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Spurned Democrats ready for second try

Redistricting to reshape races

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2011

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. | The House GOP's agenda has tilted so far right that it's creating opportunities for Democrats to try to reclaim seats they lost just a few months ago, said Ann Kirkpatrick, the first former member of Congress to announce that she would seek a rematch in 2012.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick, who served one term before she was ousted in the tea party surge that powered Republicans in 2010, said Rep. Paul A. Gosar, who unseated her, has forsaken local concerns about veterans and local projects in order to back the national GOP on votes to defund public radio, slow education spending and embrace public works projects.

"This is a moderate district and they want a moderate voice, and it's really evident that Congressman Gosar is more interested in toeing the national party line than representing the district," Mrs. Kirkpatrick told The Washington Times.

Rematches instantly become marquee races in any election, and Mrs. Kirkpatrick's bid isn't the only replay shaping up just four months into the 112th Congress: Former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat, said she is running for the seat she lost last year to Republican Frank C. Guinta in New Hampshire, and Democrats Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania, Dina Titus of Nevada, Debbie Halvorson of Illinois, Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio and Dan Maffei of New York are reportedly considering bids for their former congressional seats.

Some of those rematches could be complicated by the redrawing of congressional districts to reflect the 2010 census. In Arizona, that means the 1st Congressional District, which sprawls across most of the eastern half of the state but skirts major metropolitan areas, could look dramatically different come next year.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick and Mr. Gosar call Flagstaff home, though, making it likely they'll face off in the same district.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick said a rematch wasn't always on her mind.

"I really wanted to just sort of give him some time to get himself established and to represent the district. And then when I started hearing from people about meetings with him and his refusal to champion these projects, that's really what made me get involved," she said. "He wants to defund public education, cut Medicare-Social Security, refusing to fund homeless veterans, refusing to fund Head Start."

A week's worth of requests for an interview or comment, left with Mr. Gosar's congressional and campaign offices, went unanswered.

Tyler Q. Houlton, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP's campaign arm, said he doubts voters will turn back to Mrs. Kirkpatrick so soon after ousting her.

"Arizona voters already fired Ann Kirkpatrick once. Her new phony moderate image doesn't match the big-spending voting record her Arizona constituents rejected last fall," Mr. Houlton said.

Mr. Gosar is already a top Democratic target. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accuses him in a telephone campaign of pushing to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits "in the middle of a recession." FactCheck.org called the campaign "deceptive."

On a warm morning last week, Mrs. Kirkpatrick was in Window Rock to watch the opening of the Navajo Nation Council's spring session, along with Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, a New Mexico Democrat whose district includes portions of the tribal reservation.

Mr. Gosar did not attend the session, which included an address by Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly. Council members repeatedly praised Mr. Lujan and Mrs. Kirkpatrick for their presence, saying they have been good friends in Washington.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick said Mr. Gosar's absence showed that he was out of touch with the big events of his district.

"He's not here. It's just more evidence of the fact that he's got his own agenda, and it's not representing the district."

She pointed to his opposition to earmarking funds for a flood-control project in Flagstaff as one example of where his toeing national Republican Party positions has hurt the district.

"In this district, we need jobs. We've got to do everything we can to create the kind of infrastructure to get people back to work, and he's shown he's not interested," she said.

Mr. Gosar has told local officials that he supports the project, but does not believe in using congressional earmarks to direct federal funds to it.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick took earmarks during her term in Congress and said she still supports the practice. Republicans temporarily banned earmarks when they took control of the House this year.

When the district was drawn before the 2002 elections, it had slightly more registered Democrats than registered Republican voters, but in the five elections since, the GOP has won four times.

The lone exception was 2008, a presidential election year, when Mrs. Kirkpatrick won with more than 155,000 votes, or 56 percent of the total. Last year, she garnered fewer than 100,000 votes, losing to Mr. Gosar 49.7 percent to 43.7 percent.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick said she intends to make better use of technology in the upcoming campaign, but otherwise has a tough time pinpointing what went wrong in 2010.

"Primarily, in my district, the Democrats didn't turn out to vote," she said. "I honestly don't have a real clear understanding of why they didn't, but they seem energized now."

She said the attacks on her in 2010 were less focused on her support for President Obama than on her being part of a caucus led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick said her vote in favor of the Democrats' health care legislation also hurt her with voters, but she wouldn't back away from it.

"Health care was a big issue. And I voted for health care, and I stand behind that vote," she said.

She said she tells voters that the health care law can be improved as the details are worked out. "One of the things I'm really encouraging people to do is organize to influence the rule-making process. When I read the legislation, I realized how much discretion the department has in rule making."

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