Republican voters in Congressional District 1 are going to have to choose among three candidates in next week's primary election to find a nominee to challenge Democratic incumbent Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick.
State Rep. Andy Tobin is an experienced politician who rose to the position of Speaker of the Arizona House of Representative. Tobin, who enjoys endorsements from many mayors, county supervisors and sheriffs throughout the district, is portraying himself as the mature statesman in the race who won't embarrass the district if he's elected to Congress.
State Rep. Adam Kwasman, who hasn't yet completed his first full term as a state lawmaker, is portraying himself as the most conservative candidate who has not and will not compromise his principles in search of a deal.
And rancher/oilman/hotelier Gary Kiehne says the other two candidates are career politicians who aren't likely to shake up the status quo, while he's a humble country cowboy who will bring common sense to Washington.
All three politicians say pretty much the same thing on the campaign trail and none of them have taken stands at odds with what primary voters want to hear. Obamacare needs to be repealed (although they are softening toward some elements of it, such as prohibiting discrimination against people with preexisting conditions). President Barack Obama is to blame for gridlock because he refuses to work with the Republican House. The border is not secure enough and undocumented migrants in the country now should not be put on a path to citizenship.
Sure, there are some nuances to their positions. Kwasman says all undocumented immigrants, even DREAMers—young people brought here by their parents and who have no roots to their home countries—should face deportation rather than be allowed to remain in America in some kind of special program. (He might allow an exception for military service.)
Kiehne, who can remember undocumented migrants visiting his family's ranch when he was a kid, would allow migrants to remain in this country, although he would oppose allowing them citizenship.
"I can remember illegals walking to the ranch and they would come in there with shoes made out of tires and they would have blisters on their feet," Kiehne remembered during a March visit to Tucson. "They'd walked for four or five days to get there. And all they wanted was a job to send money to their families. And those are the ones we want to keep here, the ones that want a job. The ones that want to steal from us, adios, amigos."
Kiehne added that undocumented workers helped keep consumer prices low.
"If you liked $3.50 a gallon gas and you want all the illegals kicked out, you're gonna love $7 a gallon gas, because I can guarantee you that if you go to a drilling rig anywhere in the oil fields and you'll be lucky to find a guy who speaks Engish," Kiehne said. "You go to the roustabout crews. You go to the cotton fields, the fruit and vegetable field. Find a guy who can speak English. We gotta have that. There's a necessity for that labor force."
Tobin is more in line with Kiehne, saying that once the border is secure, he'd be OK with a program that allows undocumented migrants to remain in the United States, as long as they were not allowed a path to citizenship. He says trying to round up undocumented immigrants is "never gonna happen. There's too many. There's not enough time in the courts."
In the meantime, though, Tobin says he's hearing about worries from constituents that the recent wave of undocumented youth from Central America could cause an Ebola outbreak in the United States.
"Anything's now possible," Tobin said last week. "So if you were to say the Ebola virus has now entered (the country), I don't think anyone would be surprised."
Tobin acknowledged that Ebola has been limited to outbreaks in Africa, "to the extent that they're really aware of that. I think there is a reason we should be concerned about it and say, 'Hey, can you assure us the people crossing the border are not from the Middle East?' ... So I use that as an example, that the public would not be surprised to hear about the next calamity at the border."
The candidates are running in a sprawling, largely rural district that includes northern Pima County, most of the eastern half of the state, the Grand Canyon and Northern Arizona's Native American reservations. Major towns and cities include Marana, Oro Valley, Sedona and Flagstaff.
The rural nature of the state makes it hard to reach voters via TV. That's just as well for the candidates, who have run low-budget campaigns because they haven't raised all that much money. (See this week's Skinny for fundraising details.)
Running for Congress here, as Tobin puts it, is "like running for mayor in every little town and community you show up in. It's not enough to buy some TV. People want to know that you know what's going on in their town."
Tobin has focused his campaign on mailers and retail politics, capturing the endorsements of former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and, just last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But Tobin doesn't live in the district and his New York roots have left him open for attacks from the other candidates.
Kiehne likes to say that he was growing up in rural Arizona while Tobin was "in New York City, riding the subway and playing in Central Park. What the heck does he know about our district?"
Kwasman has been critical of Tobin for drafting legislation that would have allowed the state to draw down federal dollars through the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Tobin said that while he did try to find a way to support Arizona's hospitals, he ultimately voted against Gov. Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion, which passed over the objections of most GOP lawmakers.
Last week, Kwasman revealed he had a form of blood cancer known as chronic lymphocytic leukemia, but he said it would not impair his ability to serve in Congress.
"My doctors are confident that I will remain generally healthy, that this will have no effect on how I serve in Congress, and I will become cancer free," Kwasman said in a prepared statement.