Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, Raul Grijalva, Blanca Guerra

Submitted Photos

The choice is stark in Congressional District 3.

Liberal or conservative. Experience versus new blood.

Raúl Grijalva, one of the most liberal members of Congress, narrowly won re-election two years ago after making controversial comments encouraging groups to boycott Arizona over the state's tough new immigration law.

He says he's the only candidate in the race who understands the complexity of today's political issues.

His main competition is conservative activist and tea-party Republican Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, who rebuked Tucson's City Council for opposing that immigration law and then came under fire for controversial comments she made last year about Middle Eastern immigrants.

She says the district should be represented by a citizen lawmaker, not a career politician.

Grijalva says she's "tea-party template 101." She has called him a Marxist.

A third choice is Blanca Guerra, a lifelong moderate Republican who voted for Grijalva in the past and decided to run for Congress as a Libertarian to make sure Saucedo Mercer doesn't win.

She said it's time for Grijalva to step aside, and she doesn't want Saucedo Mercer and her "batty ideas" in Congress either.


Grijalva is approaching 10 years as a Southern Arizona representative in Congress, and he plans to keep at it. He typically returns to Arizona from Washington, D.C., three weekends a month. He meets with constituents, local leaders and youth groups, attends events, and spends Sunday nights "chilling with my family."

The goals he had when he first ran for Congress are still a work in progress, he said. Some will be difficult unless there's a Democratic majority in the House. Others will be impossible without President Obama in the White House, he said.

He called the last session "impossible" but said he has hope for the next one. He's frustrated the House GOP majority voted 30 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known by critics as Obamacare, but didn't talk about jobs bills, the farm bill or education reform. As time goes by, he said, more people support Obamacare, and he doesn't think Republicans will ever have the votes to repeal it.

Grijalva still wants to improve preschool programs, solve public lands issues and reform immigration. "The good news is the American people seem to be coming around to the idea we need a lasting solution" on immigration, he said. The rhetoric is not as hot as it was last election season, he said, and he hopes Congress can move toward reform with the DREAM Act.

He criticizes Saucedo Mercer's stance on immigration, saying she benefited from the immigration system and "slammed the door behind her." Grijalva said the difference between him and Saucedo Mercer is he has the "capacity to understand the complexity of what we're dealing with, to appreciate the historic impact of everything we say and do" - while her ideas are "simplistic" and "shrill."


Saucedo Mercer was born and raised in Mexico. She became an American citizen 21 years ago.

She got involved in politics when Obama got elected. "I said, 'What is going on in this country?' "

She started attending local tea-party meetings, learned about the issues, became a precinct committeewoman and then became part of the Pima County Republicans' executive committee. She helped the campaigns of congressional candidates Ruth McClung and Jesse Kelly and then decided to run for Congress herself.

"I am not a career politician, and I don't intend to become one," she said at a recent debate. She would support term limits, she said.

"I am running for Congress because in the last 10 years the people in District 3 have not been given proper representation," Saucedo Mercer said. "Two years ago, the sitting congressman called for a boycott that hurt the people in the district, the people he's supposed to represent."

Her priorities are different from Grijalva's. They include repealing the health-care overhaul, reining in "runaway spending" and reducing business regulations that stand in the way of job creation. She has pledged not to raise taxes.

Among her other positions, she supports a secure border fence and sees the DREAM Act as amnesty and a reward for breaking the law.

She is pro-life and supports a definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. She participated in a rally at a local Chick-fil-A last summer to support the restaurant chain's freedom to oppose gay marriage.


Guerra is self-employed as a paralegal and has a hobby ranch with a horse, cows, donkeys, chickens, parrots and other birds.

She was born in Mexico, grew up in Tucson, became a naturalized citizen as a young girl and has dual citizenship, graduated from Sunnyside High School and went into the Air Force. She became a paralegal and moved back to Tucson about 25 years ago.

She says her signature-gathering effort for the GOP primary was sabotaged. Wanting to keep her name on the ballot, Guerra changed parties to Libertarian a few days before the filing deadline.

She is running her campaign from a mobile headquarters - a remodeled school bus. This is her first time running for office, and she doesn't plan to run again. She just doesn't want Saucedo Mercer, and what she calls her extreme positions on immigration, to win.

"Arizonans don't want extreme government; they want a government that can work," Guerra said.

She voted for Grijalva in the past but now, she said, it's time for him to step aside. "He almost lost his last election. If the Republicans would have put in a candidate that was moderate instead of a dumb extreme, I wouldn't have participated," Guerra said. "But I can't sit back and be OK with myself complaining about Mercer, complaining about Grijalva, and not doing anything about it. ... If I lose, I'm all right with saying I did my best."

Congressional District 3 debate

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Pima Community College's West Campus, 2202 W. Anklam Road

Watch: Find the full debate at or on NPR 89.1. An edited version will be aired on "Arizona Illustrated" at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at or 573-4346.