It’s shaping up to be a brutal, bloody midterm election. Don’t look away – you’ll need this irreverent but informative overview to make sense of the carnage.
Traditionally, Arizona elections can be a little boring. Republican voters have dominated politics here for two generations, and the current congressional district maps – drawn in 2011 – lumped like-minded voters together, with a handful of exceptions.
But our tempestuous Trumpian era has brought us a vigorously anticipated election cycle in Arizona – possibly the most anticipated ever. Numerous national publications have pegged control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to the outcome of toss-up congressional races in the state.
The battleground for the 2018 midterms will be far-flung, from the rural high desert of Cochise County to suburbs of the West Valley, where a new breed of college-educated moderates made unprecedented gains in a longtime Republican stronghold during a special election last spring.
Look, we’re not saying Arizona has reached a tipping point. The notion has been suggested before, and it has generally – always? – fizzled out. We’re just saying that motivated constituents – and candidates – are punching hard, and in new places. So PHOENIX is here to guide you through the scrum. Put your helmet on.
The Main Event: U.S. Senate
U.S. Representative Martha “I’m Really Quite Right-Wing” McSally (R)
Previous Profession: Fighter pilot, “trained killer,” aide to Senator Jon Kyl
Fun Fact: Dogs are family to McSally, who was briefly married to a fellow Air Force serviceman, a coupling that was later annulled under mysterious circumstances. The confirmed bachelorette now spends a lot of time riding around in her pickup truck with her golden retriever, Boomer, going for hikes and planning infrastructure improvement projects for her Tucson district.
Strengths: Moderate Republican; strafed America’s enemies in an A-10, which is cool; has taken pretty much every position on divisive issues like immigration and gay rights
Weaknesses: Not energizing to social conservatives; has taken pretty much every position on divisive issues like immigration and gay rights
Key issues: She’s downright wonky about military policy and throws red meat to the base with border security talk
U.S. Representative Kyrsten “Aisle Cat” Sinema (D)
Previous Profession: Social worker, defense lawyer, state representative
Fun Fact: Sinema was raised Mormon and graduated from Brigham Young University before renouncing the faith and coming out as bisexual. Like McSally, she has competed in an Ironman triathlon.
Strengths: Blue Dog, moderate Democratic membership plays well to swing voters; bright and telegenic
Weaknesses: Credibility? She may have fibbed a little about having no running water and electricity while living in a gas station as a kid; the Green Party thing
Key issues: Health care and… her childhood?
It’s not often Arizona gets a new senator. Historically, the state’s two Senate seats turn over about once a generation. Things have gotten topsy-turvy in the Trump era, with #OnlySometimesTrump Republican Jeff Flake bailing after one term to avoid a bruising primary. Arizona will now get its first female senator, and either way it’s getting an unmarried woman who really likes dogs and runs triathlons. The question here is whether the state goes all in with Kyrsten Sinema, the first and only openly bisexual and nontheist member of Congress. Sinema is a former Naderite who has inched toward the center over the past decade but who would still be the most liberal candidate ever elected statewide in Arizona. In contrast, McSally is a “maverick” in the John McCain mold, having become the first woman to fly combat missions and then sue Donald Rumsfeld for the right to enjoy her time off a Saudi base without wearing the country’s traditional full-body covering. McSally has shown her willingness to buck the party, but she’s also shown a predilection for dodging tough questions by refusing to give answers on specific abortion law scenarios, U.S. involvement in Syria and civil rights issues of interest to lesbians and gays.
Congressional Election Cheat Sheet
Nine districts. Nine races. Not remotely equal in competitiveness or suspense. But in our chaotic political moment, we’re more reluctant than ever to label a race “uncompetitive.” Use this handy primer to decide for yourself.
War Chest Tracker
One clear indicator that Arizona’s congressional races are more competitive than they were two years ago: campaign money. In 2016, four of the major-party challengers ran with less than $20,000 in their respective war chests. This year, with one exception, they’re all above $90,000. Here’s a range of funds as of late September, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Hiral Tipirneni (D): $3,095,835
Ann Kirkpatrick (D): $1,949,696
Tom O’Halleran (D): $1,878,954
Greg Stanton (D): $1,722,196
Debbie Lesko (R): $1,482,148
Nick Pierson (R): $21,493
Joan Greene (D): $97,618
David Brill (D): $213,491
Paul Gosar (R): $422, 481
Wendy Rogers (R): $505,857
Spotlight: AZ District 1
This massive district wraps around the Valley like a creepy uncle hug, encompassing Casa Grande, Bisbee, the Navajo Nation and Flagstaff.
