If Democrats had pushed harder for what they wanted in the federal stimulus and health-care overhaul measures, they'd be in a better position this election cycle, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva said Tuesday.

The party should have added a public option to the health-care reform bill and focused more on job creation in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, plus other "bold initiatives that were compromised out by people in more vulnerable districts," he said.

The more "robust" parts of those laws would have made them better, he said. "What did we gain? The opposition isn't any less intense than it would have been," if those initiatives made it into the law instead of being taken out in the name of compromise, he said.

By yielding to Democrats in vulnerable congressional districts, the party was cautious yet didn't achieve bipartisan support on the big-ticket bills, didn't get better legislation out of the process, and isn't seeing less opposition in swing districts, he said.

He framed the race in a speech to more than 100 supporters Tuesday afternoon, kicking off his general election campaign. Voters will choose between the four-term Democrat and three opponents: Republican Ruth McClung, Libertarian George Keane and independent Harley Meyer.

The election will be a challenging and testing campaign, he said.

"There is no doubt, as we go forward in this election, it will be marked by fear and exploitation of that fear," he said. "Democrats will be responsible for everything in the world." He ticked off a list of examples: the border, failed immigration policy, chlorine in the water, the federal deficit, the "quagmire" of overseas wars, the BP oil spill.

"The Republican Party has selective amnesia. It's going to be our fault. They share no responsibility."

McClung said compromises the Democrats made with moderates in the party reflect, somewhat, on the public's opinion of recent federal legislation.

"I think it would have been worse because the American people were against it and that's why a lot of Democrats were fighting back to get it more moderate," she said of the public option in health-care reform.

Grijalva hailed the president's new infrastructure program, announced Monday, saying it will create jobs, but he wished it would have been part of the original stimulus package.

McClung said while she also wants more jobs, the stimulus package didn't work and now the country is left paying for it.

"We need to get entrepreneurs out there to create jobs," she said, which includes eliminating the capital gains tax so people will again invest in small businesses creating jobs.

And while he's been criticized for supporting groups that boycotted the state after the new immigration enforcement law was signed, Grijalva said he backed off of that call for three reasons.

First, he said, the boycott was intended to get policy makers to think about the consequences of the law, which wasn't happening. Second, the federal Justice Department "took the heart out of many of the points of contention" about the constitutionality of the law, and third, "it was never our intention to hurt people" who lost their jobs as a result.

Next session, Democrats should work to repeal No Child Left Behind, create a public financing system for elections, and start working on immigration reform and carbon emissions legislation, Grijalva said.

Contact reporter Andrea Kelly at akelly@azstarnet.com or 807-7790.