Thursday, August 21, 2008

CD-1 primary analysis.

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.


Anonymous said...

Where do you base your assumption that Howard Shanker has that much support? The only place it seems to be happening is in the comment section of blogs, and it seems to be the same two or three people doing all the writing.

Eli Blake said...


That's the impression I get from the number of activists I know who are committed to Shanker (and have been for most of the past year) and the people I see showing up every time I go to an event like a fair or a parade.

I don't think Shanker will win (and I don't want him to-- for one thing I believe he would be the weakest candidate the Democrats could go forward into November with, and for another thing his own lack of experience in elective office would give Hay cover for her own lack of experience) but I think he has a lot of activists in his corner who will help him turn out votes.

Anonymous said...

Ann Kirkpatrick is not fluent in Apache and has not been endorsed by the Sierra Club. She is spending money like mad, trying to put down the growing grassroots support for Howard Shanker.

Anonymous said...

"Ann Kirkpatrick is not fluent in Apache"

Neither is Howard Shanker. The only candidate fluent in Apache in Mary Kim. Ann speaks a pidgin Apache.

Howard is fluent in Navajo.

Eli Blake said...

Ann Kirkpatrick was raised in McNary on the White Mountain reservation and became fluent in Apache at a young age.

One thing I thought about after writing this post-- this race bears an uncanny resemblance to the Democratic primary in 2006 in the fourteenth district of Ohio. In that race a longtime Republican incumbent who had represented a rural district on the borders of Appalachia was on his way to prison in the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal. The Democratic favorite and the one who had the endorsement of the party regulars was Chillicothe mayor Joe Sulzer. The edge in volunteers and enthusiasm went to Zack Space. Space actually won that race (and went on to win the general election). This would bode well for Shanker, but the difference I see here is that Kirkpatrick has done a better job of campaigning in the primary than Sulzer did (he assumed he had it won and declined to run some ads that he should have and instead saved a lot of money for the general election), and this district is much larger geographically which makes TV advertising and direct mail more important in reaching voters who simply live too far apart for a good ground game (which Shanker has) to be as effective as it was for Space. So in the end I think Kirkpatrick wins a close race.

Anonymous said...

I presume Ann Kirkpatrick is a decent woman, but Democrats need more progressive representation in DC. Ann's "law and order national security" stance is the same that led many Democrats into supporting the Bush catastrophe of Iraq. I have inquired into Ann's views toward attacking the sovereign nation of Iraq as it unfolded in 2002-2003 and her campaign has refused to provide an answer. This tells me she supported this egregious international crime. We cannot afford the possibility of Democrats repeating such a mistake in the future. Howard Shanker opposed the war from the beginning. This shows wisdom and ethics during a time when it was not popular to do so.

Anonymous said...

Hey anonymous, candidates receive thousands of emails and can't respond to them all. You could try picking up the phone and calling her staff if you're feeling ignored.

Anonymous said...

Republicans have a real choice in this race.

We can let our party keep moving into the farther and farther reaches of the right (and a vote for Hay will do that) or we can change course and recognize that the reason Republican registration has been going down is because so many people have become disgusted with he 'same old same old.'

Sandra Livingstone is a different kind of candidate. She is well educated and willing to look at each problem individually and do what works, not what fits some partisan agenda.

We have to bold enough to support our only good candidate or Republicans will always be the minority party. I know a lot of Republicans who probably would either not vote for Congress or even vote for a Democrat if Hay is the nominee.

Ann Heitland,RE/MAX Peak Properties said...

I wish Kirkpatrick were as good as this blogger writes. She was hand-picked by DCCC because of her supposed strength with the tribes, but it's just not there. She will lose in November, just like the last hand-picked (and weak) candidate did. Shanker has a chance to win. He is about much more than the Snowbowl case written about here. He's has worked in CD-1 on federal environmental and energy issues for 15 years (while Kirkpatrick was writing wills in private practice and doing her 18 months of stepping-stone time in the Az Legislature). Shanker got into this race because of the war and because he believes Arizona can be a better place to live. Kirkpatrick got in because the powers in the Dem party wanted a candidate they can control. She will be trounced in debates by Hay, just as she has been by Shanker. Then CD-1 will be stuck with another Republican incumbant. Vote Shanker on Sept. 2!

Eli Blake said...


No question that Kirkpatrick is the choice of a lot of the party establishment. But she is also the choice of a lot of ordinary people too.

She has a very wide background across the district so I believe that a lot of the people who have worked with her and known her over the years (in several counties, I'd add) will support her.

As I said, this is going to be a close race (and it may even have tightened since I wrote the post). But I believe that Kirkpatrick is in fact a good candidate, and is certainly good enough to win.

apatge said...

A vote for Ann is a vote for a racist, bigot who thinks only those born in Arizona are good enough. She thinks terrorist are walking across the desert to get in. She thinks building more prisons is the answer to poverty and lack of education, living wages, and lack of healthcare. She can't think for herself and always will avoid a question by saying she will have her staff form her position on that.

She is a conservative, period. She did not get my vote. I voted for the best candidate, Howard Shanker.

Eli Blake said...


I know Kirkpatrick and known people who have known her for decades, and she is not a racist. Incidentally, I was not born in Arizona.

You also distort her positions. She does have some positions that can be classifed as 'conservative,' to be sure, but heck, so does Barack Obama (i.e. Obama wants to continue President Bush's 'faith based' initiative.) But you are completely distorting her record and who she is.

I don't expect this to be decided until the wee hours of the morning, and if Shanker wins then the first thing I will do on Wednesday is call him and volunteer. But Kirkpatrick is in no way a 'bigot,' what would you prefer? Sydney Hay?