Status: Mildly Competitive
Tom “Narc!” O’Halleran (D)
Previous Profession: Chicago cop, investor, Republican state senator
Fun fact: O’Halleran once worked undercover as a hippie with “long hair and a long beard” to bust Chicago dope dealers.
Strengths: “Fiscally conservative former Republican” isn’t a bad handle in eastern Arizona; hard worker who capably services his sprawling district
Weaknesses: Past career as a narc is sure to jeopardize the biker vote
Key issues: Classic good government stuff like campaign finance reform and making Congress people work five days a week; education; protecting Social Security
Wendy “Poor Man’s Martha” Rogers (R)
Previous Profession: U.S. Air Force pilot, serial political candidate
Fun fact: Rogers infuriated the state’s Republican establishment by targeting her more moderate primary opponent with a brutal ad campaign that included his work for a shady modeling agency. It worked. She won the primary.
Strengths: Ain’t playing patty-cake; a die-hard Trumper who wants to build the wall and open investigations into Hillary Clinton and Loretta Lynch
Weaknesses: Trump won AZ-1 in 2016, but very narrowly; her “fake news” refrains and fiery rhetoric about the “unhinged and deranged” Democrats may not play well with more moderate midterm voters; carpetbagger
Key issues: BUILD THAT WALL! LOCK HER UP!
The insane size of Arizona’s 1st congressional district, which somehow includes Phoenix suburbs, Tucson suburbs, Flagstaff, the Navajo Nation and parts of the Arizona Strip, always makes elections here interesting. On one side, you have a moderate former Republican who vows to oppose extremism. On the other, you have a raging Trumpoholic who has been hopscotching the state for more than a decade seeking office – including an AZ-9 trouncing at the hands of Kyrsten Sinema in 2014. If that seems like a no-brainer for O’Halleran – who went to Washington in 2016 as the nation’s second-oldest freshman congressman – remember that he won the seat two years ago against Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose campaign was degraded by scandal. Say what you want about Rogers, but she’s not the former headmaster of a disgraced boys’ boarding school who shared shirtless selfies of herself on a gay dating website. We think.
Spotlight: AZ District 2
Split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans, this southeastern district encompasses half of Tucson, all of Tombstone and a great deal of Arizona wine country.
Ann “Hobo Annie” Kirkpatrick (D)
Previous Profession: City attorney, AZ-1 congresswoman, aspiring U.S. Senator
Fun fact: Kirkpatrick spent her youngest years on an Apache reservation, where her father ran the general store and her mother taught school.
Strengths: With 38 years of government service, knows how the sausage is made; early career in Tucson credible defense against “carpetbagger” label
Weaknesses: Could deserve the “serial candidate” label at this point; has run everywhere, at every level, with the “evolving” positions on key issues to match; once bragged that she had an A-rating from the NRA
Key issues: Health care and gun control
Lea “Agave Republican” Márquez Peterson (R)
Previous Profession: Owned gas stations, acted as a business consultant, serves as the CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Fun fact: Doesn’t use the T-word and says her run is about business… but her brief business career includes bankrupting a chain of gas stations and owing delinquent property taxes.
Strengths: A superlative networker with deep ties to her district’s business community; could mobilize Hispanic votes despite the “R” after her name
Weaknesses: Has had difficulty executing the political aikido of running as a conservative POC, such as supporting President Trump’s border wall while also supporting DACA
Key issues: Small business! Deregulation! Tax reform!
Republican Martha McSally is abdicating her AZ-2 seat to run for Senate, inviting another toss-up election in a district that narrowly went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Moneywise, it’s not close. Kirkpatrick, who represented Northern Arizona for three congressional terms before making a grab for John McCain’s Senate seat, has a huge, 2-1 fundraising advantage over first-time candidate Márquez Peterson, and more name recognition. But the district has already demonstrated its willingness to back a moderate, female Republican, and Kirkpatrick’s shopworn rep may prove her undoing.
AZ District 3
Arizona’s butte-shaped District 3 includes a few suburbs in the far West Valley, most of western Tucson and the state’s southwestern tier. It’s heavily Democratic and Latino.
