Life on Mars, or Running in Arizona’s 1st District
TUBA CITY, Ariz. — The Grand Canyon State’s 1st District is so vast and diverse that running for political office involves time travel.
It’s also helpful to pick up a little of a language so difficult to master it formed an unbreakable code that helped the United States win World War II.
But first, the time travel.
When visiting the Navajo Nation in Northern Arizona, the largest tribe of a dozen in the district, Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick and her Republican opponent, state Speaker Andy Tobin, have to build in an extra hour.
Why? A befuddled cellphone won’t pick up on it, but the Navajo Nation observes Daylight Saving Time. The rest of the Grand Canyon State, brandishing its contrarian streak, never changes its clocks.
So to ensure Kirkpatrick was in line for the Western Navajo Nation here at 9 a.m. DST on Oct. 18, the usual 90-minute ride from Flagstaff became a two-and-a-half hour journey.
Tobin had to factor in the same math on a visit he made here the day before the parade, as the Western Navajo Nation Fair was getting underway.
On the flip side, when heading somewhere else in the district from the Navajo Nation, even to the Hopi Nation, which is completely surrounded by Navajo land, one gets that hour back. Surrounded by Navajo land, you’re back to the past, or at least, back in the rest of the state’s time zone.
Confused? That’s just the start of the logistics involved in a campaign here.
At 55,039 square miles, Arizona’s 1st District is one of the largest in the country that is not an at-large seat, such as Alaska or Montana. Along with the tribes, it’s spread out among 11 counties. Adding to the otherworldly feel of the place, the area around Tuba City has been used as a training ground for Mars roving vehicles, owing to its similar terrain.
The vast majority of the land is rural, though pop-up suburbs are changing that, particularly north of Tucson, in the southern part of the state. It’s roughly 50 percent minority, with Native Americans at about 25 percent, Hispanics at 20 percent and other races at 5 percent.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the district with 50 percent in 2012, ahead of Kirkpatrick’s 49 percent victory as she reclaimed the seat she lost in the 2010 GOP wave. Redistricting created a friendlier seat for Democrats than before, and the Republican who ousted her in 2010, Rep. Paul Gosar, ran in the adjoining 4th District, providing her an opening to return to Congress.
Despite a Democratic tilt in registration, many parts of the district are culturally conservative, and Kirkpatrick and her team see outreach to the tribes as key to victory.
“It’s just getting them to vote. So you heard a lot on the campaign trail and on the parade route, we’re telling people, ‘Vote. Be sure to vote Nov. 4. Be sure and vote early,’” she told CQ Roll Call, decked out in a turquoise leather jacket and traditional Navajo jewelry, after the parade.
“Isn’t it a great day to be a Democrat?” campaign worker Ron Lee, who manned the Kirkpatrick float’s microphone, asked repeatedly during the route. “Let’s re-elect Ann Kirkpatrick. You can vote early at the Tuba City Public Library, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
Lee switched back and forth with the same message in Navajo and English as Kirkpatrick worked the crowd along Edgewater Drive and Indian Route 101.
The outreach is also why “Ya’at’eeh shi’ke shi’dine,” a traditional Navajo greeting that translates roughly as “Hello, my relatives and the people,” has become part of Kirkpatrick’s stump vocabulary. She has also cut an ad in which she speaks Navajo.
Her use of the Navajo language, even in small doses, is no small thing. The language of the Diné, as the Navajos call themselves, is an integral part of their culture.
The Navajo Code Talkers, who developed a code during World War II that stumped the Japanese Imperial Army, are revered here.
Retired Sgt. Major Dan Akee, a 93-year-old whose float was featured in a prominent place toward the beginning of the parade, was greeted with some of the loudest cheers at the parade.
Language is also at the center of the Navajo Nation’s hotly contested race for tribal president. Chris Deschene is fighting a legal battle that ended up before the Navajo Supreme Court to stay on the ballot against his opponent, former President Joe Shirley. The issue? Deschene is accused of not being fluent in Navajo, a requirement of the office.
Democrats see the interest in the president’s race, which has dominated tribal media coverage, as helpful to their turnout efforts.
Tobin’s team acknowledges Kirkpatrick has an advantage in tribal areas, and while he has ventured to those regions for campaign events, his outreach there doesn’t match Kirkpatrick’s. But they believe their own turnout efforts, particularly in suburban Pinal and Pima counties, and dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama, give the state lawmaker the edge.
“This is a referendum on Barack Obama. This is a referendum on her job performance and the policies she’s stood behind,” said Tobin campaign manager Bill Cortese.
“The intensity on our side is much higher,” Cortese said, adding that he didn’t think the top of the Democratic ticket would help the congresswoman.
That’s a point Democrats dispute. Their gubernatorial nominee, Fred DuVal, has run a quality campaign that has attracted cross-over endorsements, such as former state Attorney General Grant Woods. Their standard-bearers for secretary of state and superintendent of education, Terry Goddard and David Garcia, respectively, have better-than-even odds to win.
Neither Kirkpatrick nor Tobin should suffer from a lack of name identification.
Although Tobin’s fundraising has lagged behind Kirkpatrick’s, both sides are getting air cover from their respective campaign committees and outside groups.
The district only touches the border areas of Arizona’s two largest cities, Phoenix and Tucson, but the campaigns and their allies are blanketing state airwaves with broadcast ads throughout the Phoenix market, which reaches into the district’s Southern, Eastern and Northern areas.
National strategists expect it to be one of the most expensive House races.
Kirkpatrick’s appeal to voters focuses on her district connections.
“My family, both my mother’s family and my dad’s family, go back almost a hundred years in this district, so I have deep roots. I’m well known from the day of birth practically, in this district, and they know that my heart is with them, and I care about them,” she said.
Tobin, whose home of Paulden was placed into the 4th District in redistricting, has pledged to move into the district should he win. His old legislative district overlaps with the current congressional district, particularly in vote-rich Flagstaff and Sedona. His appeal to voters is focused on Obama and Kirkpatrick’s link to his policies, such as her vote for the Affordable Care Act, which she has defended vigorously on the trail.
Whichever strategy comes out on top is anyone’s guess.
“It’s not going to be a blowout either way,” Cortese said.
Correction 5:45 p.m.
An earlier version of this post misidentified the 1st District as the largest geographically that is not an at-large seat.