Social media was on fire yesterday, as Arizona Democratic candidates and their surrogates battled it out on Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail blasts.
Although Arizona voters have had nearly a month to complete early mail-in ballots, August 28 is primary election day, and there are several hotly contested Democratic primary races between Blue Dogs and progressives. Some common themes run through these races, most notably the environment, the economy, campaign financing, and women's issues. In addition, some Latino groups are using support for two controversial laws as a litmus test -- SB1070, the "papers please" anti-immigrant law, and HB2281, the law targeting Mexican American Studies (MAS).
Congressional District 1 is a sprawling, mostly rural district that is larger than many states. Former one-term Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, who was swept into office with the president in 2008 and swept out with the Tea Party Revolution in 2010, is attempting to make a comeback. Her primary challenger is political newcomer Wenona Benally Baldenegro. Both women are lawyers who live in Flagstaff, Arizona, but that's where the similarities end. Kirkpartrick is a Blue Dog Democrat with hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate donations, union donations, and support from groups including Emily's List. Kirkpatrick, a strong supporter of mining, is seen as the establishment candidate. Benally Baldenegro, a Navajo backed by the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), is attempting to become the first Native American woman in Congress. Her shoestring campaign has focused on progressive values, particularly opposition to mining expansion and fighting against dirty coal. In an e-mail campaign, Benally Baldenegro has tried to tie Kirkpatrick to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Corrections Corporation of Amercia. Benally Baldenegro's financing has come primarily from small personal donations, plus some union and tribal backing.
Congressional District 2 is the newly redefined district of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who retired from Congress after having been shot in January 2011 in a mass shooting in suburban Tucson. Former Giffords aide Ron Barber won a special election in 2012 to take Giffords' seat. He now faces Arizona State Senator Dr. Matt Heinz in the primary. Siding with Republicans on his early Congressional votes, Blue Dog Barber angered many Tucson voters. Although the "not-Barber" sentiment breathed new life into Heinz's primary challenge, it may be too little too late. Heinz was in the Arizona Legislature during 2010, when both SB1070 and HB2281 were passed; he voted against the MAS ban and against SB1070. As with the Kirkpatrick/Benally Baldenegro race, Barber, the establishment candidate, has a strong financial advantage.
Congressional District 3 is also in Southern Arizona and encompasses parts of Tucson. Congressman Raul Grijalva, PDA candidate and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has held this seat since 2003. Like Giffords, Grijalva faced stiff Tea Party opposition in 2010 but managed to keep his seat by a slim margin. This year, Grijalva has two more conservative Democratic challengers-- former Arizona State Legislator Amanda Aguirre and political newcomer Dr. Manny Arreguin. As with the CD1 race, expansion of mining is a major theme. Grijalva, who has a solid environmental record, opposes the proposed Rosemont Mine in Southern Arizona, while both Aguirre and Arreguin favor the mine and have received campaign contributions from mining interests. Environmentalists fear that the Rosemont Mine will destroy the large swaths of scenic Santa Rita Mountains, harm the desert ecosystem, and poison the water supply; mine supporters point to the creation of a few hundred jobs and the positive impact on Southern Arizona's struggling economy. Labeled a "fake Democrat" by Grijalva supporters, Aguirre was a strong supporter of numerous ALEC bills, when she was in the Arizona Legislature. Aguirre voted to save MAS but didn't vote on SB1070.
In newly created Maricopa County Congressional District 9, three rising stars of the Arizona Democratic Party are battling for this seat-- State Senator Kyrsten Sinema, State Senator David Shapira, and former Democratic Party State Chair and Clinton White House aide Andrei Cherny. This campaign has been nasty with charges and counter charges flying. Although mining and the environment have been hot topics in some of the other races, the urban CD9 race has focused on multiple issues, including the War on Women, campaign financing by ALEC, and immigrant rights. Sinema, who is openly bisexual, has been on the forefront in the fight against restrictive legislation targeting choice and women's healthcare. This earned her an endorsement from the National Organization for Women (NOW); Grijalva is the only other Arizona Congressional candidate backed by NOW. Some Latino activists are painting Simena as anti-Latino, but she voted against the MAS ban and SB1070. Although Cherny calls himself a progressive, he is the most conservative of the three candidates and a founder of the No Labels movement. Cherny is well-funded and has some heavy-hitters-- like President Bill Clinton and former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard-- campaigning for him. Both Sinema and Cherny have received ALEC-related funding. Backed by PDA, Shapira has served in Arizona Legislature since 2006; while in the Arizona House, he voted against both the MAS ban and SB1070. Progressives from around the country are phone-banking and campaigning for him.
Will progressives or Blue Dogs prevail in the Democratic primary? Only time will tell.
Follow Pamela Powers Hannley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/P2hannley