Hey, did you hear? It’s a presidential election year. Hot tempers. Big turnouts. Not one, but two QAnon candidates. You’ll need this guide to navigate the nuttiness.
Arizona elections used to be boring. Whew, those were the days.
Shifting demographics and voter preferences in our tempestuous Trumpian era have delivered to us the most vigorously contested election cycle in Arizona history. Numerous national publications have pegged control of the U.S. Senate – and, possibly, the Supreme Court – to the increasingly close battle between Senator Martha McSally and well-known challenger Mark Kelly.
Meanwhile, Republicans are piling sandbags in the Northeast Valley, where Democrats hope a new breed of college-educated moderates will flip a longtime GOP stronghold. But who’s to say it won’t be Republicans who gain a seat in Congress, behind a rural candidate with a Juris Doctor degree down in Eloy?
The same battles are playing out in miniature in the Arizona State Legislature, where Republicans have dominated for two generations but face the remote but real possibility of losing majorities in both chambers for the first time since 1966. It’s a fascinating mess, but PHOENIX is here to guide you through it.
The Main Event:
Martha “You the man, Doug!” McSally (R)
Previous Profession: Congressbeing, Warthog pilot, aide to Senator John Kyl
Fun Fact: Though she failed to make history as Arizona’s first female U.S. Senator, McSally ended up serving alongside the woman who did, Kyrsten Sinema, when Governor Doug Ducey appointed her to fill John McCain’s empty seat in early 2019 – the first time victor and vanquished had ever served their first Senate terms simultaneously.
Strengths: Military discipline; ran the numbers and fell in line behind President Donald Trump, stabilizing her base; a one-time moderate, has learned to say phrases like “liberal hack” without irony
Weaknesses: Social conservatives still seem “meh” about the confirmed bachelorette; polls
Key Issues: Confirming Amy Coney Barrett; fighting far-left extremism; COVID-19 relief; those gosh-darn Chinese
Mark “Mr. Giffords” Kelly (D)
Previous Profession: Naval aviator, space-bus pilot, author of badly illustrated children’s books
Fun Fact: Kelly is slightly shorter than his identical twin brother, Scott, but is a bigger star, having introduced U2’s performance of “Beautiful Day” at the 2011 Glastonbury festival in England from the International Space Station, via satellite.
Strengths: Can pull 5 Gs in a ballistic displacement roll, no sweat; lack of any meaningful political history means there’s less material out there to smear him with
Weaknesses: Never ran for office before, so can’t really deflect the “lack of experience” parvenu criticism; sort of the AOC of wealthy, bald, middle-age astronauts
Key Issues: Public education; the environment; space exploration… and gun control, presumably?
Here’s an interesting alternative history: Following her Senate appointment in 2019, McSally – instead of performing like the grateful recipient of political fatwa that she was – goes maverick. Calls Trump out a few times. Conspicuously undermines him on one or two key issues while voting with him fairly consistently, much like her predecessor. Becomes a fly in his orange-skin ointment. Could she have synthesized some of the old McCain ronin-samurai appeal? Maybe, maybe not, but her campaign has been scrambling like an exhausted Welsh corgi to close the polling gap between her and Kelly (5.2 points as this issue went to press) since the latter entered the race, and her main attack-ad gripe – that the former astronaut profited off tax breaks in Tucson granted to his space-balloon company – is sticking like a Teflon pastie. At this point, her best bet might be to rally social conservatives around the nightmare scenario that Kelly could get seated in November and scuttle Barrett’s SCOTUS nomination, along with the righteous dream of denying abortion access to a nation that overwhelmingly favors it. Whether it be Kelly or McSally, the victor will not enjoy the usual senatorial job security – he or she will have to do it all over again in 2022, when McCain’s original term expires.
Congressional Elections Cheat Sheet
Nine districts. Nine races. Some interesting, some not remotely so.
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.
