Living in Arizona Congressional District 1, I've decided to do a post on what may be the hottest congressional race in the country (certainly among the top five or so), pitting five Republicans and four Democrats against each other to replace indicted Republican congressman Rick Renzi. FULL DISCLOSURE: I AM ON RECORD AS BEING A SUPPORTER OF DEMOCRAT ANN KIRKPATRICK. I will try to be objective in this post, however. The primary here is late (Sept. 2). Call it the 'Arizona incumbent protection racket.' There is no incumbent in this race though so all the candidates are equally disadvantaged by the late primary.
Let's begin with an overview of the district itself. Prior to 2002, rural Arizona had been divided up among a number of metro Phoenix based districts, so that a map of Arizona districts often looked somewhat like a pizza, with a number of districts in which the majority of the population lived in the Phoenix area with a large, sparsely populated area extending all the way to the far reaches of the state. In 2002 however a citizens redistricting commission replaced the legislature in drawing district lines and they decided to create an exclusively rural district (the largest cities in the district at the time were Flagstaff and Prescott, both considerably less than 100,000 people.) The district includes almost all of rural Arizona, skipping only the counties along the border with Mexico and Mohave county in the northwest. Because of the Navajo-Hopi land dispute and other issues between the tribes, the Hopi reservation is actually not in CD-1 but is represented by the congressman from another district, CD-2 (presently Republican Trent Franks.) This looks like a gerrymander to anyone not familiar with the situation but in fact it is necessary in resolving disputes between the two tribes (maybe working nominally in favor of the GOP since both tribes normally vote Democratic in national elections.)
District 1 does include the Navajo reservation, the nation's largest (and a place where Renzi was able to sizeably dent the democratic base in the district by procuring enormous amounts of pork.) The district also includes a portion of Pinal county. When it was drawn, the district lines very nicely delineated the edge of development in 2002. However since then Pinal county, Arizona's (and one of the nation's) fastet growing county has been filling up rapidly with exurbanites from metro Phoenix and Tucson (which are growing together, with Pinal county as the primary target.) Pinal county now has up to one third of the population in the district. The number of votes from Pinal is somewhat less than a third just because there is a lag time between when people move there and when they get registered to vote. The district as a whole has an eight percent Democratic registration edge, but in fact this district is huge and diverse (being larger in land area than good sized eastern states like Illinois or Pennsylvania) so it would be a mistake to try and summarize it that way. The Republican bases of the district include Prescott, small mostly LDS towns in the east (like the one I live in) and portions of Pinal county (though in 2006 Democrat Ellen Simon almost tied Renzi in Pinal.) The Democratic bases include the reservations (besides the Navajo reservation the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache reservations and several smaller reservations are also in the district), Flagstaff (home of Northern Arizona University) and older towns with a Democratic history like Globe, Winslow and Holbrook. Given that there is no evidence that Rick Renzi's pork-bought popularity will be transferable to another Republican, it seems likely that the decisive votes in the election will be cast by two groups of swing voters-- 1. Pinal county residents (who as I mentioned didn't go as Republican as one would have thought in 2006 and where the mortgage crisis has hit hard) and 2. conservative rural Democrats, especially in places like St. Johns-- so called, 'pinto Democrats' who always vote Democratic for local and county offices but who supported Republicans George Bush, Senators McCain and Jon Kyl and Rick Renzi, but also supported Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard-- in other words for higher offices willing to shuffle their ballot either way.
In the absence of any polling data (which is surprising to me) here is how I see the race unfolding:
The Democratic race is shaping up to be a real barn burner. Ann Kirkpatrick, an anglo who was raised on the Apache reservation and is fluent in Apache has easily raised the most money and is the favorite of many in the party establishment. Kirkpatrick has served as a prosecutor and also in the state legislature (where she represented both Flagstaff and the Navajo reservation.) Kirkpatrick has been very active on education and evnironmental issues in the legislature. She has the endorsement of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups but is a proponent of gun rights (which puts her in good standing with the 'pinto Democrats' for whom guns are a big issue.) I know many people who have known Kirkpatrick for years and they all consider her biggest asset to be that she is honest and ethical. After Renzi's ethical lapses this is a big plus. I know many people who have known Kirkpatrick for years and they all consider her biggest asset to be that she is honest and ethical. After Renzi's ethical lapses this is a big plus.