Incumbent Raúl Grijalva (D) vs. Nick Pierson (R)
Overview: Another combative if not competitive race, Arizona’s third congressional district also made national news after Grijalva was insulted as “not a good example of a Mexican” by Pierson, a financial adviser who is also of Mexican descent. Pierson has also called his opponent a drunkard and railed at him for the condition of Tucson sidewalks, which is not a federal issue.
AZ District 4
An expansive district that includes a few rural areas in the Phoenix exurbs and the northwest corner of the state, District 5 went 68 percent for Trump in 2016 and is one of the most conservative congressional districts outside Appalachia and the Deep South.
Incumbent Paul Gosar (R) vs. Dr. David Brill (D)
Overview: It’s very unlikely that Paul Gosar will lose this race, but it sure has been a slobberknocker. Opponent Dr. David Brill made national headlines by tapping six of Gosar’s siblings to trash him in a television ad. Gosar, who is known for his extremist rhetoric, including giving a speech to a notorious British anti-Muslim group, reacted by saying “Stalin would be proud” of his own brothers and sisters.
AZ District 5
AZ-5 is one of the few districts that makes sense on a map, including southeast Valley communities that have a lot in common, such as Queen Creek and east Mesa.
Incumbent Andy Biggs (R) vs. Joan Greene (D)
Overview: Virulent pro-Trump and anti-gay Mormon Representative Andy Biggs draws a challenge from lesbian businesswoman Joan Greene, who is running on a populist platform of single-payer health care and debt-free public college. Yeah, good luck with that. This is a reliably conservative district unlikely to be affected by the general trend toward more competitive suburban districts in the age of Trump.
AZ District 6
Arizona’s ritziest areas are wrapped into District 6, which includes Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Cave Creek, Fountain Hills and a touch of Tempe. Democrats are the Jamaican bobsledding team of AZ-6.
Status: Feasibly competitive
Incumbent David Schweikert (R) vs. Anita Malik (D)
Overview: Moderate pro-business Democrat Anita Malik, the daughter of Indian immigrants, is challenging David Schweikert, whose primary issue this cycle has been getting death threats, and complaining to media about how Democrats are working to “dehumanize” him. While affluent, highly educated suburban districts have generally seen defections from the Republican party, Hillary Clinton could only get 42 percent of the vote here in 2016, suggesting Schweikert is safe.
AZ District 7
This Central Phoenix district sits at the nexus of Democratic political power in Arizona.
Incumbent Ruben Gallego (D) vs. nada
Overview: Ruben Gallego isn’t even 40 yet, and he’s got this seat in Congress as long as he wants it. Republicans aren’t bothering to oppose him this round, and Gallego crushed his opponent in the primary. The fiery Gallego is “No on Nancy” for speaker, and may make a bid for a leadership role in the House.
AZ District 8
Stretching from Litchfield Park to New River, this West Valley/North Valley district is smack-dab in the GOP’s wheelhouse.
Status: Slightly competitive
Incumbent Debbie Lesko (R) vs. Hiral Tipirneni (D)
Overview: Trump-endorsed Debbie Lesko paid her dues for a decade in the statehouse before rising with the resignation of alleged sexual harasser Trent Franks. She’s now in a bitter fight with Hiral Tipirneni, the Indian-born doctor who she narrowly defeated (5 points) in the April special election, with the two sparring over Trump’s treatment of women and Lesko’s steadfast support of the Brett Kavanaugh nomination.
Spotlight: AZ District 9
Comprising pieces of Tempe and Scottsdale along with North-Central Phoenix, this district splits roughly 50-50 between registered Republican and Democratic voters.
Status: Slightly competitive
Mayor Greg “Can I Keep the City Car?” Stanton (D)
Previous Profession: Hizzoner the Mayor; prosecutor
Fun Fact: Stanton is a wonky urban-renewal guy from a blue-collar background – his dad was a shoe salesman at Ye Olde Christown Spectrum Mall.
Strengths: Moderate Democrat with extensive political experience; running in a newly formed district (2010) that has never elected a Republican; good hair
Weaknesses: Possibly a tad milquetoast; decade of city politics in sheltered nonpartisan environment left precious little policy paper trail
Key issues: Stanton is a new-urbanist type who’ll seek federal funding for light rail, bike trails and clean energy type stuff
Dr. Steve “Old Sea Dog” Ferrara (R)
Previous Profession: Golf course maintenance boy, Navy doctor
Fun Fact: Ferrara has a very active Twitter account but, as far as we can tell, has never tweeted a single word about fellow Republican Donald Trump. Sad!
