Ann Kirkpatrick, who served in the House three different times, announces retirement

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Kirkpatrick’s departure will set off an open-seat race for the new district that emerges from her southern Arizona district turf, which, in its current form, started the decade as competitive but is now decidedly blue.

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The 2nd District, which includes about 60% of Tucson’s Pima County and all of conservative Cochise County to the east, backed Mitt Romney 50-48 in 2012 and hosted incredibly tight House races that year and in 2014. Things started to change in 2016, however, when Hillary Clinton carried the seat 50-44, but Republican Rep. Martha McSally, who had narrowly prevailed two years before, was nonetheless decisively re-elected that year. Kirkpatrick, though, convincingly flipped the 2nd in 2018 when McSally left to run for the Senate, and she had little trouble holding it in 2020 as Joe Biden was romping to a 55-44 victory here.

Redistricting is an especially unpredictable affair in Arizona, though, and no one knows what the map will look like next year, since the Grand Canyon State’s congressional and legislative maps are drawn by an independent commission. However, Republicans have done everything they can to sabotage the commission and have stacked the board that appoints its members with GOP partisans.

There’s even a danger the commission could vanish altogether: In 2016, the Supreme Court upheld the body’s constitutionality by just a 5-4 margin, and since then, the court has moved to the right. If the commission is struck down, Arizona’s Republican-controlled state government would control the mapmaking process, and they’d be inclined to try to make the 2nd District red again.

But while the district’s future shape is unknown, it didn’t take long for Politico’s Ally Mutnick to put together a list of potential Kirkpatrick successors. On the Democratic side, an unnamed source says that state Rep. Randy Friese is “likely” to run. Friese was a trauma surgeon who operated on then-Rep. Gabby Giffords and others after a gunman sought to assassinate the congresswoman in 2011. Friese got into politics soon after and narrowly unseated a GOP incumbent to win a Tucson-area state House seat in 2014, convincingly winning re-election ever since. Mutnick also mentions Pima County Supervisor Matt Heinz, who has unsuccessfully run here in the past, and state Reps. Andrés Cano and Daniel Hernández as possibilities.

For the Republicans, Mutnick says that state Sen. T.J. Shope “has been in contact with House Republicans about a 2022 bid.” Shope’s 8th Legislative District, as she notes, doesn’t overlap at all with the 2nd Congressional District, though that could change under the new map. Mutnick also name-drops Corporation Commissioner Lea Márquez Peterson, who was the GOP’s 2018 nominee here and lost 55-45 to Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick’s departure ends a long career that, in a rarity, included three non-consecutive stints in Congress, including in two different congressional districts under the current map. Kirkpatrick, who grew up on the White Mountain Apache Nation reservation, got an early start in politics, campaigning for her uncle’s successful bids for the state legislature, and she later sought a state House seat herself in 2004. Though Kirkpatrick is white, she ran in a northern Arizona seat that had long been represented by Native Americans and prevailed despite initial skepticism about her prospects, bolstered in part by her ability to speak Apache.

She soon sought a promotion in 2007 when Rep. Rick Renzi, a Republican who would be indicted for public corruption months later, announced that he would retire from the sprawling 1st Congressional District in the northern part of the state. The 1st had supported George W. Bush 54-46 in 2004, but Republicans struggled to recruit a strong candidate in what was rapidly turning into an ugly election for the party nationwide.

The eventual GOP nominee, Arizona Mining Association president Sydney Hay, had a hard-right record that made her unappealing to many swing voters. National Republicans abandoned Hayes to her fate in September and Kirkpatrick won 56-39 even as home state Sen. John McCain was carrying the 1st by a 54-44 margin.

The new congresswoman was in for a far more difficult campaign two years later, though, in the face of a political climate that was the reverse of the one she’d enjoyed two years earlier. Dentist Paul Gosar, a tea partier who had not yet become the nationally infamous figure he is now, thwarted a Hayes comeback in the 2010 primary and focused his general election campaign on healthcare and immigration. This time, outside groups on both sides spent heavily throughout the race, but Gosar unseated the incumbent 50-44.

Kirkpatrick’s time away from Congress would be brief, though. Arizona’s redistricting commission drew up a new 1st District that, at 51-48 McCain, was considerably less conservative than the version Kirkpatrick had just lost. Gosar opted to run in the safely red 4th District while Kirkpatrick campaigned in the open 1st against former Republican state Sen. Jonathan Paton. The campaign proved to be very competitive, but Kirkpatrick, who again benefited from her long ties to American Indian communities in a seat that was more than 20% Native American, won 49-45 as Romney was taking the district 50-48.

