Lopsided spending and fund-raising totals in the wide-open, fiercely contested primaries for Arizona's First Congressional District should provide a vivid test of the proposition that money decides most elections -- especially when relative unknowns compete in a district the size of Pennsylvania.
On the Republican side, former mining industry lobbyist and conservative activist Sydney Hay has raised $342,000 and borrowed another $70,000 -- but still had $100,000 in cash as of the Aug. 13 report deadline.
Her chief rival for the Republican nomination to replace incumbent Rep. Rick Renzi is Sandra Livingston, an expert on international law, a former Cambridge professor and former state department official who bucked the party establishment to challenge the anointed Hay. Livingston reported raising $27,000 and borrowing $200,000, which gave her about $190,000 on hand as of Aug. 13.
Two other Republican candidates did not have reports on file with the Federal Elections Commission as of Monday night. Alternative energy expert Tom Hansen has pushed for energy independence, education reform and job creation. Sedona Minister Barry Hall also did not file a report.
On the Democratic side, the race is proving even more lopsided.
Flagstaff law professor and former prosecutor Ann Kirkpatrick has raised $1.1 million and borrowed another $20,000, but ended the period with a whopping $445,000 in the bank.
That total dwarfs the $198,000 raised by former TV newswoman Mary Kim Titla. She is also an Apache, in a district where the Navajo and Apache reservations wield enormous clout on the Democratic side. Titla reported still having $48,000 on hand for the final weeks of the campaign, with most of her contributions coming in during the past six weeks.
Environmental attorney Howard Shanker, who has represented various Indian tribes in major cases including the effort to prevent the use of treated wastewater to make snow on peaks sacred to most Northern Arizona tribes, raised just $18,000 and borrowed another $29,000. He ended the period with $5,000 cash on hand.
The sprawling First Congressional District stretches from the Navajo Reservation to Casa Grande -- and includes all of Rim Country. However, most of the voters in the largely rural district live in Coconino County in the Flagstaff area, which has resulted in only minimal campaigning across Rim Country.
Mental health advocate Jeffrey Brown did not file a report.
The race has drawn national interest this year, once the indictment and resignation of Congressman Rick Renzi left the seat wide open. Renzi has denied charges that he pushed for a federal land trade that would have benefited his business partner.
The seat has a narrow Democratic registration advantage, but has often elected Republicans at the congressional level. As a result, both parties consider the seat winnable in a crucial election year.
Democrats hope to win back a seat they have rarely succeeded in holding for more than one term.
The race appears especially pointed on the Republican side, where Hay has drawn the ardent support of conservatives and party activists -- in part as a result of her work on behalf of the school choice movement that has pushed charter schools, her staunch social conservatism and her credentials as a conservative activist.
She rounded up many of the early endorsements and money, deterring many betterknown would-be candidates.
But at the relative last minute, Livingston jumped in, bringing a pioneering family history that goes back for generations in Rim Country and a long resume heavy with experience in law and international relations, including service in the state department of the current Bush Administration.
Livingston's late entry in the race spurred bitter criticism from some Republican activists, worried that a debilitating primary would give the Democrats a big edge in the general election.
As it turns out, Hay and Livingston are locked in a tight race, with the leading contender on the Democratic side left with more cash on hand than both the Republicans combined -- and little debt going into the compressed general election.
The Flagstaff-based Kirkpatrick, with strong connections to the tribes and a long legal resume, has in fact raised more money than all the other candidates combined on both sides -- and already spent more than $700,000.
The clash on the Democratic side has been less personal and bitter, with all three candidates boasting strong connections with the tribes and strong environmental positions.
Titla has taken the most conservative positions overall, with things like opposition for legalizing gay marriages.
On the other hand, the Republicans hope that the home-state candidacy of John McCain will provide coat tails that will prompt the narrowly Democratic district to once again embrace the Republican choice.