By Jim Ellis
July 25, 2017 — Arizona former US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) has completed her political transition to Tucson. Over the weekend, the former congresswoman and US Senate candidate announced that she will enter the very crowded Democratic primary in the AZ-2 Congressional District.
The move had been anticipated since Kirkpatrick had re-located from her home in Flagstaff to Arizona’s second largest population center and never ruled out entering the 2nd District race when questioned about doing so. Yet, even her path to the Democratic nomination is a difficult one, not to mention facing GOP Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson). Rep. McSally scored an impressive 57-43 percent re-election victory last November even though Hillary Clinton carried the district, 50-45 percent.
Already in the 2018 Democratic field are former state Rep. Matt Heinz, who lost to McSally as last year’s party nominee, ex-state Rep. Bruce Wheeler, former Assistant US Army Secretary Mary Matiella, businessmen Billy Kovacs, Charlie Verdin and Jeff Latas, and retired Air Force colonel, Lou Jordan.
McSally first won the seat in 2014, defeating then-Rep. Ron Barber (D-Tucson) by just 161 votes — the country’s closest congressional election of that year. She then raised an impressive $7.7 million in scoring a big re-election win despite the district going in the opposite direction at the top of the ticket. Already, she has banked almost $1 million for the 2018 effort.
The Democratic battle here will be a long one, and with the Arizona primary not scheduled until Aug. 28, the eventual winner will have little time to reverse course and begin a political attack upon Rep. McSally. The congresswoman will have the advantage of being ready to immediately strike against whomever becomes her eventual opponent; hopefully, from her perspective, allowing her to remain on the offensive for the rest of the campaign cycle.
Kirkpatrick was first elected to the House in 2008, but lost her first re-election two years later to Dr. Paul Gosar, DDS. She scored a political comeback victory in 2012 because reapportionment and redistricting allowed Rep. Gosar to move to the more Republican 4th District, thus allowing an opportunity for the ex-congresswoman to return. She then held the 1st District until unsuccessfully challenging Sen. John McCain (R) last year, losing the statewide contest, 54-41 percent.
Speculation that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Kailua) would challenge Sen. Mazie Hirono in the 2018 Democratic primary was quelled this weekend. The congresswoman announced her endorsement of Sen. Hirono for a second term, thus eliminating any potential primary challenge.
The situation may have turned when Sen. Hirono announced that she is fighting kidney cancer, but still intends to seek re-election. Her prognosis for recovery is reportedly bright. After her health situation became public, talk of a potential Gabbard challenge dissipated, and now ends with the congresswoman formally endorsing the senator for re-election.
Without an impending Democratic primary challenge, Sen. Hirono becomes a sure bet for re-election in a state dominated by her party and one that rarely defeats a sitting incumbent.
The latter tradition, however, abruptly ended in the 2014 governor’s race when then-Democratic state Sen. David Ige easily defeated sitting Gov. Neil Abercrombie for re-nomination. That election, in which Ige won by an astonishing 67-31 percent margin over the incumbent, potentially signaled a change in Hawaii voting patterns. Therefore, a challenge to Sen. Hirono, or a pending one to Gov. Ige, is now taken more seriously than in previous election cycles.