The race for Arizona's 8th Congressional District is focused on the U.S.-Mexico border. It's where an Arizona rancher was killed last March, possibly by Mexican drug runners. That incident and the battle over the state's new immigration law are prompting some tough talk from the candidates.
NPR's Ken Rudin rates the race for Arizona's 8th District a "toss-up." See his analysis and how others view the race at NPR's Election Scorecard.
There's an old saying in Spanish — Quien es mas macho? (Who's tougher?) — that sums up the debate in the district over border security and immigration.
Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, the two-term incumbent, can't afford to look soft, so there isn't any talk of immigration reform. Instead, she reminds voters how she fought to get $600 million for border security this summer.
"We're going to bring as many resources to stop this problem so we can go on and focus on other issues for the state of Arizona," she recently told an audience in northwest Tuscon.
She went on to blame the "federal government's inaction and inability to secure [the] ... border."
Blaming the federal government has become a requirement for any Arizona politician, as is the support of those living on the border. Giffords is running TV ads featuring ranchers like Gary Thrasher.
"She's probably the best advocate for border security that we've ever had down here," Thrasher says in the ad. "I can talk to her; she's accessible. she's one for our side, I can tell you that."
Rival Attacks Democrats' Position
Not according to Giffords' opponent, Tea Party Republican Jesse Kelly. An ad for his campaign trashes Giffords' stance as not tough enough — especially when it comes to Arizona's state immigration law.
"Giffords opposes S.B. 1070 and stopped construction of our border fence," the ad says. "Does Gabrielle Giffords represent your values?"
S.B. 1070 refers to the state Senate bill on immigration that was signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in April. A federal judge blocked many of its provisions a day before the law was to take effect.
Giffords voted to fund the 700 miles of border fencing and vehicle barrier now in place, but Kelly wants a double-layer fence for the entire 2,100 miles of border. Giffords opposed S.B. 1070, but she also urged the U.S. Justice Department not to sue Arizona over the law, which it did.
Kelly wants S.B. 1070 and existing law used to force illegal immigrants to leave.
"Whether you self-deport because of our employer sanctions — I mean, you can't find work so you return home — or whether you are apprehended and discovered to be illegal and are returned home, either way you must return to your country of citizenship and then come here legally," Kelly says.
The fight for the hard line on the border is no surprise in this congressional district. But Kelly was the surprise Republican nominee who got the Tea Party base to the polls and beat a more moderate Republican.
Like all Tea Party candidates, Kelly wants a smaller federal government. In fact, he told the audience at a Tucson retirement home that he opposes most federal spending.
"There's absolutely nothing in the federal government you cannot reduce after you fulfilled your constitutional obligation of defending this nation," he said.
'A Moderate Swing District'
Kelly also opposes stimulus funding, though the 28-year-old former Marine works for his father's construction company, which does mostly government work. But his small-government rhetoric resonates with Republican voters like Del Strunk, who says he's tired of Giffords and Democratic spending.
"I've gotta tell you, she votes the party line," Strunk complained.
Giffords is saddled with the baggage that being a Democrat carries this year. But she says Kelly is too extreme for a district split almost evenly among Democrats, Republicans and independents.
"This is a moderate swing district, and I'm one of the most moderate members of Congress," she said.
Issues beyond the border will probably decide this race — what to do with Social Security, the Bush-era tax cuts and the health care bill. Because when it comes to border security and immigration, the candidates running for Arizona's 8th Congressional seat seem to have only two lines — hard and harder.