The Most Interesting Congressional Race In 2012…
…may very well be in Arizona’s new Ninth Congressional District, which wraps around the eastern side of Phoenix like a crescent, including much of Tempe and parts of Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler, and Paradise Valley. If I recall correctly, this area also includes Arizona State University and substantial amounts of housing for ASU students, something of an offset against what would generally be considered a conservative area. Arizona is a state where Democrats have been looking to make gains in traditionally Republican territory. Since the district is brand-new (last cycle, Arizona held only eight seats in the House) this is an open seat, and local political analysts call the seat a “toss-up,” suggesting that neither party has a significant advantage in terms of registration.
The Republican nominee is Vernon Parker, an attorney and the former Mayor of Paradise Valley, who boast an impressive resume including service in both Bush Administrations, who seems to be coming out of some personal financial troubles (understandable in today’s economic environment) and has a bit of a checkered past after a finding by the Small Business Administration that he had falsified data used to get a loan from them. Mr. Parker’s roots are in Houston, Texas and he grew up and attended college in Long Beach, California. He met his wife while they were both enrolled at Georgetown Law School. He seems to have made an effort to court the “Tea Party” wing of the party but seems to be more a create of the party’s establishment than the Tea Party.
The Democratic nominee is Kyrsten Sinema, also a lawyer, and the former State Senator for the area, who also boasts an impressive resume of academic, professional, and local political achievement (she’s won election to the state legislature continuously since 2004). Ms. Sinema has been a leading critic of Arizona’s SB 1070 law concerning (illegal immigrants/undocumented foreign nationals, as you prefer) and was a leader in opposition to efforts to ban same-sex marriage. I can’t readily find any skeletons in her closet. Ms. Sinema is a native Arizonan and holds both a juris doctorate and a Ph.D., and as far as I can tell she is single.
Both seem to have decent campaign machines and a relatively small geographic area to canvass, Both seem to have significant fundraising ability and the ability to tap in to high-powered assistance. Both are coming out of contested primaries against credible opponents who challenged them on both their left and right flanks. Neither has served in Congress. Both candidates are attractive, comfortable with the media, and photogenic. Both offer policy platforms fairly typical for their respective parties both in terms of substantive stands on issues, and prioritization of those issues against one another.
And both campaigns downplay demographic facets of their respective candidates that are the subject of cultural stirs: Mr. Parker is African-American and in a mixed-race marriage; Ms. Sinema is bisexual and nontheistic. Objectively, none of these things matter to the ability of either candidate to discharge the office of United States Representative. I strongly doubt any but a small minority of people would, if asked, indicate that any of these things would affect their political behavior in terms of endorsing, financially supporting, and voting for either candidate. In most respects, the candidates appear roughly evenly matched in terms of resume, skill, machinery, and they are fighting on effectively neutral terrain — so if these demographic and cultural issues do matter in the ballot box, this race may well have an ideal lens through which to see them.