A few weeks ago I thought that Kirkpatrick had it in the bag, but recently Flagstaff Attorney Howard Shanker has been running very strongly. Shanker represents the Navajos in an ongoing lawsuit to prevent Arizona Snow Bowl from using treated wastewater to make artificial snow on the San Francisco Peaks (considered sacred by the Navajo--- think of the Mapplethorpe exhibit and the crucifix in urine and you get the idea of how they feel about it.) Right now, after several rounds in court that have gone both ways, the ski resort has won the latest round but it is likely to be appealed, maybe even up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Shanker has a lot of enthusiastic volunteers and seems to have boundless energy. I don't think I've gone to a major event in the past two years where I haven't seen either Howard Shanker (often personally) or someone representing him. Working against Shanker are the huge geographical size of the district and the fact that he has been far less successful at fundraising than Kirkpatrick. Shanker is the most liberal of the leading candidates and he has a lot of personal charisma.
The third major Democratic candidate in the race is Mary Kim Titla, a former television reporter. She therefore has high name recognition and a reporter's good looks, style and charm in person (I've met all the Democratic candidates personally this past year.) If elected Titla, a member of the San Carlos Apache tribe, would also be the first native American woman to serve in Congress. However, she is handicapped by the fact that she has been neither as successful on the fundraising circuit as Kirkpatrick nor generated the enthusiasm that Shanker has. Part of the reason may be her position on issues. She is (and proclaims herself to be) the most conservative of the Democratic candidates. This seems calibrated to appeal to the 'pinto Democrats' but in fact Kirkpatrick's pro-gun position deprives Titla of an edge on a key issue and frankly many of her other positions just aren't in tune with a lot of Democratic primary voters. Titla remains within striking distance though (particularly if Kirkpatrick and Shanker go negative on each other, which hasn't happened so far) and if she wins it will only be a mild upset.
Former Kucinich volunteer Geoffrey Brown is on the ballot but he will finish last.
The Republicans had trouble recruiting candidates last year (partly due to Renzi's legal problems, which has made the atmosphere here difficult for Republicans despite John McCain being at the top of the ticket.) It appears they will settle for Sydney Hay, the President of the Arizona Mining Association, an industry trade group. She ran when the district was created in 2002 and finished third in the Republican primary that year. She held a fundraiser that year with Ron Paul and is still friends with Paul and if elected would likely be an ally of Paul on most issues (except Iraq, where she favors staying until 'we win.') She is very conservative on taxes and spending and has a past as an education reform and anti-abortion activist (back when it looked like other serious candidates might be contending for the GOP nomination, Hay already had the endorsements of Phyllis Schlafley's Eagle Forum and of the national Right to Life committee in the bag.) One reason why Republicans are nervous about Hay is because she is so conservative it will be easy to paint her as an extremist. I still expect she will win the primary with around fifty percent of the vote though given that there are no other first tier candidates.
There are two second tier candidates. Sandra Livingstone of Prescott likes to stress that she is the only Republican running who was born in the district (a way of suggesting she is not like Rick Renzi, a carpetbagger who moved here from Virginia only to run for Congress). For a Republican she is very liberal-- in fact I feel she is probably to the left of Democrat Mary Kim Titla, all issues included and is openly running as a 'moderate Republican'. Livingstone hates partisanship and-- taking a gutty position that is sure to enrage the GOP's right wing-- has proposed a policy legalizing undocumented workers who are already working here. She even suggests that in time they could all work towards citizenship. This is amazing to hear coming from a Republican in Arizona. She won't win (though she will be in a close race for second) but if she gets a lot of votes it may underscore the fact that the anti-immigration crew makes a lot more noise than they can deliver at the polls (ask J.D. Hayworth about that.)
Tom Hansen is a school board member in St. Johns. He is more of a standard issue conservative Republican. On virtually every issue he is in line with the party orthodoxy. Given Hay's far right bent and Livingstone's tilt to the left I suspect that if the Republican establishment could choose the candidate themselves with an eye to choosing someone who was conservative but also mainstream they'd go with Hansen. One asset he has is that he is LDS, and has strong support in LDS communities (which represent about a quarter of the GOP vote in the district). The problem is that being from St. Johns he is from the less populated eastern side of the state (there are no cities in at least a hundred mile radius of his home with more than 10,000 residents), has more enthusiasm than money and as a school board member has a long jump up to running for Congress. He will probably contest with Livingstone for second, and together they may get as many votes as Hay does individually.
Baptist Minister Barry Hall and Preston Korn, who has withdrawn from the race will finish fourth and fifth.
In the absence of any polling data I have to make predictions based purely on what my own perceptions are so these run the risk of being completely off base (and of course there are still two weeks to go), but here is what I see right now:
My predictions for the Democrats:
1. Ann Kirkpatrick (37%)
2. Howard Shanker (33%)
3. Mary Kim Titla (28%)
4. Geoffrey Brown (2%)
My predictions for the Republicans:
1. Sydney Hay (46%)
2. Sandra Livingstone (26%)
3. Tom Hansen (24%)
4. others (4%)
Independent Keith Maupin will also be on the ballot in November but I'd be surprised if his presence makes a difference then.