PHOENIX (AP) — In Arizona's brand-new 9th Congressional District, three Democrats and seven Republicans are vying to win the upcoming primary so they can move on to what could turn out to be a nasty fight for the seat, given that it's one of few toss-up races in the state and the field is so wide.
The 9th District, created because of Arizona's population growth through a controversial redistricting process, is contained entirely in metro Phoenix. It includes much of Tempe and smaller sections of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Mesa and Chandler.
At 34.6 percent of the roughly 362,000 voters in the district, more are registered as independents than either Republicans or Democrats, according to a June report from the Arizona secretary of state. About 34 percent are listed as Republicans and 30 percent are listed as Democrats.
"I don't think you can call the race for either party, and I think that's a good thing," said Bruce Merrill, a longtime pollster and senior research fellow at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy. "This is one that could definitely go either way."
Currently, Republicans hold a 5-3 advantage in the state's congressional delegation, and redistricting added the new 9th District. Democrats see the 9th as a way to bridge the gap a bit, while Republicans view it as an opportunity to maintain that advantage.
Under Arizona's new congressional map, Republicans have the edge in four U.S. House districts, and Democrats in two. The seat formerly held by Gabrielle Giffords is considered competitive, as is the 1st District in northern and eastern Arizona and the 9th.
In the 9th District, three Democrat heavyweights are competing in the primary in what already is a heated fight. They are Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, former state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Andrei Cherny, the former state Democratic Party chairman who worked in the White House under President Bill Clinton and unsuccessfully ran for state treasurer in 2010.
Schapira, Sinema and Cherny all said that the other candidates were running negative campaigns but denied getting into the weeds themselves.
In May, Schapira and Sinema issued a joint statement about what they said was Cherny's "sleazy campaigning," accusing him of distributing unsigned memos with false attacks to right-wing publications.
Cherny, a married 36-year-old father of two who lives in Phoenix, said he's the only candidate who hasn't engaged in mudslinging.
"I don't think anyone out there can point to us as having done any of those things, and that stands in stark contrast to the kind of rhetoric and accusations that have come forward from both of the other campaigns," he said.
Cherny's campaign called Schapira's and Sinema's actions "gutter politics" in a news release announcing an endorsement of Cherny from a state lawmaker who previously had remained neutral.
Cherny said that he is focusing his campaign on helping the middle class and instituting ethics reform that would require lawmakers to disclose all meetings with lobbyists.
Schapira, a married 32-year-old father of two who lives in Tempe, said that he is focusing his message on improving the economy by making education the national priority.
"I believe we need at least one member of Congress out of 535 who will ask himself every day, 'What can I do today to make our schools better?'" he said.
Sinema, a single 36-year-old living in Phoenix who resigned from the Arizona Legislature when she announced her congressional run, said that her priority will be to work across the aisle with Republicans to be effective.
"Voters are sick and tired of the hyper-partisan MSNBC-versus-Fox News climate where people are playing gotcha politics," she said. "Voters want someone who can fix stuff."
On the Republican side, Travis Grantham, an Arizona Air National Guard Captain and business owner, whose message is focused on tackling big government spending and debt, acknowledged that the Democratic candidates had more name recognition in the district. If he wins in the primary, he plans on talking to as many voters as possible.
"We're going to talk to Republicans, Democrats and Independents, and we're going to talk about the issues important to them," said Grantham, a 33-year-old father of two who lives about two miles outside the district.
"(The district) is the heart of Arizona and the heart of Phoenix," he said. "It's very important to me that the people of the 9th Congressional District have a conservative, open-minded Republican who will take Arizona's best interests to Washington, D.C., not bring Washington D.C.'s best interests, or special interests, to Arizona."
Other Republican candidates include Wendy Rogers, a retired Air Force pilot, business owner and 57-year-old married mother of two. Also running is former CIA agent and 39-year-old mother of four, Leah Campos Schandlbauer, who is branding herself to voters as a tough Latina woman with strong Arizona roots and conservative values.
Schandlbauer, who has no experience in politics and said she lives about six miles outside of the district in Scottsdale, said that she is focused on the economy and government spending, and that she has unique foreign policy and national security experience.
"People don't know who I am, that's my struggle," she said. "I need to work hard to get my name out ... I'm confident my message will win them over."
Former Chandler City Councilman Martin Sepulveda, a 52-year-old married father of two, and former Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker also are running.
Lisa Borowsky, 47, is a Scottsdale city councilwoman and a divorced mother of one. Jeff Thompson is a 61-year-old retired businessman with no political experience and a married father of three living in Ahwatukee. He said he's running because he's fed up with politics and the people in office.
"I think people are looking for a change, they're looking for someone who's not a politician," he said.