Kirkpatrick would have to defend herself again in 2014 in the midst of what turned out to be another GOP wave year, but things worked out very differently for her than they had in 2010. National Republicans anticipated that state House Speaker Andy Tobin would be a formidable candidate, but it was Kirkpatrick who ran the stronger race. In part, she was once more buoyed by her ties to Native communities, enjoying a turnout boost thanks to a simultaneous race for president of the Navajo Nation (she even recorded radio ads in the Navajo language). Kirkpatrick ended up prevailing 53-47, making her one of just five Democrats left in a Romney seat after the dust settled.

Kirkpatrick’s win under difficult conditions for her party made her a sought-out Senate candidate, and Democrats were delighted when she launched a campaign to unseat McCain in 2016. However, while Team Blue hoped that McCain could lose to a far-right primary foe, the race became less appealing after he won renomination against state Sen. Kelli Ward. Prominent outside organizations on both sides largely directed their resources towards other contests, and McCain beat Kirkpatrick 54-41 even though Donald Trumps’ 48-45 win was the weakest for a GOP presidential candidate in two decades.

At that point, Kirkpatrick’s congressional career seemed to be over, especially since fellow Democrat Tom O’Halleran had held on to the 1st District, but she soon began talking about challenging Republican Rep. Martha McSally in the neighboring 2nd District. Kirkpatrick, who’d said in 2017 that she was moving to Tucson for family reasons, received public encouragement from former Rep. Ron Barber, who had lost to McSally in 2014, and launched a bid that July. She didn’t get the chance to take on McSally, though, as the congresswoman decided to mount an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the Senate the next year.

Heading into 2018, both parties initially saw the 2nd as a major battleground, though in a break from the past, Kirkpatrick had to first get through a crowded primary. Her main opponent was the party’s 2016 nominee, former state Rep. Matt Heinz, who tried to portray Kirkpatrick as an outsider and drew unfavorable headlines when he compared her to a meth addict.

Kirkpatrick won that ugly race 42-30, but she had an easier time in the general election. National Republicans had touted their eventual nominee, Lea Márquez Peterson, but she ended up winning her own primary with an unimpressive 34% of the vote against weak opposition. GOP groups initially aired ads against Kirkpatrick but triaged the race in mid-October as the political climate worsened for them, and Kirkpatrick won her new seat 55-45.

In 2020, for once, Kirkpatrick did not face any serious opposition either from her own party or the GOP. The congresswoman spent six weeks on a leave of absence from Congress that winter as she underwent treatment for alcoholism, but she made it clear she would continue to run for re-election. Kirkpatrick won what would be her final term by the same 55-45 margin she’d earned two years earlier.

Senate

GA-Sen: While acknowledging skepticism among the political class that Donald Trump favorite Herschel Walker might actually run for Senate in Georgia, the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker reports that the former NFL running back “appears interested” and has been “making calls into the state.” That preposition is the key word there, though: While Walker was raised in the Peach State and was a star on the University of Georgia’s football team, he’s resided in Texas for many years.

Trump’s fulsome support for Walker—he not-tweeted “Run Herschel, run!” in a Wednesday press release—is also causing another issue. One unnamed Republican operative says that other candidates are avoiding the race “because they heard about the Trump-Herschel combo,” and Drucker even suggests that Trump’s obsession with Walker played a role in former Sen. David Perdue’s decision not to wage a comeback bid.

A Walker candidacy still remains highly speculative, however, particularly since the one thing no one has managed to acquire so far is any sort of statement about his interest directly from him.

Governors

NY-Gov: In a flurry of coordinated announcements, almost every Democrat in New York’s congressional delegation called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign on Friday morning, with the state’s two senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, joining in later that evening. Cuomo has steadfastly insisted he will not leave office, even though the Democratic-run Assembly has begun an impeachment investigation into allegations of misconduct.

With Cuomo’s political future in grave peril, more of his fellow Democrats are hinting that they might run for governor themselves, though it’s not clear whether anyone actually wants to challenge Cuomo in a primary—he has yet to abandon his re-election bid—or if folks are just hoping for an open-seat race. Either way, CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports that state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Rep. Tom Suozzi have both been discussing bids with supporters and, through spokespeople, have not denied doing so. DiNapoli has unambiguously said that Cuomo should step down, while Suozzi stopped just short, saying Cuomo should resign “[i]f he cannot effectively govern.”

On the GOP side, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said in a new interview that he’s thinking about a second bid for governor, though he added that it “likely would be several months” until he announces a decision. Astorino was the Republican nominee against Cuomo in 2014 and lost 54-40. He also tried to unseat Democratic state Sen. Pete Harckham last year but fell short by a 52-48 margin.

