In Congressional District 1, three Republican candidates are crisscrossing a sprawling district that is larger than the entire state of Pennsylvania to meet with voters.
State Sen. Steve Smith, attorney and small business owner Tiffany Shedd and retired Air Force pilot Wendy Rogers all want the GOP nomination next month, believing they can kick Democrat Tom O’Halleran out of office in November.
As they vie for the nomination in next month’s primary, the trio also wrestles over who has the best ties to President Trump.
The president is a leading fixture in the race, as the Republican candidates point out that the District backed Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“It is an anomaly,” Rogers told a packed restaurant in Marana last week. She noted while voters backed O’Halleran 20 months ago, they also voted for Trump.
The statement is accurate, but it was hardly a landslide. Trump got 3,054 more votes than Clinton in CD1, which stretches from the northern outskirts of Tucson to the Four Corners region, covering all of the Navajo Nation and westward to the Grand Canyon.
Even O’Halleran admits in his fundraising letters that his seat is vulnerable.
An email his campaign sent last week cites the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which ranks CD1 as one of the most competitive races in the country.
Democrats have a slight registration advantage over Republicans in CD1, with 155,836 registered Democrats compared to 131,385 in the GOP. But about 30 percent of registered voters are tied to neither party.
The Republican candidates mostly agree on core issues, supporting Trump’s call for a multibillion-dollar investment in a new border wall, a renewed focus on job creation, protecting the Second Amendment and reigning in the federal government.
Where the candidates differ, on the other hand, is their respective backgrounds.
Smith touts his experience in the state Legislature for the last six years as one of his primary qualifications, sitting as the chair of the powerful Senate Commerce And Public Safety Committee.
“Everything that touches jobs, economic development, police, fire and military, border security, all of that comes through my committee,” he said. “In a way, I want to be able to do the things we’ve been able to do that has made Arizona so successful.”
Particularly, Smith points to how Arizona turned its economy around, digging its way out of a multibillion-dollar debt when he took office and becoming one of the leading job creators in the country.
“A lot of what I’ve been doing, we can do on a bigger level,” he said.
Smith also has close ties to the tribes, touting three bills he has been instrumental in helping to pass recently, including one helping to secure jobs at the Navajo Generating Plant.
Born and raised in Michigan, Smith moved to Arizona in 2001. He works as an advertising agency director.
Rogers, a retired Air Force pilot, might have the most name recognition on the campaign trail.
She ran in 2014 and 2016 but failed to get past the primary.
With her husband by her side, Rogers now flies in a tiny Cessna across the district, meeting supporters in chapter houses on the reservation, to small informal meetings in towns and veteran ceremonies.
Rogers and her husband own a home inspection company.
Rogers made headlines recently when a political tracker sneaked into one of her meetings, leaking audio to the Huffington Post about a speech where she discussed her anti-abortion stance.
At a meeting in Marana, Rogers said it was an honor to be skewered by the online outlet and refused to back away from comparing abortion to the Holocaust.
The retired pilot also warned supporters of the gradual erosion of the Second Amendment, saying she would defend their rights to own guns if elected.
Shedd is relatively new to congressional politics, opting last year to throw her hat into the ring after spending time active in local politics in Eloy.
Shedd, a lifelong resident of the area, didn’t realize that when she complained about the lack of federal representation in her rural community shortly after the 2016 election, that her husband had a perfect candidate already in mind.
“We were basically forgotten, and it was really hurting our community,” she said. “I was badgering my husband to help me find someone. We had to think of someone with roots in the district, someone who cares about the many land issues we have in the district.”
A few months later, the local attorney and business owner was on the campaign trail.
Since she jumped into the race, Shedd said she has been inspired by the people she has met.
“I see so many people with needs in this district,” Shedd said. “I am energized by that, and I feel a great weight by that.”
Complaints about federal rules and regulations, hearing countless tales of burdensome regulations and selective enforcement, have been a common theme, she says.
They also fight over who has the best ties to President Trump.
Rogers, for example, touts herself on campaign signs as a “Trump candidate” and hands out photographs of herself standing next to him.
Smith, on the other hand, tells people about meeting with key Trump advisors and being personally invited to the White House even before he announced his campaign.
Shedd doesn’t claim close ties to the president. Instead, she said she has been an unwavering supporter of Trump since he announced his run for office.
It isn’t something her rivals can claim, she says. Rogers is listed as a supporter of Jeb Bush in a 2015 press release while Smith was once part of Sen. Ted Cruz’s Arizona team when he ran for president.
A recent poll by Data Orbital of likely Republican primary election voters in late June had Rogers in the lead with about 22 percent saying they would vote for her. Shedd came in second with 15 percent of the vote and Smith with 10 percent of the vote.
However, 50 percent of those polled said they were still undecided.
The poll was commissioned by the Defending Rural Arizona political action committee, a single-candidate super PAC that supports Rogers.
Early ballots will be sent out in the first week of August.