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TOSS-UP TERRITORY

With less than two weeks until Election Day, Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick and Republican Jonathan Paton are locked in a fierce struggle for Congressional District 1.

In the last week, national pundits have started to zero in on the sprawling district, which includes Oro Valley, Marana, most of rural Eastern Arizona, Flagstaff and the northern Native American reservations. It's a district with a Democratic voter-registration edge, but a tendency to support Republican candidates.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza moved the district into the "toss-up" category, noting: "Former Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick (D), who is trying to win a district with a slight GOP lean, just got passed over for The Arizona Republic's endorsement. 'We have seen more complete meltdowns in our board meetings, but never one so unexpected,' the paper said of Kirkpatrick. Republican Jonathan Paton has a good shot here."

The Rothenberg Political Report also shifted the race from "Leans Democrat" to "Tossup/Tilts Dem," with Stu Rothenberg also noting the Republic editorial-board interview.

"Republicans now believe they have a lot of ammunition against the former congresswoman, which will remind voters why they fired her two years ago. GOP polling has been encouraging, and while Democrats aren't hitting the panic button just yet, this isn't as much in their column as it once was and is attracting renewed outside interest from both sides—something Paton desperately needs, given his considerable cash disparity with Kirkpatrick," Rothenberg wrote.

Meanwhile, Team Kirkpatrick is highlighting its strength on the reservations, which remain a big "x" factor, because turnout can vary widely, and it's a difficult area to poll. CD 1 is home to the largest number of Native Americans in the state; they account for almost 22 percent of the district.

Kirkpatrick has collected several endorsements from two Native American groups: the Navajo Agencies and the White Mountain Apache Tribe. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly also endorsed Kirkpatrick.

"We've launched a massive get-out-the-vote effort across the district," said Kirkpatrick spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson. "The effort and organization is unprecedented, particularly in our district's tribal communities. And we will use every opportunity to share Ann's message about standing up for the middle class, creating jobs and protecting Medicare."

The television-ad war has been fierce, with outside groups pouring in about $3.5 million. That's the highest of any congressional district in the state.

The big spenders include:

• The National Republican Congressional Committee, which has spent $1.38 million in favor of Paton.

• The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has spent $1.17 million in favor of Kirkpatrick.

• The America Future Fund added $442,000 in favor of Paton.

• The House Majority PAC chipped in $406,000 to oppose Paton.

• Women Vote!, a group that supports Democratic pro-choice women, contributed $108,000 to oppose Paton.

Paton has continued to lag behind Kirkpatrick in the fundraising race. Kirkpatrick had raised nearly $1.9 million through the end of September, while Paton raked in about $951,000. Both candidates received about 75 percent of their contributions from individuals, according to the latest campaign-finance reports.


HEALTHY DEBATE

As we note in "Common Ground or Battleground?" (Page 11, aka to your left), the state Senate race between Republican Frank Antenori and Democrat Dave Bradley in central Tucson's competitive Legislative District 10 is one of the liveliest in Southern Arizona.

Antenori and Bradley have a big disagreement about the future of health-care coverage in Arizona. Antenori was among the Republicans who voted to cut back the state's AHCCCS program, a version of Medicaid that provides health insurance for low-income Arizonans. Childless adults below the federal poverty level can no longer sign up, nor can individuals who suddenly find themselves impoverished by large and unexpected medical emergencies.

But the state now faces a question of whether to extend AHCCCS coverage to people earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level under the national Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare. If the state goes forward with the expansion, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates it will cost the state an average of roughly $144 million per year between 2014 and 2020. In return, the state will receive an average of $2.1 billion per year from the federal government.

Bradley says it's a good deal, because the funds will help keep hospitals and clinics in business, which in turn will help any Arizonan who needs to go to the hospital.

"Rural medical facilities are in serious jeopardy, because they are providing uncompensated care," Bradley says. "Those people don't go away. They hold off on seeking help and then show up with bigger problems in emergency rooms."

If rural hospitals close, residents in those areas will have to travel to urban hospitals, jamming up those facilities, according to Bradley.

Antenori acknowledges that there are financial problems for rural hospitals, but says there are "other ways" to deal with that besides a program that will require the federal government to spend so much money.

"I'm against government-run health care, so I'm against anything that enables it in any way, shape or form," says Antenori, who worries that the feds won't continue to provide matching funds in the future. "The federal government hangs you out to dry in the out years."


DOWN TO BUSINESS

Speaking of the race between Republican Frank Antenori and Democrat Dave Bradley: The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Bradley, leading Antenori to denounce the organization.

Antenori lashed out at the chamber for failing to support him after he let them know what he thought of them in the endorsement interview.

"They don't like the truth," Antenori says. "I had a blunt discussion with them. I wasn't going to sit there ... and place my lips on their you-know-what. That's not why I was there."

Chamber executive director Mike Varney took Antenori's criticism in stride.

"If you don't see life through Frank's level, you're just not quite at his level," Varney says.

Antenori's attitude cost him the endorsement, according to Varney.

"He does have a lot of very sound business policies and fiscal policies, but it's not the 'what' so much as the 'how' sometimes," Varney says.

Antenori, adds Varney, "behaved badly. He did not follow any instructions; he sent clear messages that he was not prepared to represent all of Southern Arizona, and above everything else, whether there's an R or an I or a D behind somebody's name, we need to have somebody in office we can work with. And Frank clearly sent us signals that he didn't really care what we thought."

Antenori says the Metro Chamber doesn't represent the real business community.

"Most of the guys who sit there are not really business people," Antenori says. "It's about the cocktail circuit and not the business climate."


GABBY SPINS

Gabrielle Giffords will be a guest DJ at this weekend's Get Out the Vote BBQ and Concert at Hotel Congress.

The free event, sponsored by Congressman Ron Barber's campaign, will feature appearances by Barber, U.S. Senate candidate Richard Carmona and various state and county Democrats.

In addition to the speeches, there will be live music, and meat on the grill.

It all goes down from 2 to 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 28, on the patio of Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St.

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