- Associated Press - Thursday, August 11, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona House Speaker David Gowan announced Thursday that he was suspending his campaign for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District seat and endorsing Springerville rancher and businessman Gary Kiehne in the Republican primary race.

Gowan said in a statement that Kiehne is a solid conservative and the candidate who will be able to get enough support in the general election to win.

Four other Republicans are seeking the GOP nomination in the Aug. 30 primary, including Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, retired Air Force pilot Wendy Rogers and businessman Shawn Redd.

Gowan’s announcement comes too late for his name to be pulled from primary ballot, but his campaign consultant, Constantin Querard, said continuing the race would pull votes from Kiehne.

“The goal is to elect a conservative Republican who wins the seat in November,” Querard said. “You work your tail off and you end up with whatever, 10 percent of the vote, that’s probably something that a conservative could have used to win the primary.”

Querard said Babeu is considered the front-runner, but Kiehne has a chance to close the gap and win the primary. More importantly, he said questions about Babeu from his time running the sheriff’s office provide so much fodder for Democrats that choosing him as the GOP nominee will set up a general election loss.

Babeu dropped out of the race for a southwestern Arizona congressional seat in 2012 after he disclosed that he was gay amid allegations that he threatened a former Mexican boyfriend with deportation. He denied threatening the ex-boyfriend and successfully ran for re-election as sheriff. He also has faced inquiries about his allocation of surplus military gear and of seized cash.

But he also has backing from former Gov. Jan Brewer and other well-known Republicans and is well known as a backer of tightened border security.

The 1st District runs from Flagstaff to the New Mexico line and takes in much of eastern Arizona, including the Navajo Nation. It dips as far south as the Tucson suburbs.

The incumbent, Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, is challenging Sen. John McCain for his seat.

Democrat Tom O’Halleran, a former Republican state lawmaker, is seeking to replace Kirkpatrick. He has a primary challenge from Democrat Miguel Olivas, who is severely underfunded.

Gowan said in his statement that he was urging other conservatives to also get out and back Kiehne.

“Everyone has run a good race, we have a quality field of quality candidates, but it is time to face reality and rally to the conservative cause,” he said.

Gowan has served in the Arizona House of Representatives since January 2009. He became House Speaker last year, becoming the first person from Southern Arizona to hold that position in about 30 years. Gowan lives with his family in Sierra Vista.

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