WASHINGTON - Arizona Reps. Ron Barber and Ann Kirkpatrick touted their designation last week as being among the Democrats most likely to buck their party in congressional votes.

For Barber and Kirkpatrick, their top-10 ranking reflects the will of their constituents, which is somewhere between the Republican and Democratic parties on issues. But one political scientist said it's more like being "between a rock and a hard place."

A National Journal analysis of 86 votes in this Congress found Barber voted against the party 16 times and Kirkpatrick 15 times, making them the fifth- and eighth-most contrary Democrats in the House. The average House member split with his or her party on seven votes.

"The main thing is, they both represent swing districts," said Barbara Norander, a professor at the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy.

"There is an even match between Republicans and Democrats. They have to keep their Republican constituents in mind," Norander said.

The National Journal said the lawmakers on its top-10 list represented closely divided districts like Barber's 2nd District, in Southeastern Arizona, and Kirkpatrick's 1st District, which sprawls from northern Pima County over much of the northern and eastern parts of the state. The New York Times listed their districts as among the most-competitive in the nation during the 2012 election.

Norander said independent-voter registration and more-competitive redistricting have accentuated the state's greater diversity.

Kirkpatrick and Barber said they are simply voting with their constituents, who care more about issues than party labels.

Kirkpatrick, of Flagstaff, said her votes have more to do with the size and diversity of her district than her own party affiliation.

"I always put my constituents first," she said. "I just really listen to the district. It's where I grew up."

Barber, of Tucson, said he is just making good on his campaign promise to "try to find common ground and accomplish things across the aisle." He acknowledged his district is competitive, but also said the number of registered independents is rapidly growing.

"For some reason they have decided not to align themselves with either major party," Barber said of independents. "What they have seen from the parties is a gridlock."

Arizonans have always been independent thinkers and don't like to limit themselves to a single party mindset, said Barber, who has lived in the state since boyhood. "One of the things I love about Arizona is the independent thinking residents have," he said.

James Thurber, director of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, said Arizona is shifting politically to become more purple, but he thinks Kirkpatrick's and Barber's voting patterns have more to do with getting re-elected in a still-red state.

Thurber said the pair are "between a rock and a hard place" because their key constituency is more conservative, but as more Latinos vote and the parties become more polarized it makes moderate Democrats and Republicans an "endangered species."

Tim Sifert, an Arizona Republican Party spokes-man said both lawmakers are Democratic at heart and that they vote Republican only in "trivial areas."

"These folks are both in very competitive districts," Sifert said. "That tells you why they are playing the political game."

But Arizona Democratic Party spokesman Frank Camacho said their votes just show that "the Democratic Party is really the party of the big tent."

"These folks are both in very competitive districts. That tells you why they are playing the political game."

Tim Sifert,

Arizona Republican Party spokesman