As soon as the fund-raising front runners locked up their party's nominations for Congressional District 1, they launched what promises to become a bitter general election.
Former state lawmaker and Flagstaff prosecutor Ann Kirkpatrick crushed three Democratic challengers by drawing 47 percent of the vote. Her closest contender was TV news reporter Mary Kim Titla, who won decisively in Gila County, but fell far behind elsewhere.
On the Republican side, former mining company lobbyist and conservative activist Sydney Hay won a narrow victory over former state department official and law professor Sandra Livingstone. Hay got 40 percent of the vote compared to Livingston's 34. In Gila County, Hay had 52 percent of the vote.
The indictment and retirement of Republican incumbent Rick Renzi made the open seat one of a handful of wide-open contests nationally. The district extends from the Colorado border to Casa Grande -- an area larger than Pennsylvania. Once narrowly Democratic, the latest figures show the district is now narrowly Republican.
Turnout on the Republican side hit 30 percent, while the Democratic contest drew just 25 percent of eligible voters.
Hay and Kirkpatrick wasted no time in shifting gears into a general election campaign that could draw national attention -- and funding.
The Arizona Democratic Party promptly put out a release characterizing Hay as a corporate lobbyist representing polluters who represented Republican's "last choice" to replace Renzi. The release said Hay outspent Livingstone 10 to 1, but won the nomination by just 1,800 votes.
Hay did not bring up a national sales tax in the current campaign, but also has strongly supported gun rights, making abortion illegal, a constitutional ban on gay marriage and school choice, which translates into giving parents the right to enroll their children in private schools at public expense.
Kirkpatrick's comments after her broad victory were less directly critical. In fact, she vowed to "work to break the partisan gridlock and reach across party lines to cut taxes for middle class families."
Kirkpatrick, a former state lawmaker who stressed legislation supporting the tribes in her district and schools, grew up in the White Mountains and worked as a prosecutor in Flagstaff. She raised more than $1.1 million in the primary and as of the last reporting period still had $400,000 on hand. The national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has pledged another $1.7 million to support her general election campaign.
Hay raised just over $400,000 in the primary, including a $70,000 loan to her own campaign. She said Thursday she didn't know if she had any money left for the general election, but knows that the national party has made holding onto the seat a priority.
Hay dismissed the state Democratic Party's attack, noting she had the support of the entire state Republican congressional delegation and most of the party regulars and won in almost every county.
"The facts just don't bear that out," she said. On the one hand during the primary, the folks were complaining that the Republican Party had not stayed neutral," she said.
She said her internal polling shows that she's now running neck-and-neck with Kirkpatrick and that she focused most of her campaign on the primary on the Democrats rather than her Republican opponents.
She also used the word "extremist" to describe her opponent.
She said Kirkpatrick had voted consistently in the legislature against tax cuts and in favor of tax increases.
"She voted for tax increases and against tax cuts every chance she got. She voted against gun rights. She's an extremist on abortion -- she supported taxpayer funded abortions. She thinks parents shouldn't have the opportunity to even know if their child is going to have a child or not. She's absolutely hostile to the taxpayer -- right down the line she is an extreme liberal."
In the end, the primary yielded few surprises -- with the financial frontrunners winning both contests.
On the Democratic side, Titla drew 32 percent of the vote -- but won only in Gila County.
Environmental and tribal lawyer Howard Shanker trailed with 14 percent of the vote. Mental health advocate Jeffrey Brown drew 6 percent of the vote.
On the Republican side, Livingstone jumped into the race after nine other Republicans considered running, but then dropped out. Livingstone, who has deep family roots in Rim Country, but has spent much of her life in China, England and Washington D.C., loaned her own campaign $200,000. The other Republican contenders finished far behind the frontrunners. Sedona minister Barry Hall garnered 6 percent. Alternative energy engineer Tom Hansen had 17 percent.