Open Congressional Seat Spurs Fierce Fight

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A bevy of candidates with bristling resumes have clashed on both sides of the primary divide in the struggle to move on to the general election in the sprawling First Congressional District, which covers most of Eastern Arizona and the Rim Country, but remains centered on the concentration of voters in Flagstaff.

Incumbent Republican Rick Renzi’s resignation left the swing seat open, in the midst of a fierce national struggle between the two parties. Renzi quit after he was indicted for allegedly intervening in a federal land exchange that would benefit a business partner. He has denied any wrongdoing and awaits trial.

The massive district gathers up scores of rural communities and Indian reservations, resulting in a narrow Democratic registration edge. But the high percentage of socially and fiscally conservative rural Democrats has helped Republican candidates win the seat more often than not in recent years.

Both national parties are expected to pour money into the race in the general election and the five major candidates have already raised more than $2 million among them — half of it going to the former Democratic state lawmaker Ann Kirkpatrick.

On the Democratic side, the Flagstaff-based Kirkpatrick faces two major challengers. Environmental and tribal lawyer Howard Shanker has represented tribes on several high profile cases, including the effort to block the use of treated wastewater for snow making on peaks sacred to the Navajo and Hopi. Former TV newswoman and publisher Mary Kim Titla, an Apache, is hoping her connections with the tribes will give her a boost in a district where Native Americans make up a big chunk of the Democratic base.

So far, Kirkpatrick has raised $1.1 million, compared to $240,000 for Titla and $191,000 for Shanker. Several other minor candidates have not filed spending reports or responded to requests for interviews.

On the Republican side, former mining industry lobbyist Sydney Hay has spent years working for conservative causes and ballot initiatives, including issues relating to school choice and charter schools. She seemed to have the nomination locked up and several better known candidates scared off, when former state department official and Cambridge law professor Sandra Livingston decided to challenge Hay for the nomination.

Hay has raised $412,000 so far and Livingston has raised $227,000, most of it a loan to her own campaign. Several minor candidates have not filed spending forms.

Today, the Roundup will profile each candidate and print their responses to a questionnaire.

So far, the campaigns have revealed differences in emphasis in the primaries — but stark differences in positions in the general election.

On the Democratic side, the three candidates have taken different positions on key issues like universal health care, extending the Bush tax cuts, military spending and Social Security reform.

On the Republican side, fewer differences on policy have emerged — but Livingston touts her international experience, legal background and service in the State Department during the runup to the Iraq war — while Hay promotes her long involvement with state conservative causes and her conservative social agenda.

But stark differences have emerged between the two parties — whoever wins the primary — including views on abortion, gay marriage, immigration reform, military spending, the war in Iraq and health care.

In fact, there’s only one question on which every single candidate agreed.

They say the country is heading in the wrong direction.

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