The three Republican candidates for Congress from District 1 each insisted Monday night he is more conservative than the other — and the only one who can oust Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick.
“Nobody's running to the right of me,” insisted state House Speaker Andy Tobin of Paulden during the often-contentious half-hour televised debate. He said his eight years in the Legislature prove his credentials.
But one-term Rep. Adam Kwasman of Oro Valley charged that record has been one of unnecessary compromise, including Tobin's vote to put the question of a temporary one-cent state sales tax on the 2010 ballot. Kwasman was undeterred by the fact voters approved the levy on a 2-1 margin.
And businessman Gary Kiehne attacked both of them for being politicians in the first place.
“I don't have experience in taking lunches and free trips and tickets to ballgames,” he said, a slap not only at Tobin for getting football tickets from a Fiesta Bowl lobbyist but also Kwasman who had a group pay for a trip to Israel.
Tobin shot back that lack of experience is hardly a record for voters to consider. He pointed out that he voted for SB 1070, the 2010 legislation aimed at illegal immigration. Tobin said neither Kiehne nor Kwasman could make that claim.
Kwasman responded with his top ranking as a conservative by Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by the Koch brothers. He conceded that while he was not elected until 2012, two years after that vote, he has the endorsement of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who has been among the most vocal on immigration issues.
“You and I have very different records,” he told Tobin.
Tobin responded by listing off all the sheriffs who have endorsed him, including Paul Babeu from Pinal County, no stranger to the immigration issue.
“What else you got, Adam?” he teased.
All that parrying led Ted Simons, who hosted the debate for KAET-TV, to question whether a divisive primary about who is more conservative could make the seat unwinnable from Kirkpatrick.
“I think I'm the only one here that has a snowball's chance of winning the general,” said Kiehne. He said that is based, at least in part, on his understanding of Native American issues in a district that has several large reservations.
“I don't know what too conservative is,” Tobin said. “Most people that see me say I'm too conservative — except for Adam.”
Kwasman said he thinks the conservative message will sell in November.
“When you have teachers and you have families that have lost their health insurance because Barack Obama and Ann Kirkpatrick have slammed down socialized medicine down their throat, I just want to create solutions for people,” he said.
Kwasman also pointed out he actually lives in the congressional district that stretches from the state's northern border all the way down eastern Arizona through Graham Gila and Greenlee counties into Pinal and even part of northern Pima County. Tobin lives just outside the boundary but there is no requirement that candidates live in the district.