Arizona’s statehouse speaker suspended his congressional campaign Thursday, saying that his departure would consolidate the crowded GOP primary field.
But David Gowan’s announcement was not a call to unity: He said he wanted to ensure the defeat of front-runner Paul Babeu, a county sheriff and border security hawk who Gowan said had no chance of winning the general election, according to several media reports.
“This race is not about me,” he said, according to the Arizona Republic. “We can’t save the country if we don’t win.”
Gowan said that Babeu would bring too much “baggage” to the race to survive the Democratic onslaught, and that state Republicans could not count on the national party to spend money to support him because it would be a “lost cause.”
An unnamed Babeu spokesman shot back in a statement to the newspaper.
“Unlike David Gowan, Paul Babeu has incredibly strong polling numbers,” the spokesman said. “He is popular throughout the district and we are looking forward to a vigorous campaign to turn the district from blue to red.”
The seat is currently held by Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who is running against Sen. John McCain.
Babeu, a veteran of the Iraq War, has the support of former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and other well-known Republicans. He has served as sheriff of the vast rural Pinal County — an elected position — since 2008.
He dropped out of his 2012 race for the seat after a Mexican boyfriend alleged that Babeu’s attorney threatened to have him deported if he revealed their relationship. A state investigation exonerated Babeu. Babeu has since said he regretted not publicly sharing that he was gay before the episode.
Gowan has raised more than $364,000 since announcing his bid in October, but has trailed in the polls, the Arizona Republic reported.
Gowan said he would throw his weight behind local businessman Gary Kiehne, whom he deemed the “most conservative” and best qualified of the remaining five candidates, according to the local Casa Grande Dispatch. He urged his former rivals to do the same.