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A Competitive Race In Arizona's Newest District

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A Competitive Race In Arizona's Newest District

A Competitive Race In Arizona's Newest District

Photo by Tracy Greer

Arizona 9th Congressional District candidates Vernon Parker and Kyrsten Sinema attended separate primary election forums hosted by KJZZ Phoenix over the summer.

PHOENIX -- In Arizona, one of the most competitive congressional races is playing out in a brand new district in the Phoenix metro area: the 9th District.

The state earned the new district because of population growth over the last decade. Both leading candidates would represent a “first” for Arizona’s congressional delegation.

Vernon Parker is the Republican candidate.

He’s the 52-year old former mayor of Paradise Valley, Ariz. and previous member of the Bush administration who grew up poor. He also would be Arizona’s first black representative in Congress.

In a pitch he gave on a local television interview, he told voters:

“I know that I would go to Congress and know that I would represent you,” Parker said. “And make sure that we stop the finger-pointing, make sure the American people are put first again.”

Kyrsten Sinema is the Democrat. She's a 36-year old former state legislator who was once homeless as a child.

In her turn to give her pitch on the same interview, she told voters: “I’m running for Congress because I want every kid in this country to have the same shot to make it to the middle class and succeed just like I did.”

Sinema is also openly bisexual, which would be a first in Congress.

“[This race is] probably unique to the whole country,” said Wes Gullett, a Phoenix political analyst. “Where you have an African-American Republican and a bisexual Democrat running against each other. That probably doesn’t happen too often.”

To be clear, neither candidate is drawing attention to their race or sexuality.

In fact, they aren’t drawing much attention to their party affiliations, either. That’s because Independents are surging in Arizona. In the brand new 9th District, voters who are unaffiliated with either major party slightly outnumber either Democrats or Republicans.

Both Parker and Sinema are trying to present themselves as moderates who can work across party lines. Meanwhile, their respective camps are using negative ads to present the other candidate as an extremist.

One video by the Sinema campaign warns voters that “Vernon Parker is a Tea Party candidate who wants to force his narrow, religious views on women.”

It goes on to say that, “Parker would make abortion illegal, even in cases of rape or incest.”

Parker’s campaign said he has always supported exceptions for rape and incest. The ad referenced one survey in which Parker responded that he supported "prohibiting abortion except where it is necessary to prevent the death of the mother."

The questionnaire was by the Center for Arizona Policy, an organization that advocates against abortion.

Reproductive rights have become a hot-button topic in the state, since state lawmakers recently passed some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the country.

On the other side, a conservative political action committee supporting Parker sponsored an ad that says Sinema “described herself as a socialist.”

The ad revives controversial quotes Sinema gave in a 2006 magazine interview that she claims were meant to be satirical in the vein of Stephen Colbert.

The ‘socialist’ reference came from a quip in which Sinema called her own fashion sense, “Prada socialist.”

The ad goes on to reference another quote from the same interview:

“Kyrsten Sinema attacked stay at home moms, calling them leeches,” the ad says. “Do you agree with Kyrsten Sinema? This November, tell Kyrsten Sinema she is too extreme for Arizona.”

The 9th District is believed to be a swing district that is competitive for both parties, though Democrats are thought to have a slight edge.

The district's independents have skewed to the left in the past, likely because the boundaries include the student population at Arizona State University in Tempe. The district's voters are 59.1 percent white, 26.9 percent Latino, and 4.8 percent black, according to an analysis in the Arizona Capitol Times.

It’s home to voters like Kathy Lange, who was buying groceries this week at her local Safeway.

“I want someone who knows how to balance the books and also has a heart for the environment and for people,” Lange said.

Lange is that sought after, independent, undecided voter in the 9th District. But despite all the advertising, she’s still not sure which one she prefers on the issues.

“There are so many negative ads it is kind of a blur,” Lange said. “So I couldn’t tell you the specifics on either candidate, what their commercials were all about, because I pretty much tune them out.”

Another independent, retiree Marianne Alcott, has gone a step further.

“I've turned my television off,” Alcott said. “I’m not going to watch until after the election.”

But Alcott’s already decided, and her reasoning doesn’t have much to do with either candidate personally. She’s voting Democrat to vote against a Republican controlled House of Representatives.

“I want to get the people out of Washington that aren't doing anything and passing nothing,” Alcott said. “They don't care about the country, they just care about one thing: getting the president out of office.”

The ultimate make up of the House is what has outside groups and national party committees funneling some $4.3 million into this race so far. Democratic leaders are hoping to pick up enough seats nationwide to have a majority -- an outcome at this point, not deemed likely.

The 9th District is one of three close House races in Arizona. The results of this race, along with the 1st and 2nd districts, will determine whether the state's delegation to Congress remains majority Republican.

Jude Joffe-Block was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2010 to 2017.