Strengths: A straightlaced conservative veteran with a long track record of service; running in a district that’s actually a little more red than blue… call it “magenta”
Weaknesses: Not exactly Tab Hunter; a tad awkward in manner; obsessed with military issues in a decidedly suburban district and peppers all communications with military jargon
Key issues: Ferrara’s campaign materials give the impression that he is applying to run the local U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Veteran Phoenix politician Greg Stanton faces off against Navy veteran Steve Ferrara to claim Kyrsten Sinema’s seat representing Tempe, the tony mountainside neighborhoods of Phoenix and the western East Valley. Despite the party affiliation numbers, Hillary Clinton won this district by 17 points and Ferrara doesn’t have much name recognition, which suggests this race may be a bloodbath.
Arizona Statewide Elections
It’s a midterm, folks, which means all of the most plumb state-level offices are in play.
Doug “Yay, Teachers!” Ducey (R)
Previous Profession: CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, state treasurer
Fun fact: In keeping with a long and proud Arizona tradition, Ducey has loose ties to the mob, coming from a family that ran gambling and loan-sharking in Toledo, Ohio, according to a 2014 Phoenix New Times report.
Strengths: Governing during boom economy; has done exactly what he promised to do
Key issues: Plucking companies from other states; busting labor unions; the opioid epidemic
David “Couldn’t Beat Diane Douglas” Garcia (D)
Previous Profession: Army infantryman, college professor
Fun fact: Garcia’s family has been in the U.S. for four generations and he only learned to speak Spanish as an adult.
Strengths: Charismatic campaigner; minority heritage may stir new voters
Weaknesses: Bernie Sanders-style progressive in a state where that doesn’t play; no winning track record in state elections; PR gaffes aplenty
Key issues: Education and education funding; Garcia has a Ph.D. in education and narrowly lost the 2016 race to run the state’s schools
Across the country, a handful of races are playing out in red states between Bernie-style progressives and Trumpian conservatives. Florida’s gubernatorial race is the most-watched, but don’t sleep on Ducey vs. Garcia. As this issue went to press, the two most recent polls showed Ducey with a 1- and 3-point lead – both within the margin of error – as the election plays out in the wake of the state’s #RedForEd teacher walkout. With a 4-to-1 fundraising advantage, Ducey is using TV ads to paint his opponent as an ultra-liberal doctrinaire. Garcia hasn’t exactly made it difficult, issuing a statement in which he talked of “replacing ICE” last July. No DINO, he.
Secretary of State
Steve “Call Me Rose Mofford” Gaynor (R)
Previous Profession: California millionaire printer
Fun fact: Gaynor brags of making his fortune by selling off several printing plants just a few days before the 2007 financial crisis began.
Strengths: The money! Also: He’s not Michele Reagan, the embattled Republican incumbent he trounced in the primary
Weaknesses: Shaky ties to Arizona; murky motivations for wanting to be our chief election organizer; extreme nationalistic and Israel-focused view seem out of step with the office
Key issues: “Election integrity”; not printing ballots in languages other than English; being governor?
Katie “Just Makin’ Copies” Hobbs (D)
Previous Profession: Social worker, state representative, state senator
Fun fact: Is a Handmaid’s Tale fan, evidently. Has a sign in her office that reads “Illegitimi non Carborundum” (a pseudo-Latin aphorism for “Don’t let the bastards get you down”).
Strengths: Legislative work on rape kit backlogs, anti-bullying and LGBTQ rights connects with base; respected lawmaker who’s “put her time in”
Weaknesses: Not Republican; no Sinema-style narrative hook
Key issues: Fixing our election processes; also being governor?
According to multiple media reports, Arizona Republican power players recruited political novice Steve Gaynor to run for Secretary of State after Reagan presided over a series of election debacles. He’s a conservative Trumpist who has given vast sums to Republican candidates – and a few bucks to Democrats who forcefully support Israel. He’s running on a platform of English-only ballots and on the idea that his business experience will translate to government. His opponent, Katie Hobbs, is a mild-mannered bureaucrat who wants to fix the state’s elections system. But that’s just the boilerplate. Since Arizona has no lieutenant governor, the secretary of state is first in line to assume command in the event the sitting governor leaves office (which has happened four times in the last 40 years). Hence, Gaynor’s inexplicable interest in a job that, by all appearances, is quite dull.
