The caricatures are sharpening in Congressional District 1: Ann Kirkpatrick appears as a spendthrift Democrat who runs from constituents, while Jonathan Paton plays a captive of the payday-loan industry out of touch with the rural district.
Outside groups and the candidates' campaigns are spending millions of dollars to paint these images of their opponents in the vast district that covers about half of Arizona, including Marana, Oro Valley and SaddleBrooke.
But behind each lies a real person with a life before politics and a record in the public sphere.
Paton grew up in Tucson and traces his interest in politics back to 1989, when he was an exchange student living in West Germany, near the East German border, as the wall fell.
"It was amazing, watching all those events as they unfolded," said Paton, who lost his first run for the Legislature in 1998 but won in 2004.
Kirkpatrick grew up in Eastern Arizona and became a lawyer in Flagstaff. She was the first female prosecutor in the Coconino County Attorney's Office but happened into politics in 2004 when she ran for the Legislature.
"Some friends felt like my background would be a good fit for the legislative district, which at that time had five Native American tribes," she said. She tried and won, joining Paton in the House that year.
A relatively unknown third-party candidate, Libertarian Kim Allen of Arizona City, also is running. His first brush with politics was in a campaign to incorporate Arizona City in 2007, he said.
"You wouldn't think an unincorporated area with 10,000 people in it could be as political as it is," he said.
Now he's running for Congress out of disgust with the two major parties and inspired by former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.
In interviews, Ann Kirkpatrick doesn't grab you by the collar and tell you what she wants you to know. She's reserved in person, but it's a trait she's indirectly playing to her advantage.
Kirkpatrick, 62, is running in part on her biography as a rural daughter of the 1st Congressional District. She was born in East-Central Arizona, at McNary on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, and graduated from Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop-Lakeside.
She's spent her adult life as an attorney in Flagstaff and Sedona, two other population centers in the district. She even has connections to the southern part of the district, having attended law school at the University of Arizona.
But you won't hear anything about her grown daughters or other family members: "I try not to use my family in any way in the campaign," she said.
After two terms in the Legislature, she resigned to run for the U.S. House in 2008. Three-term Republican Rick Renzi was leaving office after being indicted on fraud and extortion charges.
Kirkpatrick won 56 percent of the vote to Republican Sydney Hay's 39 percent. But after the tumultuous first two years of Barack Obama's presidency, voters replaced Kirkpatrick in 2010 with Republican Paul Gosar.
As it turned out, the seat is open again. Gosar left the district to run in the 4th Congressional District this year, after a controversial redistricting process that gave Democrats a registration advantage in CD 1, with 39 percent of the registered voters to the Republicans' 31 percent. Thirty percent of the district's voters are independents.
Washington, D.C., political publications Roll Call and Rothenberg Political Report both say that the race is leaning Democratic.
While Kirkpatrick has deep roots in the district and a party-registration advantage, Paton's campaign and other opponents argue that she still doesn't reflect the district's rural, conservative tendencies. Paton points to her vote for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as one that will hurt her in the election, as it did in 2010.
"She has had a problem because her values don't represent the values of the district she wants to represent," Paton said.
Opposing campaign ads portrayed her as not up to the job, pointing to a town hall that she left in August 2009, as Holbrook residents shouted at her. They also point to her spending $100,000 on employee pay in her last two days in office, which Kirkpatrick says was to pay accrued leave and bonuses.
Kirkpatrick argues that the health-care vote was a good one that helps people by ensuring children with pre-existing conditions get covered and the Indian Health Service is extended.
"It's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction," she said. "It was the right step for my district."
Paton, 41, also grew up in a "reserved family," though his was on the east side of Tucson, where family life revolved around Sabino Road Baptist Church, he said.
But after traveling abroad and joining the Army Reserve, he became a public person, increasingly comfortable with crowds and the news media.
Paton attended the University of Arizona and majored in German and Russian.
During an internship in the state Senate, "I used to watch the people vote, saw how the system worked, and I was not happy how things were going. It spurred me to get into politics," he said.
He ran for the state House in 1998 but never made it out of the primary.
"When I lost that race, I wanted to keep doing something with my life," he said.
The next year he joined the Army Reserve, starting at the bottom as a private. The experience took him in a completely different direction and gave him "a sense of purpose."
He ran for the state House again in 2000, this time losing in the general election.
Before he finally won, in 2004, Paton did some work that is still causing him headaches, for the Community Financial Services Association, a payday-loan-industry group. His job was mostly setting up a charity to award scholarships in Southern Arizona. He registered as a lobbyist but says he never lobbied any lawmakers.
That work - plus an opinion he wrote in 2008 in favor of a bill that would have allowed the payday-loan industry to survive under stricter regulations - gave his opponents the chance to label him "Payday Paton." Kirkpatrick and her campaign hang it around his neck at every opportunity.
"They want to talk about this issue because she isn't going to win on the basic fundamental issues that this race is about," Paton said.
