Candidates for Arizona’s open house seat paint competition as extremists
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Arizona’s only open congressional seat has featured some buzzwords spoken by candidates on both sides: extreme and the American dream.
Republican Juan Ciscomani says he’s living the American dream as an immigrant whose family came to the U.S. from Hermosillo, Mexico, when he was a boy and became naturalized U.S. citizens. Democrat Kirsten Engel says she’s trying to renew the American dream by fighting against a pre-statehood law that bans abortions and denies women reproductive freedom.
Both candidates have characterized each other as too extreme for the 6th Congressional District that covers southeastern Arizona and sweeps through parts of Tucson, the Sonoran Desert, national forest and includes part of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Voter registration is closely divided among Democrats, Republicans and independents, although the GOP has a slight advantage.
Current Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick decided not to seek another term, leaving no incumbent in the race. Both parties see it as winnable, a chance either to maintain the Democratic majority in the state delegation or flip it to Republicans.
Early voting for the Nov. 8 election is underway. It’s one of three in the state that Republicans hope to flip from Democratic control. Nationally, Republicans need to net just five seats to take control of the U.S. House.
Ciscomani is an establishment Republican with deep roots in the GOP’s pro-business wing. He hasn’t closely aligned himself with allies of former President Donald Trump, who include gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Blake Masters, the party’s U.S. Senate nominee, or taken similar hardline stances seen in other Republican campaigns.
Engel, an environmental law professor who resigned from the state Legislature to run for Congress, has nonetheless tried to loop him in.
“People really are looking for something different,” she said. “They’re not suspicious of the Republican Party because the Republican Party looks like it is extreme. It is extreme.”
Ciscomani pointed to Engel’s stance on abortion and her legislative voting record to cast her as an extremist. She would fall in line with Democrats nationally, namely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden, who have allowed inflation and government spending to soar under their watch, Ciscomani said.
“When we (Republicans) control the House of Representatives after November, we’re going to be able to add a check and balance to what’s happening in Washington,” he said.
Ciscomani served as a senior adviser on international affairs to outgoing Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and was vice chairman of the nonprofit Arizona-Mexico Commission. He’s focused his campaign on the economy and the border, including immigration, trade and commerce, and security.
Ciscomani outraised Engel, but both spent heavily in competitive primaries.
Engel has focused much of her talking points on water in the midst of a deepening drought and abortion in a state where courts are still deciding what’s allowed months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The landmark case legalized abortion, but the high court said it’s up to states now to determine their own policies.
In Arizona, abortions can be provided now through 15 weeks of pregnancy under a law approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and Ducey. A court has blocked enforcement of a near total ban that dates to before Arizona was a state until shortly after the election while an appeals court considers the issue.
Engel’s teenage daughter joined her in a recent campaign advertisement where she criticized politicians for making medical decisions. She said later in an interview that those decisions should be made by women in consultation with their doctors, families and religious leaders.
“The choice for the voters is between a proponent of keeping these freedoms and how important they are to families and individuals, and completely switching gears and going with an extreme candidate who would take those freedoms away,” Engel said.
Ciscomani says he does not support abortion except in instances of rape, incest or when the mother’s health is jeopardized. The old law has an exception for the mother’s health but — like the new 15-week ban — has none for rape or incest.
“I have three daughters. I don’t want to see them being placed in a situation where they cannot make these choices to protect their own life or worse, in one of the terrible instances,” he said.