New district lines give GOP better odds of beating Stanton

PHOENIX (AP) — New borders in what has been a Democrat-friendly district in the suburbs east of Phoenix will be a test for U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, who cruised to victory in the previous two elections but is having to battle this year.

The Democrat and former Phoenix mayor is banking on his relatively moderate voting record, strong name recognition and a sizable war chest to fend off Republican political newcomer Kelly Cooper, a restaurant owner and Marine veteran.

As early ballots hit mailboxes this week, the redrawn 4th District (formerly the 9th) that covers parts of Tempe, Chandler and Mesa still leans Democratic on the competitive metrics used by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. But as one of three Arizona districts where Republicans hope to pick up seats in a midterm election year, Stanton faces a tougher challenge.

He is using Cooper’s own words against him, including his calls to defund the FBI after they raided former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate in August and recovered a trove of classified documents.

Cooper also has called for the release of people who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress was moving to certify President Joe Biden’s win. Stanton contends Cooper’s stance is “way outside the mainstream” of what is a purple district.

Cooper said in an interview that he was inspired to run by government actions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which he said hurt families and small businesses like the restaurants he owns. He also chafed at mask mandates and said allowing large retailers like Walmart to remain open while small businesses were shuttered was unfair.

“Let people know the best information, and let them make the best decisions,” Cooper said.

He criticized Stanton for inflation and high gas prices, which he contends are partly the result of Biden administration policies. He said the border wall needs to be completed and illegal immigration stopped.

“Many people are trying to migrate here for a better life — I don’t blame them,” Cooper said. “But this is overwhelming our Border Patrol.”

Stanton is painting Cooper as an extremist on abortion, which has been a big focus for Democrats in Arizona and elsewhere this year. It is also an issue for suburban women who helped Biden win Arizona in 2020.

Stanton, who was Phoenix mayor from 2012-2018 and before that spent nine years on the City Council, pointed to job and wage growth during his tenure leading the nation’s fifth-largest city. He also touted wins for Arizona in Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law, including federal cash to address the state’s water supply crisis.

Stanton billed himself as being in the “political center” and said Cooper can’t secure those wins as a hyper-partisan Republican.

Stanton faced no opposition in the primary and raised nearly $3 million through mid-July. Cooper emerged from a spirited five-way primary where he won with just 28% of the vote. Federal Election Commission reports show he has raised $1.6 million though Sept. 30, although that includes a $1.3 million loan he made to his campaign.

Stan Barnes, a political consultant and former Republican lawmaker, said Stanton faces tougher odds this year.

“What makes Congressman Stanton vulnerable is that he is a Democrat in what may be a wave midterm election year residing in a new redistricted geography that is less favorable for Democrats,” Barnes said.

Still, Stanton’s district is probably the least winnable of the three targeted by the GOP in Arizona. The other two are the sprawling 2nd District that runs from Flagstaff east to the New Mexico border and down to the northern Tucson suburbs and the 6th, which takes in parts of Tucson and the southeastern part of the state.

— This story has been corrected to show that Stanton became Phoenix mayor in 2012, not 2002, and spent nine years on the city council, not 12.

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