Mark “The Vowel” Brnovich (R)
Previous Profession: National Guardsman, lawyer, Goldwater Institute wonk, head of the Arizona Department of Gaming
Fun fact: Brnovich is a Deadhead who compares himself to Jerry Garcia with alarming frequency. He is also a big fan of Kid Rock.
Strengths: No big-business lackey; has won a lot of money for the state in lawsuits against corrupt corporations and, uh, the state
Weaknesses: Suing the Arizona Board of Regents twice over tuition costs made him some enemies; has rejected the catchphrase “You just got Brned” despite our repeated entreaties
Key issues: Reducing higher education costs by enforcing the “nearly free as possible” Constitutional provision; finishing off Obamacare
January “How’s Janet These Days?” Contreras (D)
Previous Profession: Prosecutor, aide to Janet Napolitano, Obama administration official
Fun fact: She’s not quite the music buff Brnovich is, but she is a big fan of Pink.
Strengths: Wants to protect Obamacare, as do most Arizonans, polls show; diverse CV includes a stint with Homeland Security; well-connected despite her low pre-election profile
Weaknesses: Untested; has never been elected to any office before, let alone statewide; running against an opponent who is not widely perceived as partisan
Key issues: Protecting Obamacare; driver’s licenses to DREAMers
Republican incumbent Mark Brnovich has done a lot to help the little guy, suing corporations like Volkswagen and Theranos to win large settlements for taxpayers and taking on the state university system to get costs under control. He’s also waded into highly partisan issues like DACA and Obamacare. He faces a Democrat who has been a prosecutor and Beltway insider in an election cycle most pundits see as dangerous to Republicans.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Frank “The Douglas Slayer” Riggs (R)
Previous Profession: Military cop, sheriff’s deputy, real estate developer, U.S. Congressman from California, charter school operator
Fun fact: Riggs was in Congress back in the late ’80s and early ’90s and was one of a tiny handful of Republicans to vote against the first Gulf War.
Strengths: Knows a lot about charter schools; was an early advocate back in the ’80s and later ran a profitable chain of them in Arizona
Weaknesses: The job involves managing the state’s public school system, and Riggs is not really that into the public school system
Key issues: Hiring more teachers; cracking down on charter school profiteering
Kathy “Nap Time, Children” Hoffman (D)
Previous Profession: Teacher and school speech therapist
Fun fact: She may be a political novice, but Hoffman played hardball in her primary against former Arizona lawmaker David Schapira, getting two former employees of Schapira to anonymously call him a bully in a TV ad.
Strengths: The being-a-teacher thing
Weaknesses: No management experience, let alone a bureaucracy with 700 employees.
Key issues: Expanding the state’s pre-K and kindergarten offerings; better special education programs
Does anybody respect lame-duck Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas? Her first act after getting bounced by former Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Riggs in the primary: tapping an avowed creationist to re-author Arizona’s evolution curriculum. Regardless of who succeeds her, Arizona schoolchildren are unlikely to learn that Jesus played with dinosaurs for much longer. Riggs is a social moderate who says he wants to help public schools. Kathy Hoffman is a teacher who was energized by the #RedForEd movement and took on a veteran politician, getting tough with her Democratic opponent by saying that “countless” women had called him a bully, without any of them being named.
Know your various state ballot measures, initiatives and referendums this November 6.
Will allow for adjustments to the Elected Officials’ Retirement Plan and Corrections Officer Retirement Plan.
We Say: Pensions are out of control, yo. But thank you for your service.
Prohibits the government from increasing taxes on services. Funded by a realtor-aligned PAC.
We Say: Sorry, home-pimps. Pay up. And we’ll continue spelling “realtors” with a lower-case “r,” thank you very much
Requires 50 percent of energy to come from renewable resources by 2030.
We Say: Meh. Let’s just make Palo Verde bigger.
Expands Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, so wealthy families can get a kickback after enrolling Junior at Brophy.
We Say: Sure, sounds like a spectacular use of our limited education dollars. Want a backrub, too?