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Arizona House speaker eyes run for Congress

House Speaker Andy Tobin (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

House Speaker Andy Tobin (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Republicans are lining up to take on Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona’s sprawling 1st Congressional District, but the wild card is House Speaker Andy Tobin.

Tobin must leave the state House under term limits in 2014 and is seriously considering running in the 1st District. The Paulden Republican told The Associated Press he expects to decide by the end of next month at the latest.

If Tobin runs in the GOP primary he’ll be taking on a fellow member of the Arizona House, Adam Kwasman. He’ll also face a political newcomer who announced his candidacy this week, Springerville businessman and rancher Gary Kiehne (Key-NEE).

Tobin’s experience in the House since 2007 and his leadership role likely give him a leg up, although redistricting put him just outside the 1st District’s lines. Congressional candidates don’t have to live in the district, and he says his background representing parts of northern Arizona in the district until 2012 will negate any attempts to accuse him of “carpetbagging.”

The state’s largest district runs from Flagstaff through eastern Arizona counties and then west into parts of Pinal County and includes the Navajo Nation, where Kirkpatrick has strong support.

“If they call a carpetbagger somebody that is as close to the line as I can be and was carved out, it is what it is. But I am the rural legislator with the most experience,” Tobin said Wednesday. “Clearly I’m the only one with a record cutting taxes, growing jobs, fighting for a pro-life agenda. There’s an awful lot of things that fit into this district because I’ve served it before.”

Republicans believe they have a good chance of wresting the district from Kirkpatrick, who was ousted after one term in 2010 but took back the seat in 2012 even though presidential candidate Mitt Romney won in the district. Of the district’s approximately 374,000 registered voters, Democrats have 143,000 and Republicans 114,000. But there also are 115,000 independents, and the district can swing to either party with their votes.

Kwasman, a first-term lawmaker from Oro Valley near Tucson, announced an exploratory committee in July. Both he and Tobin are able to make official announcements because of a recently enacted change in the state’s resign-to-run law.

In a recent interview with the AP, Kwasman said, “I have no comment about Andy running or not.”

But he said he had an excellent working relationship with Tobin and noted his current legislative district included a large part of CD1.

“I represent 49 percent of the Republican primary electorate in the congressional district, and in the last few months we’ve garnered a tremendous amount of support,” Kwasman said.

Kiehne formally announced his run Tuesday. A sixth-generation rancher who owns three hotels and an oil business, he’s able to self-fund his race. He’s critical of what he calls an overbearing federal government that he says has hurt the region’s forest industry.

“Unfortunately, Rep. Kirkpatrick has marched in lockstep with her fellow big-government Democrats and the liberal groups who have financed her campaigns,” his announcement said.

Kirkpatrick’s office said she wasn’t available Wednesday because she was working to pass a House bill that would allow a copper mine near Superior to be developed. She’s worked with GOP Rep. Paul Gosar to push the legislation.

Chris Baker, Kiehne’s campaign consultant, said Tobin might see a bigger backlash than he expects from being an outsider. Coconino County will most surely swing to Kirkpatrick in the general election, while the southern part of the district is heavily Republicans. That leaves Apache, Navajo, Gila and Greenlee counties to swing.

“I just get the sense that they want someone from their own district,” Baker said. “I think that will be a bigger issue for Andy than he anticipates.”

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