FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Arizona’s congressional primaries are packed with Republican candidates as the party tries to chip away at the state’s majority Democratic delegation. They have a good chance with redistricting that favored the GOP.
Flipping just one district in November could help Republicans in Congress retake the U.S. House majority and push forward on priorities that include tougher security at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Primary voting ends Tuesday.
GOP candidates in Arizona have touted their military service, jostled over who is the most conservative and aggressively promoted lies about the 2020 presidential election outcome. Eight of Arizona’s nine congressional seats are up for grabs, with one incumbent running unopposed.
The slumping economy and surging inflation are top issues for most Americans.
“Republicans are really well-positioned this year,” said Lorna Romero Ferguson, a GOP consultant. “Everything that’s happening in Washington, D.C., is a catastrophe for Democrats. Nothing seems to be really going their way.”
Democratic candidates must separate themselves from the economic troubles during President Joe Biden’s administration while finding ways to address the issue, said Democratic consultant Chad Campbell.
“They have those big hurdles to get over in the general,” he said. “It’s not anything they’re doing or not doing, it’s more of the national mood and the fact it’s a midterm election.”
Arizona’s congressional delegation currently has five Democrats and four Republicans. A state independent redistricting commission approved new boundaries for the districts in late 2021, resulting in four solidly Republican districts and two where Democrats likely will dominate.
Three other districts could be relatively competitive. Voting patterns in nine past elections show one district strongly favors Democrats and two lean Republican, meaning Democrats likely will lose ground in Arizona.
No race has more Republican candidates than the vast 2nd District that takes in much of the northern and eastern parts of the state, including Flagstaff, Prescott and more than half of the 22 Native American reservations within Arizona.
Here's a look at the highly contested seats:
2ND CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Seven people are vying for the GOP bid to take on incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, a moderate Democrat, in November. He has no primary challenger in the district that strongly favors Republicans.
Ron Watkins, one of the most prominent figures in the QAnon conspiracy movement and a prominent supporter of false claims that the presidency was stolen from Donald Trump, is among the Republican candidates. He raised just over $250,000 for his congressional run in which he said he hopes to “fix the machine from the inside.” More than a third of the money came from a loan he gave his campaign.
Watkins is considered a longshot with spending that lags other Republicans in the race. Eli Crane, a former Navy SEAL and political newcomer who owns a bottle opener business and was endorsed by Trump, raised $1.9 million as of late June. Businessman Mark DeLuzio loaned his campaign $1 million and state Rep. Walter Blackman raised nearly $1.1 million, according to campaign finance reports.
Camp Verde farmer Steven Krystofiak, longtime Williams Mayor John Moore and self-described perpetual optimist Andy Yates round out the field.
1ST CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Six-term Republican Rep. David Schweikert faces an aggressive challenge from businessman Elijah Norton who has attacked Schweikert on past ethical issues. Schweikert has hit back through advertising but has been sued over the content.
Whoever emerges from the primary will face one of three Democrats — Jevin Hodge, the owner of a head start program; Adam Metzendorf, who works in professional sports management; and write-in candidate Delina DiSanto.
The district covers the suburbs north and east of Phoenix.
4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Incumbent Greg Stanton, a former mayor of Phoenix, faces no opposition in the Democratic primary.
Five Republicans are running to face off against him for the Phoenix-area seat, including perennial candidate Dave Giles.
Jerone Davison, a former NFL running back and the only Black Republican in this House race, gained attention for a controversial ad in which he is seen holding an AR-15 rifle as people wearing Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods with donkey logos try to storm a home. Davison says in the ad that Democrats claim no one needs those rifles for self-defense but “you just might need that semi-automatic and all 30 rounds.”
Kelly Cooper, a Marine Corps veteran; Rene Lopez, a Navy veteran who is on the Chandler City Council; and Tanya Contreras Wheeless, a Phoenix Suns executive, also are seeking the GOP nomination. 6TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Both parties are hoping to capture an open seat that takes in much of southeastern Arizona. The old district was a fairly solid Democratic seat but now leans strongly Republican after redistricting.
Republicans have six candidates, including Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's former senior adviser, Juan Ciscomani, who has far outpaced other candidates in fundraising.
He's up against Brandon Martin, the 2020 Republican nominee in what was then the 2nd Congressional District. Newspaper publisher Lucretia Free, Air Force veteran Young Mayberry, and Kathleen Winn, who has aligned herself with gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, also are in the running. Jordan Flayer is a write-in candidate.
On the Democratic side are engineer Avery Anderson, Daniel Hernandez and Kirsten Engel. Hernandez and Engel have name recognition, raised over $1 million and served in the state Legislature. Both have invoked the name of former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011 and is still recovering.
Hernandez was an intern at the time and hailed as a hero for helping to save her life. Engel, an environmental law professor, has said Giffords is one of her role models.
“This one is definitely going to be a knockdown, drag-out fight for lack of a better term,” Campbell said.
Incumbent Republican Debbie Lesko is unopposed in her race to represent the 8th Congressional District.
Democratic incumbents Ruben Gallego in the 3rd District and Raul Grijalva in the 7th District face no primary challengers or major opposition from the Republican side. Republican incumbents Andy Biggs in the 5th District and Paul Gosar in the 9th District have primary opponents but are not expected to be knocked out of contention.