VA-Gov: The GOP nomination for Virginia’s gubernatorial election this year will be decided by just a few thousand party delegates, but two wealthy businessmen are nonetheless taking the blunderbuss approach to winning support. According to the Republican media tracking firm Medium Buying, private equity mogul Glenn Youngkin has spent just shy of $1 million to air TV and radio ads while “angel investor” Pete Snyder has forked out over three quarters of a mil. And what kind of ads are they running? The usual racist and xenophobic crap.

House

OH-11: SEIU 1199, which represents 30,000 healthcare and public sector workers in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, has endorsed former state Sen. Nina Turner in the Democratic primary for the special election in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District.

SC-01, SC-07: Former Fox talking head Eric Bolling, a vocal Trump supporter who left the network in 2017 after his show was cancelled when sexual misconduct allegations were levied against him, is reportedly weighing a bid for Congress in South Carolina, though exactly where is unclear. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt says that Bolling could run in the GOP primary in the 7th District against Rep. Tom Rice, who voted to impeach Trump in January, or in the 1st District against Rep. Nancy Mace, who opposed impeachment but offered a few remarks critical of Trump following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Bolling himself wouldn’t confirm or deny the report, saying only, “South Carolina is conservative, and South Carolinians deserve conservative representation in D.C.” Bolling only moved to South Carolina in 2018 and lives in Charleston, which might put him in Mace’s district, or it might not—and definitely not in Rice’s. Angry MAGA primary voters, however, are liable to care far more about loyalty to Trump than geographic ties.

TX-06: Republican Brian Harrison, a former Trump HHS official, is the first candidate to go on the airwaves in the May special election for Texas’ 6th Congressional District. The spot is devoted to scurrilous lies about Planned Parenthood. There’s no word on the size of the buy.

Prosecutors

Manhattan, NY District Attorney: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced Friday that he would not seek a fourth term this year, a decision that New York’s political world has been expecting for some time. Vance had raised very little money over the last year, and eight different Democrats have been running for months to succeed him in this extremely blue borough.

Vance’s replacement will take over as head of one of the most prominent prosecutor’s offices in America—one that’s frequently made headlines, both positive and negative. One such occasion (on the plus side of the ledger) came last month, when, after a lengthy legal battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Vance finally received Donald Trump’s tax returns as part of his long-running investigation into Trump’s financial dealings.

Vance’s 12-year tenure, while relatively long by many standards, turned out to be quite short compared to his predecessors’. When Vance won the race to succeed Robert Morgenthau in 2009, he was replacing a venerated prosecutor who took over the office all the way back in 1975 after beating appointed Republican incumbent Richard Kuh. The last person elected before Morgenthau was fellow Democrat Frank Hogan, who served from 1942 until he resigned in 1973, just months before his death.

Hogan’s predecessor was the last Republican to win this post, Tom Dewey, who was elected to a single term in 1937. Dewey went on to become governor of New York and serve as the GOP’s presidential nominee in both 1944 and 1948 (you may recall a certain newspaper headline about that).

The Democratic primary for this office will be held June 22, and the winner should have little trouble in November. Note, though, that while New York City voters backed a 2019 referendum to institute instant-runoff voting in primaries for many local offices, the measure does not apply to state-level posts like this one. Instead, it will just take a simple plurality to win the nod.

The field currently consists of:

  • Civil rights attorney Tahanie Aboushi
  • Former State Chief Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg
  • Attorney and former prosecutor Liz Crotty
  • Former prosecutor Diana Florence
  • Former prosecutor Lucy Lang
  • Public defender Eliza Orlins
  • Assemblyman Dan Quart
  • Former prosecutor Tali Farhadian Weinstein

There is no clear frontrunner at this point. Most of the contenders have pitched themselves as progressives who will bring much needed changes to the post. The exception is Crotty, who calls herself a centrist and is the one candidate who has not refused to take donations from police unions.

Grab Bag

Demographics: The Texas Democratic Party released an an in-house analysis at the end of February looking at why Democrats fell short in the state in 2020, inspiring Daily Kos Elections contributing editor David Beard to take a deep dive into the report’s findings and what its implications might be for Democrats going forward.

The first part includes a summary of the report, a look at why field work isn’t necessarily the answer to every problem in politics, and why the task of persuading voters is so difficult to talk about and analyze. The second part looks specifically at the shifts in the Rio Grande Valley and examines three potential explanations: a focus on unpopular social issues, a lack of investment and voter contact, and the fact of Donald Trump’s status as an incumbent seeking re-election.

You can sign up for Beard’s free weekly newsletter, The Roaring 2020s, for more analysis on this and other topics.





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