Near the end of his first term in the Legislature, Paton volunteered in 2006 for deployment as an intelligence officer in Iraq and won re-election while deployed. After his six-month tour he returned to a late swearing-in in February 2007. In 2008, he won a state Senate seat and used it to push through one of the most controversial recent bills affecting Tucsonans: His bill led to the banning last year of Tucson Unified School District's ethnic studies program.
In 2010, Paton resigned and ran for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House, hoping to face then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the general election. Another tea-party favorite, Jesse Kelly, beat him in a four-candidate GOP primary in which Democrats made a major - and successful - effort to oust him.
Paton noted the Democratic Party worked against him in this year's Republican primary, too.
"They didn't want to face me then, and I can understand why," he said. "They're not too happy now, because they've got a race on their hands."
Kim Allen's reason for running as a Libertarian in Congressional District 1 is pretty simple. He can't stand the major parties.
"At one time I thought the Republicans were pretty good people, and at another point I thought the Democrats were pretty good people. But these last 2008 and 2010 elections totally soured me on either of those two parties," he said.
Allen, 72, was born in Wisconsin and raised in Colorado Springs, Colo. His career had taken him to different states as an air-traffic controller and a contractor. Allen and his wife moved to Arizona in 1991, relocating from the Phoenix area to Arizona City in 2001. He retired from a general-contracting firm in 2005.
After working unsuccessfully to incorporate the Pinal County community in 2007, he won a seat on the area's Sanitary District board. Why the leap from sanitary board to Congress? He can't stand all the money spent on political campaigns. "Some people say money is free speech. I say money is pure corruption when it comes to politics."
He wants to change campaign-finance laws so only people who live in a given jurisdiction should be able to contribute to a candidate in that jurisdiction.
Asked how he differs from his opponents, Allen said: "I'm not a Republican or a Democrat. That says it all right there."
2012 U.S. House of Representatives race
U.S. House of Representatives, District 1
• Party: Republican
• Age: 41
• Employer and position: candidate did not respond
• Education: B.A. in German and Russian, University of Arizona
• Political experience: state representative (2005-08), state senator (2009-10)
• Top priority: creating new jobs, growing the economy and getting government out of the way.
• Office: U.S. House of Representatives, District 1
• Party: Democrat
• Age: 62
• Employer and position: attorney, self-employed
• Education: B.A., University of Arizona; law degree, University of Arizona College of Law
• Political experience: elected to Arizona House of Representatives (LD1) in 2004 and 2006; elected to U.S. House of Representatives (CD1) in 2008, serving one term
• Top priority: balance the budget the right way and protect Medicare and Social Security from drastic cuts.
Name two specific things you would do in Congress to help spur job growth in CD1.
Kirkpatrick: We should be working toward a stable, diversified economy not dependent on just one sector. Strong representation at the federal level can help emerging industries in Southern Arizona like biotech and solar reach their potential. And we must attract resources for our universities and colleges, which are critical to our economy but have suffered devastating cuts. A strong education system helps not only the schools themselves but our entire community.
Paton: I will work to keep taxes low and reduce regulations. Policies like the failed stimulus, which Ann Kirkpatrick voted for, have shipped jobs overseas and made us less competitive globally. We need to help grow small businesses by making it easier for them to do business. Unfortunately, Washington has buried them in red tape.
How do you propose dealing with the estimated
11.5 million illegal immigrants already living in the United States?
Kirkpatrick: I support a federal immigration strategy that protects our borders from criminal cartels while offering fair and sensible reforms for people working hard and playing by the rules. I oppose amnesty but support mechanisms to match willing workers with willing employers while protecting rights of legal immigrants. I support the DREAM Act, which offers a sensible path for young people brought here as children who are building a stronger future.
Paton: In the Legislature, I voted for SB 1070 because we must enforce existing law. I also voted for employer-sanction laws. If we take away incentives for people to stay in the country illegally and enforce our laws, we will encourage legal immigration and discourage illegal immigration.
Should the Bush-era tax cuts be continued and, if so, for whom?
Kirkpatrick: The Bush tax cuts were supposed to be temporary, and it's time for them to expire for individuals making more than $500,000. It's wrong to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class. Millionaires and billionaires need to pay their fair share of taxes.
Paton: This is the worst time to raise taxes. Arizonans are stretched to the limit. Middle-class families I'm meeting all across Arizona are struggling to get by in this economy. Small businesses, which would be severely impacted, are the engine of our economy. I do support comprehensive tax reform that makes our tax code fairer for all Americans, but we can't do anything that would further damage our economy.
How should we better manage forests and wild lands to reduce the risk of wildfires?
Kirkpatrick: A worthy model is the Four Forest Initiative, which I worked on in 2010. In this collaborative effort, I joined local officials, forest-health experts, Forest Service officials and state policymakers in a push to restore Northern Arizona's forests. To protect dangerously overgrown forests, the initiative increased the acreage made available to industry for thinning and treatment, and it helped create about 600 jobs to process the harvested wood into products.
Paton: Federal mandates on our lumber industry have hurt job growth and increased the risk of wildfires. We need to landscape our forests in a responsible way - for the health of our forests, for our economy and to keep us safe.
Coming Tuesday: Congressional District 2
Coming Wednesday: Congressional District 3
Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or firstname.lastname@example.org