With the primary for the Congressional District 8 special election less than two months away, candidates in the crowded Republican field are taking every opportunity to sway voters.
On Wednesday, four of them spoke to a crowd of about 500 at Tucson Tea Party event prior to presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s speech. Here are some highlights from what they said in the 10-minute time slots they were given, in order of their appearances:
• Jesse Kelly, a project manager in the family construction business, Don Kelly Construction, who lost to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2010:
He started his speech with this, “Praise God almighty we’re almost done with Barack Obama.”
He vowed to support conservatives in the country and repeated his oft-repeated phrase that he is not a politician.
“I’m a Marine Corps combat veteran, I’m a husband and father of two boys, and every single person in this room is blessed by God to live in this nation,” Kelly said.
He said the words, “success,” and “business” and “corporation” are not bad words, despite what President Obama says.
“This country was built on making something of yourself,” Kelly said. “Not the government handing you something.”
He revved up the crowd by saying the United States is still the best nation in the world.
“We still have an economy three times the size the economy in China right now,” Kelly said. “We still have the best people, the best education, we have the will to get it done. All we need to do is toss some of the bums out, win some elections, and we will come back.”
Kelly, who lost by a narrow margin to Giffords in 2010, told the crowd he won’t come up short in this special election: “We will not be 4,000 votes short, we will be several thousand votes ahead.”
• Martha McSally, former Air Force combat pilot making her first run for public office:
After introducing herself, McSally joked about the infamous response she made last week on Fox & Friends about Santorum’s position on women in combat.
“Don’t worry everyone, you’re safe. I’m not going to be doing any jimmy-kicking this morning,” she said.
She said the country is at a critical juncture facing several major problems, likening it to a fighter plane being off vector.
“It is the debt that is suffocating us, it is the economy that has yet to be stimulated in order to allow American people and innovation to get back to work and create real jobs,” McSally said. “And it’s our national security issues that we are seriously facing here south of here.”
The country has to reign in the debt, which she called an issue of national security and national power.
“The best way to do that is to stimulate the economy,” McSally said. “We’ve got to get the reach of the federal government back where it belongs. We are under siege from the south and we are under siege from the east, Washington D.C.”
She added, “The federal government is not a jobs program, the American spirit is a jobs program.”
She said the U.S.-Mexico border is a national security threat.
“It’s not just about immigration, it’s about trans-national, criminal organizations that are infiltrating our neighborhoods, trafficking people, weapons, drugs and money,” McSally said. “They are militaristic about and it is affecting this community like no other in the nation.”
She said the money spent trying to secure our border is insignificant compared to what the United States spends in other places in the world.
“We have to take it seriously, it’s a serious national security threat.”
• Frank Antenori, Republican state Senator making his second run for Congress:
In addition to touting his experience helping balance the state budget as senator majority whip, Antenori spent considerable time highlighting his exploits during his 20-year military career.
“I’ve been fighting communists, socialists and for liberty and freedom since the day my feet hit the ground,” said Antenori, speaking of his time in Pakistan and other places.
He told the crowd how he went to fight the Taliban after the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“It was my honor to go head-to-head on the ground, up close and personal and kill them,” Antenori said.
He said he was a pre-med student with a 3.94 grade point average. He said the only reason it wasn’t a perfect 4.0 was because a “liberal history professor” gave him a B.
“Maybe you guys haven’t heard that; the media tries to paint me as a knuckle-dragger,” he said.
Antenori said there are a lot of good candidates in the CD8 special election race but said that he’s the one true to spirit of the Tea Party and conservative principal.
“There’s only one guy in this race who has met the enemy and taken them on, both on the battlefields overseas and in the political battlefields here in this country,” Antenori said.
He touted his experience working in the state legislature, something no one else in the race has, and boasted that he doesn’t compromise when he knows he’s right.
“You hear, ‘Oh Antenori has a hard time getting along in Phoenix,’” he said. “Your darn right. I’m not up there to make friends. I’m up there to do a job for you. My friends are back in the district I represent. When you send me to Washington, that same message is going to be to them: I’m not up here gentleman to make friends.”
• Dave Sitton, sports broadcaster and Tucson businessman making his first run for office:
He said he’s been asked often why he’s leaving a 31-year broadcast career to run for office. He said he owes it to young men and women in the military and said his his 38 years in business, broadcasting and communications in Tucson qualify him despite having never run for office.
“I think that might qualify me as having more years here than my other beloved and respected competitors in this race,” Sitton said. “I’ve got a pretty good handle on what it is we do here in Southern Arizona and what’s important to us.”
He said he’s not a phony conservative but repeated a phrase he used at his announcement event, “I am an American first, running as a Republican. This is a message that needs to resonate across America.”
A self-professed fan of history, he said George Washington warned the country about factions.
“Right now, we have people in Washington D.C. whose own ambitions are more important than this country,” Sitton.
He said the nation needs to cut spending and create the “American environment” that creates jobs. For that to happen, the government needs to get out of the way, he said.
“Young people should know there is more to life than waiting for a green check every two weeks,” Sitton said. “That their hopes and their ambitions are going to be realized when they can realize their own God-given talents and earn their way and be part of a fabric of a community.”
On the border, he said we need to take immigration out of the discussion so the county can focus on real issue of the border being porous, about the well-armed cartels, and what weapons have come and could come across the border.
“We can have a legitimate discussion about immigration but don’t confuse the two: we need to secure the border for our security first,” Sitton said. “And for the security of those property owners that we love as ranchers down in Cochise County and Santa Cruz county.”
And here’s what one other candidate in this year’s elections, had to say; Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, a mother of three adult children challenging Rep. Raúl Grijalva in Congressional District 3:
She drew loud cheers when she said the Tea Party woke her up politically and then vowed to beat Rep. Raúl Grijalva. She ripped into Grijalva, criticizing his voting record and his patriotism.
“He is not only anti-business,” Saucedo Mercer said. “He is anti-American.”
She questioned his allegiance to the United States, saying, “He was born here but he hates the American way.”
Saucedo Mercer, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in 1986 and obtained her citizenship in 1991, vowed to bring back patriotism to the seat and said, “I chose to become American.”
She also lobbed a bomb at President Barack Obama, calling him a communist.
Stay tuned to the Pueblo Politics blog throughout 2012 for news, updates and information about Arizona politics. You can follow the bloggers on Twitter — Arizona Daily Star reporters Brady McCombs, Rhonda Bodfield, Becky Pallack and Tim Steller — by clicking on our names.