Congressional districts by color
War Chest Tracker
One way of tracking the competitiveness of Arizona’s congressional districts: campaign money. And the money tells us House races have actually become less competitive over the last four years, as the two parties solidify their hold over districts, and well-funded challengers become rare. Here’s a range of total funds as of mid-July, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Hiral Tipirneni (D): $2,466,261
Tom O’Halleran (D): $2,049,676
Ann Kirkpatrick (D): $1,446,551
Ruben Gallego (D): $1,377,794
Greg Stanton (D): $1,368,4616
Dave Giles (R): $89,749
Joan Greene (D): $88,968
Delina DiSanto (D): $57,850
Josh Barnett (R): $11,047
Daniel Wood (R): $6,155
AZ District 1
This massive rural district gobbles up almost half of Arizona’s land mass, encompassing the Navajo Nation, Flagstaff, Globe and even parts of Ahwatukee.
Tom “Not wearing a wire” O’Halleran (D)
Previous Profession: Chicago narc cop, bond trader, Republican state senator
Fun fact: Debuted in Washington as the nation’s second-oldest freshman congressman in 2016.
Strengths: Work ethic; has missed only 1.4 percent of House roll call votes since taking office; member of the centrist Blue Dog coalition, which isn’t a bad look for a Democrat in rural Arizona
Weaknesses: Blue Dog or no, he’s still a non-Republican in a district where the GOP has a 2-point advantage in registered voters.
Key issues: Lunch-pail government stuff like getting Navajo schoolkids Wi-Fi and enforcing a five-day workweek in the House; protecting Social Security
Tiffany “Farmersonly.com” Shedd (R)
Previous Profession: Cotton farmer, country barrister, kindergarten teacher
Fun fact: Got a scare, sort of, early in the primary when ex-D-backs pitcher Curt Schilling put out a Tweet saying he intended to run in CD-1 as a Republican. Shedd pointed out that Schilling lives on the East Coast and nothing came of it.
Strengths: Cool pedigree as a lawyer and fourth-generation rancher; massively more appealing than Wendy Rogers, who lost to O’Halleran in 2018; is bilingual
Weaknesses: Cognitive dissonance? Her website at once trumpets her support of Social Security and vaguely decries “the dangerous socialist agenda that threatens our way of life.”
Key issues: Border security; infrastructure; cuttin’ red tape
MODERATION RULES THE DAY in CD-1, an insanely large district that somehow includes Phoenix suburbs, Tucson suburbs, Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation. We saw what happened when a raging Trumpoholic (Rogers) tried to lasso this beast – a 10-point drubbing. Thus, Shedd’s challenge as a first-time candidate is to throw occasional pro-Trump morsels to the base without seeming too in the bag for the guy, mainly by mixing progressive dog whistles into her messaging (e.g. heavily emphasizing the fact her husband and children are members of an Indian tribe in Oklahoma). Meanwhile, O’Halleran is a former Republican who fended off a stronger-than-expected primary challenge from a far-left Czech émigré (thanks for nothing, Flagstaff!) and votes in a way that rarely rankles Republicans. According to govtrack.us, he is exactly the ninth most-conservative Democratic House member.
AZ District 2
Split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, this southeastern district encompasses half of Tucson, all of Tombstone and a great deal of Arizona wine country.
Status: Sorta Competitive
Ann “Forever Home” Kirkpatrick (D)
Previous Profession: City attorney, AZ-1 congresswoman, aspiring U.S. Senator
Fun fact: Though the centrist lawmaker now supports some gun control measures, she once boasted that she received an A-rating from the NRA.
Strengths: Savvy veteran lawmaker with 40 years of government service; has a new “survivor” narrative after undergoing treatment for alcoholism last winter
Weaknesses: Has an erratic CV; she’s run everywhere, at every level, with “evolving” positions to match; labeled “Absent Ann” by her opponent for high number of missed votes
Key issues: Immigration reform; affordable college; feeding pork to Fort Huachuca and Davis-Monthan
Brandon “1-800-Express” Martin (R)
Previous Profession: Youth football coach, flooring professional, U.S. Army instructor
Fun fact: War veteran who likes gun metaphors; asked donors to “load [him] up” with the “ammunition” he needed to “set his sights” on Kirkpatrick’s seat
Strengths: No ambiguity! He’s a Trump-hugging absolutist who wants to eliminate the Department of Education and use the military to control the border.
