Sep 21, 2022 - Politics

Arizona Republican-turned-independent hopes to oust conservative stalwart

Head shots of Andy Biggs, Clint Smith and Javier Ramos

From left, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs and challengers Clint Smith and Javier Garcia Ramos. Photos: Courtesy of the Biggs, Smith and Ramos campaigns. Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

An East Valley attorney who officially left the GOP last year after decades of estrangement is hoping he's found the key to unseating Republican Congressman Andy Biggs: challenging him as an independent.

Driving the news: Clint Smith describes himself as a lifelong conservative who had been drifting away from the GOP since the 1990s.

  • Smith, a Mesa resident who owns a law practice in Scottsdale, said the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol last year was the final straw that led him to register as an independent.

Context: Biggs and Smith are running in the East Valley-based 5th Congressional District, where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly 2-to-1.

  • However, Smith is hoping to win the votes of enough independents and Democrats, along with some disgruntled Republicans, to defeat Biggs.

Yes, but: Smith will have to contend for those votes with an actual Democratic candidate — Javier Garcia Ramos, who serves as senior counsel for the Gila River Indian Community.

Details: Smith has some traditionally conservative positions, such as support for law enforcement, free-market economics and opposition to government regulations.

The intrigue: He also has a number of positions that are more closely identified with Democrats.

  • He tells Axios that he wants both a secure border and reforms that would grant a path to legal residency for immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives.
  • Smith also supports some gun-control proposals such as red flag laws, raising the minimum age to purchase some firearms and mandatory background checks.
  • On abortion, he says "government should stay the heck out of a woman's relationship with her doctor."

Between the lines: Smith says he was recruited into the race by former state Sen. Jerry Lewis, who ousted then-Senate President Russell Pearce in a historic recall election in 2011.

What he's saying: Smith said Biggs bears responsibility for "the whole motion that got us" to the Jan. 6 attack: "The whole plan to steal the election, the insurrection, the idea of fake electors, refusing to recognize Capitol Police."

  • "But beyond that, we have a guy who basically says 'no' to just about everything, and including things like the formula for needy families, [and] now wants to defund the FBI and the DOJ."

The other side: Biggs tells Axios that his views are more in line with the district and with the country as a whole than Smith's and that Smith would acquiesce to President Biden's agenda if he were elected.

  • He describes Smith as weak on the Second Amendment and on border security.
  • "The bottom line is he left the Republican Party a long, long time ago," Biggs says of Smith.

Worth noting: Biggs denied allegations that he was involved with the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 attack.

  • "The reality is nobody condones what happened on Jan. 6, and that was not good. I said that day that was not good for the conservative movement," he tells Axios.
  • He says he voted against certification of Arizona's Biden electors due to a judge's ruling, which was later reversed, that allowed thousands of people to register to vote here after the statutory deadline.

1 other thing: While Smith and supporters view Garcia Ramos as a spoiler, the Democratic nominee defended his campaign, noting that this is his second run for the seat and pointing out that he launched his 2022 campaign before Smith did.

  • Garcia Ramos' war chest consists of $4,200 he put into the race. He says he refuses to accept campaign contributions because, "I want to uplift individuals who don't have a voice in their government. I want to give the office back to the people."
  • He says he would never abandon his Democratic principles by dropping out of the race to help Smith.

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