Mesa and parts of Chandler and is considered a safe Republican seat.
The winner of the Aug. 28 primary will face Democrat Spencer Morgan, a 26-year-old former Mesa Community College student body president who doesn’t face a primary opponent.
The 54-year-old Salmon represented an earlier version of the district for three terms in the 1990s, but ended his tenure in Congress to follow a pledge that he would serve only three terms. He went on to run for governor in 2002 and was narrowly defeated by Democrat Janet Napolitano. After leaving public life, Salmon worked as a lobbyist and now wants his old congressional job back.
The 39-year-old Adams was appointed to the state House in 2006 as a midterm replacement to fill a vacancy. Two years later, he defeated an incumbent in the Republicans’ balloting for speaker after the 2008 general election. He served as House speaker for more than two years until he resigned his office in April 2011 to run for the congressional post.
Salmon said he can be trusted not only to make the right decisions for voters, but also to know how Congress works and to have the necessary relationships with people in Washington to be effective. Salmon, who also served in the Arizona Legislature, said there’s a big difference between working in the statehouse and in Congress. “It’s the difference between playing Pop Warner and playing in the NFL,” Salmon said.
Adams said voters are concerned about former members of Congress leveraging their government experience to start lobbying careers. Adams said he offers not only a new approach, but also brings his experience in operating an insurance agency that employs 22 people. “It really comes down to the quintessential Washington insider versus the Washington outsider,” Adams said.
Bruce Merrill, a longtime pollster and senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said Salmon enjoys better name recognition than Adams, but Adams has been working hard to get the support of the GOP faithful who are influential in primaries.