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Grijalva puts weight behind Steele candidacy

Democratic candidate trails fellow former lawmaker Heinz in fundraising for primary

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva endorsed congressional hopeful Victoria Steele on Tuesday, saying the former state representative would fight for women, revitalize public education, and had a "rational view" on the need for comprehensive immigration reform and climate change legislation.

Steele hopes to challenge U.S. Rep. Martha McSally for the CD2 seat in Southern Arizona, but faces another former lawmaker, Matt Heinz, in the Democratic primary.

Grijalva endorsed Steele at the Pima County Democratic Party headquarters in Tucson, saying she should win the primary, and has a "strong national profile" that could carry her through the general election. 

"I'm proud to endorse her, and we will do what we can to help her," said Grijalva. "I'm very confident that she will win the primary and I think she will do very well in the general."

Steele thanked Grijalva for his endorsement and for his "strong and honest leadership" in Congress. 

"Defeating Martha McSally, and delivering strong leadership that benefits the families of Southern Arizona begins with unifying Democrats, so I'm humbled and honored to receive the endorsement of Rep. Raul Grijalva," said Steele. 

Grijlva praised Steele's positions on a number of important issues in the 2016 election, including the need to fix the nation's "broken" immigration system with comprehensive legislation. 

"It goes without saying that her view on the need for comprehensive immigration reform is rational, and above all she recognizes that the humanity of the situation," Grijalva said. "It's not just about moving numbers around."

Later, Grijalva called public education the "great American idea," and called Steele a "defender of that concept." Steele, he said would help renew and revitalize the public education system. 

He also said that Steele "doesn't have her head in the ground regarding climate change."  

Grijalva said that the election was important to protect the successes of the Obama administration, which he said had gotten the country out of a recession and would get the country "where we need to go."  

Heinz, meanwhile, announced Tuesday that his campaign had broken the half-million-dollar mark in fundraising, and touted adding several organizational endorsements to his list of supporters, including the Teamsters union, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology and American College of Surgeons.

The physician at Tucson Medical Center was endorsed earlier by U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Phoenix Democrat.

"Defeating Martha McSally is the most important thing Southern Arizona Democrats can do this year, and the stakes couldn't be higher," Heinz said in an email Tuesday.

Steele, a former state legislator who resigned her seat to focus on running for Congress, has trailed Heinz in fundraising.

Steele raised just $99,817 in 2015, while Heinz pulled in $407,397 before Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, the first-term Tucson Republican they're seeking to challenge raised more than $3.2 million last year, topping all but a handful of House members, and had $1.9 million on hand at the end of the year, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings.

Steele, a counselor and former broadcast journalist before serving in the Legislature, had $43,867 on hand on Dec. 31, according to the FEC. But Heinz ended the year with $305,733 cash on hand.

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The slow flow of cash to the Democratic hopefuls is likely one of the factors behind the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leaving CD2 off a list of 31 districts it's targeting this year. And political prognosticator Larry Sabato changed his rating of the district from "toss-up" to "leans Republican" last week.

But local Dems are working to tie McSally to national Republicans who might not play so well in Tucson, including presidential candidate Donald Trump.

While $3 million is a lot for challengers to overcome, analysts say other factors, such as the eventual GOP presidential nominee and outside funding, could have a large effect in the district, which is almost evenly split between Republican, Democratic and independent voters.

McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak said that the Democrats are "giving up on re-taking her seat" by leaving CD2 off the list of districts targeted for focused fundraising by the national party. "Given her impressive start and the Democrats' complete 180, it's clear they now consider her unbeatable," he crowed to reporters in an email.

The DCCC hasn't given up on blasting the Republican congresswoman, at least via email.

Trump's win in the New Hampshire primary "potentially crush(es) Martha McSally's dreams of reelection," said DCCC spokesman Tyler Law.

"Sadly for House Republicans, this Latino-hating, women-hating, Muslim-hating man is now their party’s standard bearer," Law said in an email. “This begs the question (sic): will McSally pledge to support Donald Trump if he is the nominee?"

While $3 million is a lot for challengers to overcome, analysts say other factors, such as the eventual GOP presidential nominee and outside funding, could have a large effect in the district, which is almost evenly split between Republican, Democratic and independent voters.

“An incumbent sitting there with a couple million dollars is a pretty tall hurdle,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report, adding that, “by the numbers, the district is competitive.”

Those numbers have been borne out in the last two elections. McSally lost to Democratic Rep. Ron Barber by 2,454 votes out of 292,279 cast in 2012, then came back to beat him two years later by a razor-thin margin of 161 votes out of 219,351.

Cronkite News reporter Danika Worthington contributed to this article.

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1 comment on this story

Feb 17, 2016, 3:43 pm
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Grijalva puts weight…

That is, by far, the most clever headline I have read all year. Well done.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva endorses Victoria Steele in Arizona's CD2 race.