PHOENIX (AP) — Two additional Republican candidates who emerged Monday in the race for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District bring fundraising acumen and a higher profile to the swing district’s 2016 primary.
State House Speaker David Gowan and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu joined two previously announced candidates — former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett and rancher and businessman Gary Kiehne — in seeking the GOP nomination.
Gowan is casting himself as a “true conservative” who can bring small-government thinking to Washington, while Babeu is a border security hawk who has made a name for himself nationally.
Babeu tried a run for the district that sprawls from Flagstaff along the state’s eastern fringe and down to Marana in 2012, but withdrew after his image took a beating when his former boyfriend claimed the sheriff threatened to have him deported. Babeu then publically acknowledged he was gay, but a photo he posted on a gay dating website showing him shirtless added to his troubles, and he dropped out of the race.
Babeu turned to a re-election effort, and won handily.
“The people who knew me best, the 420,000 residents of Pinal County, I said to them that I want to be judged just like any of your family members who you love want to be judged — by their merit, by their performance and their contributions to the community,” Babeu said. “And by the end of the day they returned me overwhelmingly.”
Gowan, who took over as House speaker early this year, lives outside the district in Sierra Vista. He said he will focus on shrinking government, ensuring the border is secure, cutting government regulations and supporting anti-abortion efforts.
“My legislative district is ranching, farming mining, suburbs, all those things,” Gowan said. “Congressional District 1 has that same fit and tone. And me as a rural majority leader, rural speaker, I’ve been able to push that agenda and I think Washington needs to hear us out here.
Gowan said of all the GOP candidates, he’s the one with the proven conservative record that resonates with party stalwarts.
“The reality is everything you hear from these guys wanting to do, I’ve done it,’ he said.
Babeu said he would focus on border security, job creation and ensuring new air quality regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency don’t hurt Arizona’s coal-fired power plants.
The Republicans are hoping to replace Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who is seeking her party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican John McCain.
The 1st District leans Democratic but is seen as winnable by either party. The parties spent millions trying to back or defeat Kirkpatrick last year, and she won by more than 5 percentage points.
Former state legislator Tom O’Halleran is running for the Democratic nomination and state Sen. Barbara McGuire is considering running. State Sen. Catherine Miranda, who had been considering a run, said Monday that she would stay in the Senate.