Weaknesses: Not exactly a new Thomas Jefferson; listed “U.S. Military” as his education on a 2018 voter guide and has limited capacity as a communicator; poor fundraiser
Key issues: Whittling government down to a nub; killing Social Security; going Sicario on the cartels
Martin’s candidacy is the clearest sign yet that Republican leadership has thrown in the towel on this theoretically competitive district. The sometime-substitute teacher ran in 2018 and was trounced in the primary by businesswoman Lea Márquez Peterson, who outraised him 20-1. With that sparkling nugget on his résumé, he is now the Republican candidate, with a mere $33,000 cash-in-hand rounding the turn against the entrenched but vulnerable Kirkpatrick. Styling himself as a sort of pro-military Rand Paul, Martin says the 15 months he spent in Afghanistan as an enlisted intelligence operator makes him “the perfect candidate” to take on the nation’s border crisis. Evidently, the military is the only thing he wants to spend money on: He criticized bipartisan COVID relief bills, and wants to eliminate Social Security – stances that may give him a puncher’s chance in a district where off-the-grid “patriots” and upper-middle-class Tucsonan liberals exist in roughly equal numbers.
AZ District 3
The 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.
Raúl Grijalva (D)
Daniel Wood (R)
Overview: Running for his 10th consecutive term, former college radical Grijalva is so entrenched in this Latino-dominant district that he could probably drink on the job and get slapped with an ethics probe and still win. (Oh, wait… that actually happened.) Wood, meanwhile, is one of the two dopes running for Congress in Arizona this year who has openly embraced QAnon conspiracy theories. Here’s your 15 minutes, bub. Enjoy.
AZ District 4
CD-4 encompasses the entire Arizona riviera from Yuma to Lake Mead, then stretches across Prescott and Payson to wrap around the Valley like a creepy uncle hug.
Paul Gosar (R)
Delina DiSanto (D)
Overview: Representing one of the most conservative districts outside Appalachia and the Deep South, Gosar is a lock for reelection, especially since his opponent – retired Cave Creek nurse DiSanto – was unable to recruit six of his siblings to trash him in a television ad, à la 2018. Absent that, Gosar has still found resourceful new ways to embarrass himself and constituents (fake photo Tweets, Kenosha shooter, etc.).
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.
Andy Biggs (R)
Joan Greene (D)
Overview: They should take this show on the road. For the second consecutive cycle, longshot LGBTQ+ businesswoman Joan Greene takes on pro-Trump Mormon incumbent Andy Biggs in an arch-conservative district that was simply not drawn for her. Running on a populist platform of single-payer health care and debt-free public college, Greene is so avant-garde in CD-5 that she could conceivably qualify for government arts funding.
AZ District 6
Arizona’s ritziest ZIPs are wrapped into CD-6, which includes Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and Cave Creek. Democrats are the Jamaican bobsledding team of this district.
David “Put it on the card” Schweikert (R)
Previous Profession: Real estate agent, state lawmaker, tax referee
Fun fact: After losing his first run at Congress in 1994, the then-32-year-old soulfully toured Southeast Asia, India and Europe.
Strengths: He’s white and Republican in a district that mostly is, too; willing to crawl into the weeds on regulatory issues that put lesser men to sleep.
Weaknesses: Book-keeping, ironically; was the target of a two-year House ethics probe over misuse of funds and staff
Key issues: Lower taxes! More guns! Fewer probes!
Hiral “Plug and Play” TipiRneni (D)
Previous Profession: ER surgeon, human Hail Mary pass
Fun fact: Doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. (You’re really making us work here, doc.)
Strengths: Smooth and telegenic; campaign $$$$$; knows how to thread the policy needle in a GOP-leaning district, e.g. conceding the need for “strong borders” and 2A rights
Weaknesses: Already ran in a GOP-leaning district, and lost twice; and doesn’t she live in Glendale?
Key issues: Protecting Obamacare while “fixing its flaws”; tax reform; retirement security!
