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7 Democrats vie to take Martha McSally's seat in Congressional District 2

7 Democrats vie to take Martha McSally's seat in Congressional District 2

Democrats for U.S. Congress, District 2. Top row, from left, Ann Kirkpatrick, Billy Kovacs, Mary Matiella, Bruce Wheeler. Bottom row, Barbara Sherry, Matt Heinz, Yahya Yuksel.

Numbers play a huge role in the fight over who replaces Republican Martha McSally in Congressional District 2 in November.

How much money do you have? Number of endorsements. Years served in Congress or the Arizona Legislature. How many yes votes, how many no votes. Number of years you’ve lived in the district. The latest count regarding television ads. Doors knocked on, phone calls made.

With seven Democrats and four Republicans vying to take McSally’s seat in the highly competitive district, support from typical partisan groups ahead of the August primary is fractured, and several campaigns have launched attacks against their rivals.

McSally, a Tucson Republican, may have handily won re-election in 2016, but the district backed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president, not Donald Trump.

Three-term Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, considered by some as the front-runner in the Democratic primary, tells voters that she alone has a record of standing up to Republicans.

“Donald Trump’s presidency is a walking anxiety attack,” Kirkpatrick said during a recent debate, vowing to fight for DACA recipients, the LGBT community, vote against cuts to Social Security and Medicare as well as to protect abortion rights established with the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision.

Kirkpatrick says her years spent in D.C. are vital to Democratic plans to take back the House this fall. Democrats in Congress — even if they are in the majority — can’t pass significant legislation without the help of moderate Republicans.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also endorsed Kirkpatrick early in the race, backing her campaign on the ground with paid staffers and helping financially to air one of Kirkpatrick’s ads.

Emergency-room physician and former state Rep. Matt Heinz entered the CD2 race in June 2017, roughly eight months after losing to McSally in a head-to-head match-up.

The race ended with Heinz getting only 43 percent of the vote. He was outgunned financially by McSally and other Republican groups.

Heinz cites two consecutive polls that he commissioned since getting into the race that put him in the lead, using them to say that voters believe his education and experience are the right prescription for Washington.

Heinz says his personal approach to politics focuses on the problem rather than partisanship, noting inside the emergency room everyone receives that same treatment.

He is proud of the dozen bills he helped to pass in the state legislature, working across the aisle to find solutions to serious issues.

Former state Representative Bruce Wheeler tells crowds he came out of retirement to fight the Trump administration.

A former member of the Tucson City Council, Wheeler has made making Medicare available to everyone a cornerstone of his campaign — an issue he has long backed.

Wheeler is optimistic about his chances, noting he is popular in Legislative District 10.

“As a progressive, I’ve been elected three times in a swing district in LD10, which fits entirely into CD2,” Wheeler said.

And Wheeler notes he has had success in influencing Republicans to back important, if not controversial, legislation.

He points to working with then-Governor Jan Brewer to get Medicaid expansion passed in the legislature, calling the measure “transformative” to the state’s healthcare system.

“Something like 350,000 got healthcare insurance that previously did not have it,” Wheeler said.

For Billy Kovacs, an entrepreneur and the operations manager of Hotel Congress, it was a personal tragedy that got him thinking about politics.

On a crowded stage, Kovacs has repeated the story of his best friend enlisting in the military and then dying overseas in the line of duty. It moved him to think about politics and throw his hat into the ring.

Kovacs says he is frustrated by McSally’s unwillingness to meet with the public or answer their questions.

A more immediate issue, Kovacs said, is for the Southern Arizona delegation to wade into the concerns surrounding the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine, which he argues will do more damage to Southern Arizona than the jobs it will create.

“They export a lot of money out of our community with temporary jobs, but they leave us with long-term environmental damage,” Kovacs said.

Attorney Yahya Yuksel got into the race saying he wants to change the politics-as-usual power dynamics in Congressional District 2.

“My opponents keep offering yesterday’s answers, not new ideas, to solve our serious challenges,” he said.

The youngest candidate in the race, Yuksel has worked to appeal to millennials, with messages focusing on how America has been at war for nearly two decades.

At debates, Yuksel asks those in the audience who agree with him to shout “Yahya” rather than clap, building momentum in the district.

However, a decade-old allegation that he sexually assaulted a drunk teenage girl — something he has repeatedly denied and has not been charged or arrested for — has caused a backlash in Democratic circles in Tucson. Most recently, Yuksel was disinvited to several forums, and the Pima County Democratic Party formally cuts ties with Yuksel.

Mary Matiella is a Southern Arizona native who rose through the ranks, spending years as the chief financial officer of the United States Forest Service, then four years as the assistant chief financial officer at U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

After that she was tapped by then-President Barack Obama to be the assistant secretary of the Army, overseeing financial management.

Her background, she says, makes her uniquely suited to hit the ground running in January if elected to Congress.

Matiella says her reasons for running are clear — she wants to challenge the direction that the Trump administration is taking the country.

“I saw an administration that was going backwards. It was very clear that he had no respect for people of color,” she said. “The best way to challenge the administration is to run.”

Retired rancher Barbara Sherry is a newcomer to politics, spending seven years as a rancher in McNeal, Arizona, and before that, serving two decades in the banking industry as a mortgage broker.

It was the Great Recession that caused Sherry to leave the banking industry.

A woman who prided herself on paying her bills on time was once homeless due to the worldwide financial collapse, saying she lost her business, her home, and cars when she filed for bankruptcy.

It was one of the reasons that Sherry jumped into the race, saying she wants to stand up against the Trump administration.

She warns that the safeguards put in place after the financial collapse are slowly being chipped away; that the Trump administration’s tax cuts have hurt the economy and that health-care costs will skyrocket next year.

The Aug. 28 primary will narrow the race of 11 candidates — 7 Democrats and 4 Republicans — down to two. Early voting begins Aug. 1.

The Republicans vying to replace McSally are Tucson Hispanic Chamber CEO Lea Marquez Peterson, former Army intelligence professional Brandon Martin, former Peace Corps staffer Casey Welch and former Douglas Vice Mayor Daniel “DJ” Morales Jr.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson

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Joe has been with the Star for six years. He covers politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona. He graduated from the UA and previously worked for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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