Precinct-level election results in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District suggest Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s return to Congress can be attributed to her connection to many key areas and to Republican Jonathan Paton’s lackluster ability to attract voters who supported the top-of-the-ticket Republican.
A joint analysis by the Arizona Capitol Times and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting shows that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney beat Democrat Barack Obama by 6,565 votes in CD1. But Kirkpatrick earned a greater number of votes than Obama in almost half of the precincts in the district, a trend particularly strong in Republican-leaning areas. In those same areas, Paton got far fewer votes than Romney and generally underperformed when compared to the partisan registration.
In 162 of the district’s 339 voting precincts, Kirkpatrick got more votes than Obama. Paton on the other hand, got more votes than Romney in just 25 precincts.
Carmen Gallus, Kirkpatrick’s campaign manager, attributes those figures to the longtime connection Kirkpatrick has with key areas.
When Kirkpatrick served in the state Legislature, she represented a district that included all of the Navajo, Hopi and Hualapai Indian reservations as well as Flagstaff, all areas where Kirkpatrick resoundingly won.
She also outperformed the strong two-way partisan registration advantage held by Republicans in the White Mountain area. Gallus said that can largely be chalked up to her having grown up in that area.
And in the Sedona and Camp Verde areas, which lean Republican, Kirkpatrick also either won or did much better than the partisan registration figures would suggest. That is likely a reflection of her work as the Sedona city attorney and her introduction of a bill that would designate that area as a National Scenic Area, when she served in Congress between 2009 and 2011.
Even in the foothills north of Tucson in Pima County, largely considered a Republican stronghold, Kirkpatrick did significantly better than the registration numbers would predict.
Kurt Davis, a consultant at First Strategic Communication & Public Affairs, said the most important part of Kirkpatrick’s performance was in the northern Pima County area. Republican women in that area, Davis said, can be won over by a Democratic candidate, particularly by a female candidate.
Davis said the almost exclusively negative television advertising on both sides may have tipped the scales in favor of Kirkpatrick in that area, and that going negative toward a female candidate can backfire there.
Kirkpatrick won the race with 48.7 percent of the vote, compared to 45.1 percent for Paton, a margin of slightly more than 9,000 votes.
Paton described to the Capitol Times a number of factors that worked against him during the campaign, leading to his ultimate loss.
First, Paton said the early money advantage Kirkpatrick had, coupled with the early launch of her campaign — starting early in 2011 — allowed Kirkpatrick to frame the entire race in her favor. By the fall of 2011, Kirkpatrick already had an advertisement campaign running.
Second, Paton said the Libertarian candidate in the CD1 race may have truly been a spoiler for his chances.
Robert Mayer, Paton’s former deputy campaign manager, pointed out that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, earned only 1.4 percent of the Arizona vote. Marc Victor, the Libertarian running for U.S. Senate, got 4.5 percent of the Arizona vote. But Kim Allen, the Libertarian running in CD1, got 6 percent.
Mayer said that because Libertarian candidates almost exclusively draw votes away from Republican candidates, an increasing Libertarian vote down the ticket says something important about Republican voters in CD1. Where there may have been antipathy toward Barack Obama among Republicans, leading to broad support for Romney, the dynamics may have been different in the race for a House seat. So the strongly negative advertising by Paton and Kirkpatrick may have caused Republican-leaning voters to cast ballots reflecting a distaste for both candidates, favoring the third-party candidate.
Had Paton won just two-thirds of Allen’s vote, giving Allen something closer to 2 percent of the overall vote, Paton would have won the race.
Mayer said ensuring that a Libertarian candidate enters the race may be one key to a successful Democratic campaign in the district.
Paton and Mayer even suggested that Allen may have been encouraged to run to spoil the Republican chances in CD1. And they cited Allen’s self-professed support of Obama’s health care reform law as evidence that Allen was not a true Libertarian.
Allen told the Capitol Times that he was never approached by anyone to run in the race. And Allen said that a more precise portrayal of his stance toward the health care reform is that he wouldn’t have voted for it, but that he does not support repealing it. Rather, he supports making changes to it and eventually moving toward a single-payer system.
Allen said that while he may not always align with the Libertarian position, he has long considered himself most closely aligned with the Libertarian Party. He said he plans to run again in 2014.
As for the future of the district, the National Republican Congressional Committee has already set its sights on CD1.
Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the NRCC, said only seven congressional districts in the United States gave a majority of their vote to Romney but also elected a Democrat to Congress. Those districts, such as CD1 and CD2 in Arizona, will be priority races in 2014.
Davis, the consultant, said the district’s varied demographics mean that a representative’s voting record is what’s most important, and that Kirkpatrick will need to depart from the Democratic Party’s stance on some specific issues in order to keep her edge in CD1.
The large rural contingency of CD1 values gun rights, so new gun control measures being pushed by Obama and Democrats in Congress could be problematic for Kirkpatrick.
Editor’s note: An original version of this story inaccurately said that Romney beat Obama by more than 20,000 votes in CD1.