House leader says Arizona best chance for GOP wins

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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks at the California GOP convention on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, in Los Angeles. By Jennifer Thomas House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks at the California GOP convention on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, in Los Angeles. By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX (AP) -- Republicans have the best chance of picking up House seats in Arizona than anywhere in the nation, a top congressional leader said Wednesday.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said following a Phoenix fundraiser that the Republicans running for Congress in Arizona's 1st, 2nd and 9th districts could knock off Democratic incumbents and help beef up the GOP House majority.

McCarthy headlined a $500-a-plate fundraiser for GOP candidates Andy Tobin, Martha McSally and Wendy Rogers at a Biltmore eatery. After the closed-press event, he said in an interview with The Associated Press that Arizona voters have clear choices between the GOP candidates and incumbents Ann Kirkpatrick, Ron Barber and Kyrsten Sinema.

"I don't see the three Democrat incumbents fighting to change the direction from the Obama administration, and I think that's why those in Arizona will vote differently," McCarthy said.

Democrats, notably, see things differently. DJ Quinlan, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, called McCarthy's hope that Republicans sweep the races "about as likely as Eric Cantor coming back as majority leader."

"They have strong records of working across the aisle," Quinlan said of the Democrats now in office. "And we feel very confident. We know that all three of these districts are going to be competitive. But the records of our three incumbents are all very strong."

The three incumbents won relatively tight races in 2012. National Republicans thought they had very good chances of winning in the 1st and 2nd districts, but Kirkpatrick and Barber pulled out victories. The newly created 9th District, centered around Tempe, had its first election in 2012 and was thought to lean slightly Democratic.

The fundraiser for Republican candidates came a day after Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz headlined an event in Phoenix. She had a decidedly different take, saying Democrats will surprise the GOP with victories, according to Quinlan.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is pouring in money to help defeat Kirkpatrick and Barber, committing $3 million through election day to elect Tobin and nearly $1.3 million to elect McSally. The 9th District, despite McCarthy's comments, is seen as less likely to be a GOP win and the national party hasn't committed to spend there yet.

Republicans see the November elections as a way to pad their current House majority and possibly wrest control of the Senate from Democrats.

"I think at the end of the day we'll pick up seats in the House, be a stronger majority," McCarthy said. "And I believe there's a 65 percent chance the Senate flips as of today, and I think it will only get stronger."

Republicans chose McCarthy as House Speaker John Boehner's majority leader after Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, was defeated by a conservative challenger in that state's June primary. Cantor resigned his leadership position and stepped down from Congress last month.

McCarthy called McSally and Rogers, both retired groundbreaking female Air Force pilots, proven leaders with strong foreign policy credentials. Tobin, he said, helped steer though tough budget times as House speaker and work across the aisle.

Quinlan called all three GOP candidates the wrong choices.

He called Tobin the "king of corporate welfare" for showering tax breaks on businesses and the "chief obstructionist" in the Legislature to ethics reform. He said Rogers is too extreme for wanting to privatize Social Security and said McSally has waffled on stronger background checks for stalkers

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