TUCSON, Ariz. A former state lawmaker, Randy Graf, won the GOP primary for an open U.S.House seat despite lobbying from the National Republican Congressional Committee against his candidacy.
His closet rival, state Rep. Steve Huffman, received a late-campaign boost from the committee, which in a rare move broke its neutrality in a primary race by spending more than $122,000 on TV ads on his behalf. Party officials had expressed concerns that Mr. Graf may be too conservative to win the seat in November. But that move prompted a local Republican backlash, drawing a joint letter and a joint news conference in Washington by Mr. Huffman's four GOP opponents expressing their "unified outrage" at the national committee.
With 95% of the southeastern Arizona district's precincts reporting early yesterday, Mr. Graf led Mr. Huffman 22,861 to 19,674 or 43% to 37%. One-time state party chairman Mike Hellon was next with 12%,and two others lagged well behind. Mr. Graf's campaign focused on securing the Mexican border and halting illegal immigration, banking that he would attract rankled conservatives and independents.
"We stayed on the issue, kept our campaign on the up-and-up and talked about the issues we've talked about for years, and the voters appreciated that," Mr. Graf said.
Democrats, meanwhile, focused on the war in Iraq, health care, and education during the primary, as well as advocating a comprehensive solution to the border issue. A former state senator, Gabrielle Giffords, cruised past a former local television anchor, Patty Weiss, and four other challengers in the Democratic race, securing more than 54% of the vote about 23% more than Ms. Weiss, who finished second.
Both parties battled to replace 11-term Rep. Jim Kolbe, a moderate Republican, who announced his retirement. Republicans have only a slight advantage in the district, which includes the Tucson area and spans the southeastern corner of the state.
The Democratic and Republican nominees also will face Libertarian David Nolan and Independent Jay Quick in the November 7 general election.