One of the hottest political races in the entire country has all three candidates in the Republican primary focused on the white-hot political topic du jour — immigration.
Retired Air Force Colonel Martha McSally says area ranchers are being forced to make life-and-death decisions on a regular basis.
Small business owner Shelley Kais believes the crisis caused by the 52,000 unaccompanied children that have been apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol was manufactured and has long been planned by President Obama’s administration.
Retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Chuck Wooten believe the federal government has the resources to address both the immigrant crisis and illegal immigration but lacks to the political will to enforce existing laws.
The winner of the primary will face incumbent Democrat Ron Barber.
The Rothenberg Political Report lists the race as a “pure toss-up,” although the district gives a slight edge to the Republican in terms of registered voters.
The left-leaning House Majority PAC has already spent $210,000 on ads against presumed Republican front-runner McSally, with plans to spend an additional $140,000 in October on more television ads here in Tucson.
At least two conservative groups, the Libre Initiative and Americans for Prosperity, have already started broadcasting ads attacking Barber.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has backed McSally in the race, labeling her as one their “young guns.”
The title is not just merely an honorific — the NRCC has committed $1 million in local network television ads this fall attacking Barber.
Leaders in the Republican Party, House speaker John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor, have already visited Arizona to raise money for McSally.
Early voting begins July 31.
One of a handful of districts along the border
The district stretches across roughly 84 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, across hills and valleys favored by drug and human smugglers in the mountainous regions to the high desert grasslands used for generations by ranchers.
Each of the three candidates has taken tours of the border region, riding along windy, dusty dirt roads that disappear from the watchful eye of the Border Patrol.
But the real issue isn’t the topography of the area. It is the phased deployment that puts immigration officials in some cases roughly 25 miles away from the border.
McSally says those outposts offer little security for ranchers and their families who grow increasingly concerned about their safety.
Kais is suspicious of the recent immigration crisis in Nogales that has spread to other communities.
Citing a section of 2008 federal law that outlines how to handle unaccompanied, undocumented children, Kais believes she has proof the administration created the groundwork for such a crisis.
“Accommodating the sudden influx of children at our southern border was planned a long time ago and none of this is a surprise to the president or Congress,” Kais said.
Documents released from the U.S. Department of Human Services suggest the 2008 law only expands and redefines HHS’s statutory responsibilities after a 2002 action gave the federal agency the responsibility of handling unaccompanied minors encountered by Border Patrol.
Statistics suggest the number of unaccompanied minors has been steadily increasing since mid-2011.
Kais believes the federal government cannot afford to take care of these children coming across the border.
“The budget is out of control; we are unable to pay for the influx of immigrant children,” Kais said.
For Wooten, the issue is fairly straight-forward — the Obama administration needs to enforce existing immigration laws no matter how unpopular they are in some political circles.
“The law is not being followed,” Wooten said.
He dismisses the recent pledge by Obama to enforce immigration laws through executive order, saying the decision to bypass Congress isn’t a solution the nation will get behind.
“Executive orders have become the nails on a chalkboard to the American people,” Wooten said.
The A-10, still flying for now
What was once the biggest issue in the race is now on the back burner as Congress continues to hammer out a federal budget that includes one-time, one-year funding to keep the A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet flying.
McSally, who has often used photos of her in s flight suit standing in front of the aircraft, says the fight to save the A-10 is far from over.
The former commander of the 354th Fighter Squadron continues to state she was the first to recognize the threat to the A-10 fleet, warning the community as such in an op-ed printed in the Arizona Daily Star in 2013.
She argues the residents of CD2 need someone who is focused on the long-term mission, not someone who merely reacts to issues.
Barber has fought the perception he was unaware of the issue last year, releasing various letters he had sent to officials to the media.
Wooten has held a number of town hall-style forums to discuss the future of the A-10, urging all everyone to continue to put pressure on the entire delegation to support the close air support aircraft.
He argues the issue isn’t about self-preservation for D-M airbase; it is about national defense.
He said the planned replacement for the A-10 — the F-35 — won’t be delivered for several years.
“I’m not saying that the A-10 shouldn’t be retired eventually, but not now,” Wooten said.
For Kais, the only way to help to keep D-M open is to focus on the future of the Air Force, not to tie its long-term fate to an aircraft the Defense Department no longer wants to use.
She wants the focus on bringing squadrons of the future aircraft — including the planned KC-46 Pegasus — to Tucson.
“I believe we should be building relationships and engaging in efforts now to bring KC-46 squadrons to Davis-Monthan,” she said in a recent op-ed.
A decision made in Washington?
While the three Republicans likely agree on a number of topics, no one knows for sure.
There has not been a debate between the three candidates despite the fact that all three have been running for office for several months.
Kais and Wooten have complained publicly about the lack of debates, stating the community deserves to know where McSally stands on the issues.
It is a criticism Democrats have repeatedly brought, highlighting on social media when McSally has refused to answer a question. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee regularly has attacked her for failing to respond directly to questions in published interviews.
McSally says, as a combat veteran, it is important to focus on the core mission and not be distracted by the political equivalent of flak.
She refuses to answer a question until she fully understands the topic, rather than just saying something to be on the record as responding.
"I'm a thoughtful, independent-minded candidate. You know, perhaps I'm a victim of that when it comes to the media, that I'm not just going to give some talking point that, you know, just simplifies something that's actually very complex," McSally said. "Or I've said, 'You know what, I'm going to be the kind of person that actually reads a bill before I say whether I'm going to vote on it or not.'"
Voters will get their chance to see the three GOP candidates debate on July 26 at a public forum held in Green Valley.