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Why Arizona congressional candidates are drawn to districts they don't live in

Abe Hamadeh and Blake Masters
Abe Hamadeh (left) and Blake Masters

Candidates running for Congress in Arizona have to live in the state, but there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution requiring them to live in the districts they hope to represent.

This year, a handful of candidates have filed to run in two Valley congressional districts for very different reasons — and they hail from vastly different parts of the state.

In the West Valley’s Congressional District 8, Republicans Blake Masters and Abe Hamadeh are both vying to replace Congresswoman Debbie Lesko, who announced she will not seek re-election. 

Masters spent 2022 traveling all over Arizona in a failed bid for the U.S. Senate. Late last year, he announced plans to run for Congress in CD8, over 100 miles away from his home at the time in Tucson.

“We need new leaders. People who haven’t spent their lives in politics. That’s why I’m running for Congress — to fight for Arizona’s eighth,” Masters said in a video announcing his campaign. 

Masters’ Tucson residency has already become campaign fodder. A social media account associated with Hamadeh posted a Google Maps screenshot with directions for the journey from Tucson to CD8, a 130 mile drive. 

But the attempt to poke fun at Masters backfired. 

Eagle-eyed users pointed out the map was posted from a residence in north Scottsdale, a city outside of the CD8 boundaries, and a city that Hamadeh calls home.

Masters and Hamadeh, who narrowly lost a statewide bid for attorney general in 2022, are among a half dozen Republicans that jumped into the CD8 race when Lesko announced her retirement.

To Paul Bentz, a pollster with HighGround, the reason is obvious. CD8 is the second-most Republican-leaning district in Arizona, so whichever candidate wins the primary is almost guaranteed to win the general election.

“At a time when the state didn’t get a 10th Congressional District, which would have been the natural pressure release valve for people trying to find different places to run or reorganizing the deck chairs as it were, Lesko’s retirement has offered the perfect opportunity for people seeking higher office looking to compete to create an open seat that’s very friendly to Republicans," Bentz said.

Former West Valley state lawmaker Rick Gray agreed.

“You know, people coming from Tucson to run. People that ran for other state offices. To be blunt, I think there’s a certain opportunism when it comes to politics at times,” Gray said.

Both Masters and Hamadeh addressed concerns over their residency at a CD8 forum in November.

Hamadeh said he lived in the district as a child.

“For me, I actually lived there. I went to three different schools up there,” Hamadeh said. 

Masters, for his part, has since moved out of his Tucson home and into CD8.

“So after lots of conversations with my wife and we prayed about it, we made that big decision ‘Hey, this is the right opportunity for me to contribute and me to serve,’ so we’ll be moving up here in the new year,” Masters said in November.

Across the Valley in Scottsdale, some Democrats are also crossing district lines to run for Congress. 

But, in this case, they’re seeking out a fight with incumbent Republican Rep. David Schweikert.

Like Masters, Amish Shah is an outsider moving to call the district he’s now running in home. Until recently Shah lived next door in CD3, a safe district for Democrats represented by Congressman Ruben Gallego, who is foregoing reelection to run for U.S. Senate.

“I got into this because I wanted to turn Arizona blue,” Shah said. “I wanted to run to flip a seat and to make the most difference I could in the world, and we know that CD3 is going to be a blue seat.”

Marlene Galan Woods made a similar move in May. The widow of former Republican Attorney General Grant Woods also lived in nearby CD3, but bought a home in CD1 last year, around the time she announced she was running for Congress as a Democrat.

A spokeswoman for her campaign said Woods is the only Democrat in the race who can defeat Schweikert in November, something Democrats have failed to do for several consecutive cycles.

“Arizonans know Marlene will always put people first, politics last, which is why she is the only candidate in this race to earn the support of working families,” campaign manager Aditi Katti said.

Scottsdale Democrats will have a decision to make in the July primary. Shah and Woods are among six candidates running in the district. Shea Najafi, a Scottsdale Democrat who has not decided who she will support, said a candidate’s connection to the community, not their exact address, is what matters to her.

“If they live a mile in one direction or the other, that, to me, does not determine whether or not you can represent this area as a whole at the federal level,” Najafi said. 

But Najafi said it’s incumbent on all candidates, in district and out, to engage with voters at forums and other events to make it clear where they stand on key policy issues. 

Bentz, the pollster with HighGround, said that can be challenging for candidates who live, or at least recently lived, outside the district they’re running to represent. But he noted that candidates have overcome that hurdle before.

“Going all the way back to Senator McCain when he first ran for Congress wasn’t originally from the district that he ran in,” Bentz said.

But Gray said CD8 voters do care about a candidates’ roots.

He described Lesko as a model candidate for the district – someone who has a longer track record of delivering for the community, and living in the community. 

“So I think that’s what we’re looking at, and I think that’s what, I would say, probably a majority of voters are going to want to maintain,” Gray said.

Debbie Lesko
Debbie Lesko speaks with attendees during an event at the Arizona Biltmore on April 8, 2023.

Lesko has already weighed in on the race by endorsing a local like herself, Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma.

Bentz said Lesko’s endorsement will give him a leg up, because she’s a known entity in the community with significant name ID. And endorsements from other prominent West Valley residents, like Surprise Mayor Skip Hall and former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, should also impact the race.

“Having local credibility from local elected officials and well-known names can make a difference in this race,” Bentz said.

But Bentz said Hamadeh should not be underestimated after he received the coveted endorsement of former President Donald Trump.

Both Masters and Hamadeh have a name recognition advantage after running statewide campaigns in 2022. But only time will if that is enough to convince voters to support them over homegrown talent. 

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.