Voters who will choose between Democrats U.S. Rep. Ron Barber and state Rep. Matt Heinz in the Congressional District 2 primary election this month are, so far, making that choice without seeing the candidates together.
Barber has been working in Washington, D.C. since he was elected in the CD8 special election in June, and both campaigns say the candidates have yet to appear at a voter information forum together.
His campaign says it hopes the June election gave voters enough information to make a choice in this next election, while Heinz says he would like voters to hear from the two side by side.
Barber became better known after he was one of the 19 victims of the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting in Tucson. As U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ district director, Barber was by her side at a lot of events and was shot that day. He kept working in her office until she resigned early this year.
Then he made the decision, at her urging, to try to fill the remainder of her term in Congress.
After Barber got in the race, the rest of the Democrats who were running scattered. One of them, Heinz, a Tucson doctor and state representative, did more than just make way for Barber. He promised to divert his resources to him.
"I still stand by my decision to back away from that special (election) to get behind not only personally, financially. I contributed, I got signatures for him through volunteers that I sent his way," Heinz said.
But from the moment he bowed out of the race to fill the vacant CD8 seat, Heinz said he would be running in CD2. No other Democrats came forward to challenge Barber in the CD2 race for a full two-year term in congress.
Heinz put his campaign on hold this spring while Barber ran for CD8. Heinz's campaign became more active starting the day after the CD8 election. Now he’s running a regular campaign, with town halls and meet-and-greet events.
Barber campaigned heavily to win the CD8 seat, but has been all but invisible on the campaign trail since that win. Barber’s public events have been put on by the congressional office, which is not allowed to get involved in the campaign.
Arizona Public Media is hosting a forum on the race that will air Aug. 20, and Barber and Heinz have agreed to appear together. Early ballots are already out, and historically, the district is decided in the early votes.
So how will Democrats, or independents, make a decision in the CD2 primary between Heinz and Barber?
“They’ve seen Ron go through an extremely rigorous special election where he laid out exactly what he’s going to do to stand up for Southern Arizona’s middle class families, our seniors and our veterans. And hopefully they will be able to make a determination based on that and whatever plans Matt is able to offer for what he’ll do," said Jessica Schultz, Barber’s campaign spokeswoman.
Barber is working as a congressman now, and that’s how he plans to let people know what he’ll do if reelected, she said. He’s held no publicly announced campaign events since he was elected to office in June.
“He is focused on doing the job that he told them he is going to do and hopes that both the constituents and those people looking to decide for November who they’re going to reelect hopefully, will see the work that he’s doing and that’s really the best way that he can communicate the type of member that he plans on continuing to be," Schultz said.
That doesn’t mean Barber’s campaign isn’t still working. Last week, volunteers were making phone calls in the office, and posters on the walls showed an Olympics-style contest, which Schultz said was for volunteers who contact the highest number of voters.
Heinz, who also continues to work his non-campaign jobs as a doctor on overnight shifts at Tucson Medical Center and in state elected office, said he wishes voters could talk to the two of them at the same time.
“They ask me a lot of contrast questions, ‘so where would your opponent be?’ and I can’t speak for him," Heinz said. "I think it’s really important for us standing for election and those of us who are representatives, as my opponent is now, to be held to account for their record, even though his is a short one in his case.”
How will voters make a decision in this primary?
“Well they’re going to have a little more trouble because of his reticence to appear in the same place with me in a public forum to have a discussion about the issues," Heinz said, adding he hopes people visit the candidates web pages and pay attention to his television ads. Barber has not aired any ads in the CD2 election, though he was on the air during the CD8 election cycle earlier this year.
Normally, parties don’t take a position on primary candidates, but Pima County Democratic Party chairman Jeff Rogers said he thinks voters have already made their decision, and that Heinz shouldn’t be running.
“I think he should have realized that this was pretty well decided and that there really wasn’t much of a chance here and I would have liked to have seen him rally around our nominee and save himself for something in two years," Rogers said.
Part of Rogers’ basis for thinking the primary is all but over is that Barber is leading by a wide margin, according to a poll his campaign recently released. It showed him with 77 percent support, to Heinz’ 13 percent. Heinz has criticized the timing of the poll, and the sample size of 200 likely voters.
At a Heinz campaign event last week, supporter Casey Johnson said while he supported Barber in June, he’s happy to have options this time around.
“I was really hoping that Matt was going to run for the special election. I wasn’t totally a fan of Ron Barber to begin with, but really wasn’t a fan of Jesse Kelly, so it was kind of a no-brainer decision for me in that election," Johnson said.
But this race is different Johnson says, because it is a competition.
"Now that he’s running, I stand behind Matt Heinz and what he’s doing. Now, I have a choice,” Johnson said.
Early ballots have already been mailed for those on the permanent early voting list, but there’s still time for those not on the permanent early list to request an early ballot for the primary races. Election day is Aug. 28.