Hopefuls in CD1 put futures on the line

A rougher political road awaits loser of Kirkpatrick-Paton race
2012-10-21T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T17:08:43Z Hopefuls in CD1 put futures on the lineTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 21, 2012 12:00 am  • 

For the two candidates running for the U.S. House in Congressional District 1, winning the election means more than a seat in Congress.

It means redemption.

Both candidates, Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick and Republican Jonathan Paton, lost in runs for Congress in 2010 - Paton in the primary and Kirkpatrick in the general election.

While they were in different districts and parties, one of the factors behind their losses was shared: the 2010 tea-party surge.

This year, they both face a similar risk: Nobody likes a two-time loser.

To see that, Paton needs only look at fellow Republican Jesse Kelly, who defeated Paton in the 2010 Republican primary but lost that general election. He tried again this year and lost a special election to U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, then promptly packed up his family and moved to Virginia to take a job with conservative political group Citizens United.

"After a certain point you run out of money and you run out of friends," said John Ellinwood, Kelly's spokesman in those campaigns.

Each campaign says it has learned lessons from the campaign, though only Paton said he closely analyzed why he lost in a Southeastern Arizona district in 2010 and tried to address the problems. Kirkpatrick attributed her loss that year, in a Northern- and Eastern-Arizona district, as mainly a reflection of the fact that "people were angry."

Dems uninspired in 2010

While many people were angry in 2010, there is another, simple explanation of why Kirkpatrick lost to Paul Gosar, a largely unknown dentist from near Flagstaff who rode the tea party movement into office.

Democrats weren't inspired.

In 2008, the year Barack Obama won the presidency, Kirkpatrick won 155,791 votes to Republican Sydney Hay's 109,924, a 56-percent-to-39-percent trouncing.

Two years later, the economy was still reeling and the Affordable Care Act that Kirkpatrick had voted for was embroiled in public controversy. She got just 99,233 votes, a decline of 36 percent from 2008.

"That enthusiasm wasn't there two years later," said Fred Solop, a Northern Arizona University political science professor. "People who turned out in 2008 didn't turn out in 2010."

"You also had at the same time in 2010 the surge of the tea party," Solop said. "Gosar appealed to the tea party, and the tea party embraced him."

Paton said Kirkpatrick simply lost on the issues.

"I think her record is out of step with what the district wanted, which is why she lost the last election," he said.

It took only half a year for Kirkpatrick to announce she would run for election again in 2012. That helped discourage most possible challengers and gave her a quick start on campaigning.

In April 2011, she said, she started holding meeting at voters' homes.

"We're doing hundreds of them. People are engaged," she said.

Kelly's fast start

To hear Paton and others tell it, he lost the 2010 primary in the then-existing Congressional District 8 before he even entered the race. By the time Paton, then a state senator, started running in early 2010, Jesse Kelly had already been working the district hard, lining up supporters and donors.

"My opponent in that race had started probably a year earlier. So a lot of the people had committed, and people don't like to break that commitment," Paton said.

That was one of the top factors to which Paton attributed his loss in an after-action analysis he did. Another was that he just wasn't adequately visible, hard-working or engaged, he said.

"You've got to put yourself out there more. I learned that, and I was in a groove by the end of that campaign, but it was at the end," he said.

Another factor, others said, was that Paton was associated with the old guard of the Republican Party, in an election when the electorate was more insurgent.

Kelly took 43,097 votes, or 48 percent, to Paton's 37,066 or 42 percent. Paton has learned his lessons, said Ellinwood, one of the key staffers in Kelly's campaign.

"I think the Paton of 2012 understands the difference between running for Congress and running for the Legislature," Ellinwood said. For this year's race, "Jonathan started from scratch and worked very, very hard. He's worked harder on all parts of the campaign to get out there and meet people."

Challenges for loser

The prospects for this year's loser are not necessarily bleak, but certainly are challenging, experts said. And they are probably different for each candidate.

A loss for Kirkpatrick, 62, would mean two general-election defeats and could stigmatize her as a candidate. If Paton loses, he, too, will have difficulties. However, at 41, he's much younger and would have lost only one general election.

"It's harder to raise money after you've lost a couple of times," said Margaret Kenski, a pollster who's worked mostly for Republican candidates. "I think it makes it quite a bit more difficult."

But there have been candidates who keep themselves in play through sheer force, Ellinwood said.

"It comes down to if the core passion of the candidate outlasts their stamina," he said.

On StarNet: Read up on the candidates, propositions and issues at azstarnet.com/elections

Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or tsteller@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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