In october, A public policy polling survey showed Tipirneni trailing Schweikert by only 2 points – a sign the congressman’s ethics reprimand in the House may be a bigger liability than Tipirneni’s dubious CD-6 bona fides. Tapped for stardom after coming within 5 points of dethroning Debbie Lesko in the 2018 CD-5 special election, the physician was beaten more soundly by Lesko the following November. Then something special happened: Though a West Valleyian on the outside, Tipirneni realized she was a Scottsdalian on the inside. Instead of challenging Lesko again, she simply transported her political consciousness across the I-17 to make a play for Schweikert’s seat, using superior funding to muscle past her primary opponents. Even if we accept the implication that suburban voters in Peoria and Grayhawk are essentially the same, it seems a tad opportunistic. So, CD-6 voters: the swamp creature or the carpetbagger? Pick your poison.
AZ District 7
Controlled by the Dems, this Central Phoenix district is where GOP fringe candidates do their thing.
Ruben Gallego (D)
Josh Barnett (R)
Overview: It’s always interesting to see what kind of odd political creature rises up unopposed through the Republican primary in this blandly Dem-dominated Downtown district. A few years ago it was a lady with a bizarre designer hat collection. This year, it’s Barnett, a QAnon-spouting gym owner. HGH is a helluva drug.
AZ District 8
Stretching from the I-10 to New River, this West Valley/North Valley district is GOP territory.
Status: Slightly Competitive
Debbie Lesko (R)
Michael Muscato (D)
Overview: Like candidate Barnett in CD-7, Muscato is a gym owner (is it something in the water?) with very little chance of unseating a popular incumbent. But unlike Barnett, he had to fight his way through the primary and has tailored his message to a multi-partisan audience. Still, it’s the West Valley, Mike. Fuhgettaboutit.
AZ District 9
Based in North-Central Phoenix and Arcadia, this urban district was drawn to be competitive but has voted solidly Democrat.
Status: Slightly Competitive
Greg Stanton (D)
Dave Giles (R)
Overview: Four years after getting trounced by now-U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema in CD-9, former energy executive Giles is back for a do-over, in a district that feels conceded by Republican leadership. Stanton, meanwhile, is still a popular ex-Phoenix mayor with a solidly centrist voting record – albeit one who’s legislatively inert, drawing the third-lowest “leadership” score among House Dems from govtrack.us.
Other Interesting City and County Races
Libertarians, Freemasons and Disc Jockeys
Overview: ICYMI… in addition to the congressional elections, the nation’s fifth largest city will be electing its chief executive on November 3. Don’t fret: It’s a non-event. Officially nonpartisan, the city’s mayoral elections heavily favor incumbents, and it’s not like any of Mayor Kate Gallego’s opponents – libertarian Merissa Hamilton, freemason Tim Seay, martial arts teacher Juan Schoville and 98.3 FM DJ Joshua “Crisco Kid” Carmona – have a snowball’s chance, anyway.
Overview: Borowsky is not a real estate agent, but the Scottsdale attorney takes a picture like one – and she’s plastered that photo on every street intersection from Thomas Road to the 202 in the hopes of succeeding termed-out Jim Lane as mayor of the sprawling East Valley city. She faces architect David Ortega. The main issue facing them in the nonpartisan election: growth. Borowsky favors it, but Ortega – as a former mayoral candidate who originally opposed the massively popular McDowell Sonoran Preserve before its inception in 2004 – maybe favors it a little more. And remember: Mayorships are for closers.
Maricopa County Sheriff
Paul Penzone (D)
Jerry Sheridan (R)
Overview: This race doesn’t get nearly as much ink as it did a decade ago – but that’s what happens when you have an incumbent who actually seems focused on the job, instead of juicing said job for headlines and cultish approbation. Speaking of Sheriff Joe Arpaio: He actually made it close (6,000 votes!) in the primary against eventual Republican nominee Sheridan. Penzone, meanwhile, has managed to navigate the recent social justice upheaval without any fatal PR missteps.
Maricopa County Attorney
Allister Adel (R)
Julie Gunnigle (D)
Overview: Voters are set to elect the first woman as Maricopa County’s top prosecutor, when appointee Adel faces off against Gunnigle, who previously served as an assistant state’s attorney in Illinois. Adel’s spin team has dubbed the race “The Reformer vs. The Radical,” but that seems a touch dramatic. Both have pledged to lighten up on low-level drug offenders. Where they differ: bail bonds (Gunnigle doesn’t like them). Adel seems like a lock here – in Maricopa, even Dems err on the side of law-and-order.
