The Rookies: Paul Gosar On the Rise in Arizona

Paul Gosar sold his dental practice to run for a congressional seat in Arizona.

Oct. 14, 2010 -- Paul Gosar is not your everyday candidate for Congress.

Asked if his opponent in Arizona -- Democratic incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick -- should fear him, he exclaims, "Afraid of me as a candidate? Danger, Will Robinson, danger!" quoting a catchphrase from the 1960s TV series "Lost in Space."

That was just one of many off-the-cuff quips from Gosar in a wide-ranging 30-minute interview with ABC News. It is clear that Gosar, a dentist for the last 25 years, is one of the most colorful candidates looking to secure a seat on Capitol Hill this fall.

Rated one of the Republican Party's "Young Guns" -- a group of the GOP's most electable challengers -- Gosar is making a strong push to unseat Kirkpatrick in Arizona's First Congressional District, running especially hard against the Democrats' most recent signature legislative achievement: health care reform.

"What better time to have a doctor in the house?" he says. "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. Sometimes it's a leap of faith."

But ask him why voters should send him to Washington, he points to personal, rather than political experience.

"I'm a person that has lived in Main Street America," he explains. "I'm a family man. I've got a wonderful wife and family. I've got kids that have gone through the school districts. I've started two small businesses. I've built my own house. And I'm a healthcare provider. Oh my God! A lot of these things come home to roost. I'm self-made. I'm a citizen. And I live in this district."

Gosar might not be a seasoned politician, but that's not viewed as a bad thing these days. Now, having sold his practice to pursue his political goals, he is riding a wave of Tea Party momentum as far as it will take him. In a district that has been held by a Republican for much of the past decade, Gosar is hitting out at Kirkpatrick for voting in favor of the new health care reform law and the economic stimulus package.

In recent ads, Gosar has denounced Kirkpatrick as "a rubber stamp for the Obama-Pelosi agenda" and "another big spender who's turned her back on the voters." "It's time for her to go," he states.

Gosar: Debating Whether to Debate

But even though Kirkpatrick is clearly vulnerable, it won't be easy for Gosar. Kirkpatrick has launched an assault on him for failing to pay taxes, avoiding debates, and being short on substance.

"Had to be chased down 12 times to pay his taxes, even though he's a millionaire. Paul Gosar looks out for himself, not us," Kirkpatrick warns in a TV ad released late last month.

In August, Kirkpatrick challenged Gosar to five debates, but he has opted to lay low.

"Paul has avoided debates and underwhelmed everyone with his complete and total lack of understanding of any number of issues. But more troubling is that on the issues he has actually voiced an opinion on, he's pretty scary-- he's questioned the constitutionality of Social Security, supports $73 billion of cuts to it, and has suggested that there may be no need for Social Security at all, since folks could just work until they die," says Carmen Gallus, Kirkpatrick's campaign manager. "What the voters don't know about Paul Gosar will hurt them."

In addition, Kirkpatrick's campaign is banking on a big turnout from the district's huge Native American population; one in five voters there are Native American, and Kirkpatrick is counting on a big turnout among those voters.

For his part, Gosar says he's "never been chased down" for taxes, explaining that his delinquent payments were the result of "paying forward" health care benefits to his employees during the holiday season rather than making the first tier of Arizona tax payments in November.

On not debating Kirkpatrick, he jokes that he's "known as one of the fighting Gosars," the first of ten kids.

"I'd love to debate, but here's the scenario: Our district was made intentionally to be a rural district. We don't need to debate somewhere in an isolated area where Ms. Kirkpatrick can define the questions, isolate herself, and not have to be accountable to her constituents. If we're in a debate, bring it on."

But his answers on a series of issues are comparatively short on specifics for your typical Washington politician.

Gosar on the Issues

On how to balance the budget, Gosar says, "The government needs to start looking at its duplicity. You know, wasteful spending."

On whether gays should be able to serve openly in the military: "I've never served in the military. I have to rely on the military for how it works."

On what to do in Afghanistan: "We've got to keep a presence there because this area is so unstable and I'd rather be sitting around a table trying to make peace there than being served for dinner."

On how he feels about unemployment benefits: "We've got to get people back to work. It's called J-O-B."

On whether there should be a minimum wage: "I'm not a real big fan. I see its purpose, but I think in some aspects it actually hurts the competitive marketplace. I think there's a push and shove. I could argue both ways -- for it or against it. But I think right now what we have to do is get people back to work."

Will his political inexperience derail his campaign? Or will it prove to be a selling point as he seeks to ride his momentum as a Beltway outsider?

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the "Rothenberg Political Report" newsletter, takes the latter point of view, noting that Gosar is "not the most polished" candidate, but he's running at the "perfect" time.

"Does he have the polish of a guy who's been in the state legislature for 10 years and who knows how to be an insider?" Rothenberg asks aloud. "No, but this cycle that's not the requirement that it's been in the past. I like his chances a lot. I'd be surprised if he doesn't win."

Maybe that explains why Gosar is saying, "Danger, Will Robinson, danger!"