Arizona Democrats target once-solidly red 6th District

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Democrats are targeting one of four solidly Republican U.S. House districts with a polished candidate who has a big fundraising edge against a wounded GOP incumbent with a slimmer-than-normal bank account as they look to extend their control of the congressional delegation in the shifting battleground state.

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The party makeup of Arizona’s congressional delegation has been remarkably stable for the past decade, with only the 2nd District flipping between Republican and Democratic control since the addition of the 9th district after the 2010 census. Democrats currently occupy five of the nine seats.

Democrats hope to change that this year with Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, who is challenging five-term Republican Rep. David Schweikert in the suburban 6th District that takes in much of north Phoenix, Paradise Valley, Scottsdale and Fountain Hills.

While Arizona has been shifting from solid red to purple, Schweikert seems especially vulnerable after he admitted to a series of ethics violations in July and earned a rare unanimous reprimand from his House colleagues.

“People understand that they deserve somebody better than what they have,” Tipirneni said. “He has not gone to D.C. and represented them — in fact he has fought against the issues that really matter to the families of the 6th District — and on top of it he has shown himself to be completely unethical and lacking integrity.”

Arizona's 6th District was once solidly red, but the Cook Political Report, which rates congressional districts by competitiveness, has moved it from leans Republican to a toss-up. Schweikert has easily won the past four elections, by 25 percentage points in all but 2018, when he beat another Democrat by 10 points.

Chuck Coughlin, a longtime Republican political consultant, said Schweikert may be in trouble this time.

“I think he’s vulnerable, based upon the cycle and the turnout,” Coughlin said. “There’s a significant heightened amount of enthusiasm among Democrats, coupled with I believe a disconnect with Schweikert because of his problems.”

Little change is likely among Arizona’s other eight congressional districts, although that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of challengers going after incumbents from both parties that could flip another seat.

Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran, who represents the sprawling 1st District that runs from Flagstaff east to the Navajo Nation and then south to take in parts of the suburbs north of Tucson, faces a strong challenge from Republican Tiffany Shedd, an Eloy farmer and attorney. That race is the only Democratic seat Cook rates as lean rather than likely Democratic.

In the 6th District race, Tipirneni has raised about $5 million as of Oct. 1, well above Schweikert’s $1.9 million. She entered the final four weeks of the campaign with $1.5 million on hand to close the deal, compared with the less than $550,000 in the Republican’s account. Outside groups have joined in, backing both candidates.

She’s used her cash to pound him on his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and raise concerns about his backing of Social Security and Medicare, which she says Republicans have endangered. And she notes that most of her fundraising has come from individual donors, while her opponent has taken corporate PAC money she disdains.

“His voting record time and time again shows he voted in line with his lobbyist pals, with his corporate party donors and with his party leaders, not with the families of the 6th District,” she said. “The proof is in the record.”

Schweikert says Tipirneni is just wrong for the district and that he remains confident he will pull out a victory.

“Look, say it any way you want to, but my Democrat opponent is not a good fit for the district,” he said. “Where she is on tax and spend, Green New Deal, socialized medicine, all those things, she’s just a bad fit.”

And Schweikert said he retains solid support in a district he knows well, and that he notes Tipirneni doesn’t even live in.

“It’s a combination of a couple things – we’ve been very successful at helping the district — everything from the PPP loans, to bringing jobs to the community, to being somebody who actually truly advocates for the community and knows it well,” Schweikert said. “And the simple fact is, on the issues we align very well with the community.”

Tipirneni said the swing toward Democrats in the district — seen in other suburban areas nationally and in Arizona — is telling.

“We brought it from likely to lean to a toss-up – that didn’t happen by chance,” she said. “Otherwise this should have been in the bag for him, right? Nobody thought this was even a competitive district. It’s competitive because he is entirely ineffective as a representative. He’s failed time and time again and he lacks integrity. He’s unethical.”

Schweikert isn’t overly worried.

“It may be closer than we’d like but everything looks like we’ll be fine,” Schweikert said.

In the other three heavily Republican districts — the 4th, 5th, and 8th, GOP incumbents appear poised to cruise to victory. Rep. Paul Gosar is being challenged by Delina Disanto for the 4th District seat, Rep. Andy Biggs is being challenged a second time by Joan Greene in the 5th District, and Rep. Debbie Lesko faces Michael Muscato in the 8th District.

The same is true for four of the five districts now held by Democrats. In the 2nd, held by Ann Kirkpatrick, Republican Brandon Martin is underfunded in his effort to take the once-competitive district. Rep. Raul Grijalva is seeking a 10th term in the 3rd District and being challenged by Daniel Wood. Joshua Barnett is facing an uphill fight against Rep. Ruben Gallego in the 7th District and Rep. Greg Stanton faces Dave Giles in the 9th District.