The AZ leg might seem like the minor leagues of lawmaking – filled as it is with young prospects and fading journeymen – but it’s important to remember that our 90 senators and representatives wield considerable power, particularly with congressional remapping on the horizon. Republicans currently control both houses. Democrats want to flip both. Here are three races that will help decide the outcome.
J.D. Mesnard (R) vs. Ajlan Kurdoglu (D)
Sean Bowie flipped neighboring LD-18 for the Dems four years ago. Can Turkish-American businessman Kurdoglu continue the trend in Chandler against the former House speaker?
Anthony Kern (R)/Shawnna Bolick (R) vs. Judy Schwiebert (D)
In 2018, Kern and Bolick narrowly held off two Democratic challengers in North Phoenix. Now former teacher Schwiebert is trying to expel one of them.
Wendy Rogers (R) vs. Felicia French (D)
Pivotal Flagstaff-area race pits right-wing usurper Rogers (see below) against fellow U.S. military vet French. Will the GOP get hoisted on its own Rogers petard?
Destined for The Show?
These Arizona legislators have the smarts and pedigrees to run for Congress or statewide office.
Kate Brophy McGee (R)
State Senator LD-28
If Greg Stanton ever gives up his stranglehold on North-Central Phoenix (governor in 2022?), the one-time homemaker is the right kind of Republican to represent it in Congress: moderate and polished.
Sean Bowie (D)
State Senator LD-18
If redistricting splits the East Valley, the Ahwatukee Democrat and ASU prof would be a logical choice to run for Congress in 2022, representing its less-red western extremis.
T.J. Shope (R)
Congressional redistricting in 2022 will presumably shake up the state’s rural seats, and the current House speaker (representing Pinal County) could be there to pounce.
Athena Salman (D)
Young and unabashedly liberal, the Mexican-German-Palestinian community organizer became the House’s social justice mouthpiece this summer. Will term out in 2022… precisely when Arizona gets its 10th congressional seat.
A Brief History of Wendy Rogers
In her 12-plus years of futilely seeking public office, the former Air Force pilot has jumped around the state more than a propane salesman. North Phoenix, Tempe, Coconino County… um, Yuma? Will the sixth time be the charm for our most serious of serial candidates?
2010: AZ Senate LD-6
In her maiden effort, Rogers loses by 2,000 votes to represent Chandler in the state senate. On the bright side, she finishes well ahead of Green Party candidate Grand Pa Goshon. Encouraging!
2012: U.S. House CD-9
In true Air Force fashion, Rogers rebuffs failure by simply aiming her sights higher: Washington, D.C. Alas, another near-miss, this time to PV Mayor Vernon Parker in the GOP primary.
2014: U.S. House CD-9
Again running in CD-9, Rogers wins the primary but runs into a bisexual block wall in future Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who trounces her in the general.
2016: U.S. House CD-1
Back to the drawing board! Despite living full time in Tempe, Rogers elects to represent Flagstaffians and Apaches in CD-1, evidently purchasing a mobile home in Flag to make it kosher. Loses in the primary.
2018: U.S. House CD-1
Her bona fides as a Coconino County homegirl now firm as oak, Rogers wins the primary but loses to Democratic incumbent Tom O’Halleran, despite running as a Trumpist in a district won by Trump.
2020: AZ Senate LD-6
Maybe aim lower? Despite being derided as “vicious” by fellow Republicans, Rogers amasses $550,000 – an unheard of amount for a state legislature seat – and dethrones militant house-marm Sylvia Allen in the primary.
Facts to Remember
State legislators are limited to four consecutive two-year terms in both the Arizona Senate and the House – thus, the most any lawmaker can serve continuously in either chamber is eight years.
Going into the November election, Republicans hold a 31-29 advantage in the House and a 17-13 advantage in the Senate.
Senate and House districts are drawn identically; each district elects one senator and two representatives.