The race in Arizona's huge new Congressional District 1 looks like a classic regional campaign: It pits a Southern Arizona Republican, Jonathan Paton, against a Northern Arizona Democrat, Ann Kirkpatrick.
But while regionalism may play some role in the race, the district is so vast and socially complex the candidates know they'll have to go far beyond their home turf to win the election.
Congressional District 1 stretches over 55,000 square miles, encompassing about half the state of Arizona, and is equivalent in size to Wisconsin. It includes about 55,000 voters in well-off bedroom communities in Pima County northwest of Tucson, but about 20 percent of the district's voting-age population is American Indian, largely on the Navajo and Apache reservations.
There are 80,000 or more Mormon residents of the district, Paton's camp estimates, concentrated in the Mogollon Rim towns and Gila River valley, along with a big population of Flagstaff-area environmentalists, farmers in Pinal County and miners in the Copper Basin.
"The best way to describe it is, it's just an incredibly diverse district," said Carmen Gallus, the campaign manager for Kirkpatrick.
Interviewed at a Marana coffee shop Thursday, Flagstaff resident Kirkpatrick said she has family or personal connections throughout the district and is happy campaigning everywhere in it.
"A typical day for us is four to six hours a day in the car," she said. "I can sleep in the car. I can eat in the car."
But she also said she has a geographic advantage in that voters in the mostly rural and small-town district would prefer not to have somebody from Tucson representing them in Congress.
Paton and his supporters dismiss that point of view. They note that Pinal County has the most registered voters in the whole district, at 84,442, and that, together, Pima and Pinal county voters account for 39 percent of the district's voters. And they say Paton has campaigned hard in Northern and Eastern Arizona.
"A voter in Oro Valley is in a much different kind of community than someone, say, in the White Mountains," said Daniel Scarpinato, a former Paton spokesman from Tucson who now works at the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Despite that, the concerns of the electorate as a whole are very similar this cycle - the economy and jobs."
Voter profile skewed
Recent voter-registration figures from the Arizona Secretary of State show a bit of a Democratic advantage, with about 140,000 registered voters in the district to about 112,000 Republicans and 107,000 independents. There were also 6,573 more Democratic votes cast in the Aug. 28 primary than Republican votes.
But Paton's supporters note the large rural and small-town population tends to be conservative, meaning the registration advantage isn't as significant as it appears.
Kirkpatrick served as U.S. representative in the old Congressional District 1 from 2008 to 2010, but was defeated that year by Paul Gosar .
And while Paton and Kirkpatrick come from different parts of the district, their performances in the primary didn't reveal significant regional problems. Each won handily, with Kirkpatrick taking 64 percent of the Democratic vote overall and Paton taking 61 percent of the Republican vote.
Running against Wenona Benally Baldenegro, a Navajo woman with connections in Tucson but from Northern Arizona, Kirkpatrick won 76 percent of the vote in Pima County and 73 percent in Pinal County.
Kirkpatrick's worst performance was in Apache County, an area where Benally Baldenegro worked hard to win American Indian voters. Still, Kirkpatrick took 51 percent of the vote there.
In Kirkpatrick's home county, Coconino, she won 60 percent of the vote, doing worse there among Democrats than her general-election opponent, Paton, did among Republicans. Paton took 62 percent of the Republican vote.
Kirkpatrick's margin of victory "speaks to Ann Kirkpatrick's name recognition throughout the district," said Fred Solop, a professor of political science at Northern Arizona University. " Paton has to build name recognition especially in the central and northern parts of the district."
Like Kirkpatrick, Paton was weak in Apache County, where he won 41 percent of the vote but still tallied the highest vote total. There, he narrowly defeated opponent Gaither Martin, of Eagar, who won 37 percent of the vote in his home county.
Paton's best county was Pima, where he won 75 percent of the Republican vote, but he also took 61 percent of the votes in Pinal County.
finding their niche
Each candidate expects to do well in demographic niches specific to Congressional District 1.
Kirkpatrick, who was born on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, hopes to do well among American Indians, who traditionally lean strongly for Democrats. This year that could be especially beneficial because Navajo Nation elections coincide with the general election, which could increase traditionally low turnout on the reservation, Solop said.
But Paton is not conceding the Native American vote. He has appeared before the Navajo Tribal Council and challenged Kirkpatrick on the crucial issue of tribal gaming. In the White Mountains area, there are large numbers of Mormons registered as Democrats, Paton said. They tend to vote for conservative candidates, but they are even more likely to vote Republican in a year when Mitt Romney tops the party's ticket.
But Kirkpatrick is not conceding the region where she thinks she remains well-liked as a native daughter and a moderate who supports gun rights.
The primary results leave both candidates with one option for the general election campaign, Paton and Kirkpatrick agreed. They must go and meet voters throughout the huge district to win a campaign that will be hotly contested by the national parties and outside groups as well as their own campaigns.
"Everybody wants you to visit them, so it's a large area to cover," Paton said. "You don't have to do much to talk me into going to some of these areas because they're beautiful, from the Grand Canyon to the Sonoran Desert."
"People want that personal connection," Kirkpatrick said. "They want to see you in the communities over and over again."
Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or firstname.lastname@example.org