Back in October, Ann Kirkpatrick sent a letter to her fellow Democratic candidates in Congressional District 2, asking them to agree to a positive campaign.
“I also want to propose that we agree not to attack our fellow Democrats as we compete in the primary election,” she wrote. Kirkpatrick went on to say primaries are a good thing that can give candidates exposure, but added, “Primaries can also devolve into negative, bitter and personal fights that only serve to hurt the eventual nominee.”
Ten months later, that seems like foreshadowing. Kirkpatrick, outside groups supporting her and fellow Democratic candidate Matt Heinz have been attacking each other with increasing viciousness as primary day approaches. My mailbox is filling daily with attack mailers.
You can look back on that Kirkpatrick letter as a sign of what was to come. At the time, Kirkpatrick, a former congresswoman from Flagstaff, was pretty new to Tucson but jumped into the race with formidable advantages. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sided with her, as did former Democratic members of Congress Gabrielle Giffords and Ron Barber.
Heinz declined Kirkpatrick’s proposal.
In a response to the letter, he wrote: “An important component in any primary process is the full presentation of the positions we have taken in the past and why they reflect the values of the people we want to represent. It is therefore critical that we give the public an opportunity to compare and contrast each candidate’s record so that they will know for certain which of us can best represent southern Arizona values in the general election.”
Within two weeks, Heinz had put up a website highlighting Kirkpatrick’s record, called FlagstaffAnn.com. The gloves were off, never to be put back on. Over time, it’s become as if Heinz and Kirkpatrick were the only candidates in the race, although Billy Kovacs, Mary Matiella, Barbara Sherry, Bruce Wheeler and Yahya Yuksel are also on the ballot.
You could blame Heinz for starting the beef that has come to define the race, and it’s true that he hit a low point in a National Journal article published this week by comparing Kirkpatrick’s ambition for office to the compulsions of meth addicts he’s treated in the hospital. Heinz later clarified that he simply meant “Kirkpatrick will say and do anything to get what she feels entitled to” — not exactly an apology, and a bit ironic, considering Heinz’s three losing runs for Congress.
But it’s also true that Kirkpatrick walked into the campaign with big advantages, and it would have been tantamount to handing her the nomination if no opponent had tried to point out her flaws.
It’s not surprising that Heinz, who has exhibited some ruthlessness on his own behalf, would take on that job. It bothered many Southern Arizona Democrats when, in early 2012, after Giffords resigned her seat in the House and said she favored Barber to take it over until the next general election, Heinz insisted on challenging him in the primary anyway. And then Heinz ran in the primary again a half-year later.
So this year, Heinz just kept pushing forward. He hired a PI to investigate where Kirkpatrick lived and filed a lawsuit claiming she had misstated her home address in her petitions, which he of course lost. Heinz, who was the Democrats’ losing candidate against Rep. Martha McSally in 2016, defends his actions as within the bounds and based on Kirkpatrick’s records.
“I don’t know how a static website with real information on it has become equivalent to an attack ad,” Heinz said.
Eventually, Heinz apparently started making gains on Kirkpatrick in the polls, because her team went after him directly. Heinz had pointed out on the Flagstaff Ann website that she previously embraced her “A” ranking with the NRA. So Kirkpatrick’s team went after him on guns, too. They pointed out he had voted for a law that prevented Arizona Game and Fish from limiting magazine capacities. It was true, but a bit of a stretch, in that the bill had no significant opposition.
Then the mailers and TV ads started flying.
In mailers and ads, Kirkpatrick accused Heinz of supporting the NRA in the gun vote and opposing Medicare in another vote. Both ads were accurate in their specifics but inaccurate in their portrayal of Heinz’s broader perspective on these issues.
“After you’ve been attacked for eight months, nine months, is it not entirely reasonable to point out that the person attacking you also has some blemishes?” Kirkpatrick campaign consultant Rodd McLeod said. “At that point, we did our research and we did negative mailers.”
Heinz, meanwhile, attacked Kirkpatrick with TV ads, aided by $400,000 he’s loaned his own campaign. Like Kirkpatrick’s ads, they’re accurate in their particulars but paint an unfair picture of her broader views on the issues.
Kirkpatrick has been aided by around $800,000 in outside spending, some of it attacking Heinz. The independent-expenditure arm of Emily’s List, called “Women Vote!,” has spent more than $500,000 helping Kirkpatrick. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent $162,000 for her.
Finally, a group called Progress Tomorrow Inc., funded in part by James Murdoch, the CEO of the parent company of Fox News, and other Republicans, is scheduled to spend around $160,000 on Kirkpatrick’s behalf. The huge mailer that landed in my mailbox Thursday, saying that health-care lobbyists were celebrating “because Matt Heinz might be their congressman,” came from Progress Tomorrow.
Nasty stuff, yes, and you could say Heinz is getting his just deserts for going negative first. But on the other hand, if he hadn’t gone after Kirkpatrick, he might be so far behind that he wouldn’t be worth attacking.
Grijalva at issue in LD3
People who don’t like Rep. Raúl Grijalva tend to think of the Democratic pol as head of a machine that dominates Tucson’s south and west sides. What goes overlooked, though, is how many factions fight against him, even among Democrats.
Take the current race for the Democratic nomination for state Senate in Legislative District 3. Former Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales said in a Clean Elections debate and in mailers that she will fight against workplace mistreatment of women, and she pointed to a payment made by a committee Grijalva runs in Congress to a former staffer as evidence of mistreating women. Grijalva has denied he mistreated the former staffer and said the payout was the settlement of a routine workplace dispute.
Grijalva went on to issue a ringing endorsement of Gonzales’ opponent for the nomination, Betty Villegas, calling her “a supporter of women’s and reproductive rights,” among other qualities, in a mailer.
Then supporters of Gonzales responded with a letter of their own, criticizing Grijalva by name. Those signing the letter included Luis Gonzales (no relation to Sally Ann), Rudy Garcia and Henry Vega.
That primary will be a good test of just how strong Grijalva’s pull remains.
Rio Nuevo in CD1
The Rio Nuevo district is miles from the border of Congressional District 1, but GOP candidate Wendy Rogers still used it in a fundraising appeal this week. She pointed to the waste of millions of dollars on the redevelopment district in central Tucson as the fault of her opponents in “the establishment.”
“The well-connected political establishment of Arizona sold taxpayers down the river — and now, those same political elites and Swamp-dwellers are bankrolling my opponents,” she said in an appeal for donations.
The problem is, when the notorious waste occurred, Rio Nuevo was operated by the city of Tucson, and the district has improved its financial performance and redevelopment success under control of the state’s “establishment.”