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Democratic Shift: Arizona Turns to New Leadership in Historic Congressional Campaign

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With a 9-point Democratic voter edge in the newly redrawn District 1, an extraordinary alliance of resurgent Arizona Democratic Party leaders and rural, Latino, Native American and environmental groups has placed Navajo attorney Wenona Benally Baldenegro's historic Congressional campaign into the national spotlight as a bellwether in the state's new politics.

Since incumbent U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar's (R-AZ) decision to run in neighboring District 4 last month, bipartisan support for the Harvard-trained public interest advocate's bid to become the first Native American woman in Congress has surged across the vast rural district, which includes Flagstaff and 10 Native American tribes, historic labor towns and an estimated 40 percent Native/Latino electorate. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has placed District 1 in its Red-to-Blue program.

In a line: Galvanized by Benally Baldenegro's bold campaign to reinvigorate the Democratic base among her rural and main street towns, Arizona Democrats and Independents are jumping ship from one-time conservative Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick's largely out-of-state-supported attempt to revive her disastrous 2010 campaign, which turned away record numbers of voters. As a defiant supporter of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, environmental rollbacks, and her lagging support for workplace safety and Latino and Native American concerns, Kirkpatrick lost 44 percent of her one-time supporters in 2010.

"Ann lost me and lost her base when she consistently obstructed or went AWOL on core Democratic party positions," said Flagstaff attorney Mik Jordahl. "It doesn't help to have a "D" after your name if you consistently vote against core Democratic Party positions. It's so exciting to finally have a candidate in Wenona who stands up for core Democratic valves and doesn't cave into the Republican Lite wing of the Democratic party."

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Arizona Congressional District Map, Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

As the Tea Party-led state legislature in Arizona unveils their Wisconsin-copycat assault on public unions this session, Benally Baldenegro's defense of labor rights and workplace safety has also won the surprise endorsement of the United Steelworkers of America, the largest union in District 1, as well as the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees #449 in the district's southern ranks in Pima County. The United Steelworkers singled out Benally Baldenegro, who was raised in the mining town of Kayenta, on the Navajo Nation and has worked in the public policy sector for sustainable job creation and small business development in rural areas, for her "commitment to fight for working families."

While Kirkpatrick's early candidacy and prior Capitol Hill connections picked up support from some major funders last summer, including Emily's List, growing numbers of Democratic party leaders and women advocates are calling on Beltway organizations to reconsider their premature endorsements and donations, and recognize Benally Baldenegro's more representative base of supporters and commitment to Democratic values.

"I'm supporting Wenona because she's a smart and dynamic woman and will serve the district well," said Arizona state Rep. Sally Gonzales, one of numerous state legislators backing Benally Baldenegro. "I think as a young woman she can motivate the masses of young people and can make a difference in the upcoming election. As the first Native American woman to serve in the state legislature I strongly support the need for more people of color in all areas of government representation."

Along with the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and the prized support of Arizona's U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, and the local, state and national Progressive Democrats of America, Benally Baldenegro has won the support of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Tohono O'odham Nation, Tulalip Tribes of Washington, San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, and Johnny Naize, Navajo Nation Speaker of the Council and Ben Nuvamsa, the former Hopi Tribe Chairman.

"I voted for Ann Kirkpatrick in 2008 and 2010," said Cheryl Bader, a Democratic Party activist in Flagstaff. "While many of Ann's votes while she was in Congress reflect the values of the Democratic voters in this district, some did not and they are troubling. Kirkpatrick was one of a few Democrats who joined Republicans early on to ask Nancy Pelosi to extend the Bush tax cuts for the very rich. Had she supported the majority of Democrats and Nancy Pelosi who were calling for a fair tax structure, we might have seen a different result in that fight. We have an alternative here in Arizona's CD1 and that's Wenona Benally Baldenegro. She will fight for us without compromise. Wenona will excite the voters who stayed home in 2010. She gets my vote!"

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