The Contentious Land of Az. According to the latest Harris Poll, the three biggest national issues to voters are, in order: the war, the economy, and immigration. In Arizona, the order is more like immigration, immigration and then, in third place, the war. The Arizona economy is pretty good. But most discussions of the macro economy eventually lead right back to immigration -- and it will color the election tremendously.
NPR logo The Contentious Land of Az.

The Contentious Land of Az.

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Prof. Kennedy on Hayworth and the GOP

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Hayworth Supporter Chrystal Pachano on Immigration

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According to the latest Harris Poll, the three biggest national issues to voters are, in order: the war, the economy, and immigration. In Arizona, the order is more like immigration, immigration and then, in third place, the war.

The Arizona economy is pretty good, unemployment is low, and the housing boom has really helped wages. But most discussions of the macro economy eventually lead right back to immigration -- and it will color the election tremendously.

What struck me about both Rep. J.D. Hayworth and Harry Mitchell is that they both believe they are sitting on the winning argument -- not the argument that should win the hearts and minds of voters, but the one that will.

Hayworth thinks of the Kennedy/McCain immigration bill as "amnesty"; his views are in line with Arizona's Republican senator, Jon Kyl. For his part, Mitchell thinks that Arizona employers need a steady stream of workers to keep the economy humming.

Hayworth feels so strongly about the issue, he's even written a book about it.

Both sides can look at recent polls and infer they're speaking for the majority of voters. A recent Arizona State University poll's headline indicates that most voters support the President's immigration plan to allow guest workers.

But it's unclear if people are reacting to the overall plan -- or just the aspects of it that do something -- anything -- about immigration. The poll simultaneously shows support for Bush's plan, which Hayworth has criticized, along with majority support for a plan from a group Mitchell has criticized, the Minutemen.

Let's take a look at another issue, one that pollsters tell us is supposed to favor Democrats: stem cell research. The fifth congressional district has a large research university which would presumably get stem cell funding; and ASU political science professor Patrick Kennedy says Arizona's 5th isn't so socially conservative as to oppose stem cell research.

Hayworth, however, was a supporter of President Bush's veto of the stem cell bill -- so that stance should have the potential to hurt him with the voters, right? But in conversations with voters like Scottsdale doctor Ray Mahoubi, I realized many Arizonans don't even know Mitchell and Hayworth differ on the issue.

With roughly three months before Election Day, Mitchell can live with that level of ignorance. But if we fast-forward to three weeks before the election and most voters don't know his position, he'll be in trouble.

Which brings up the dynamics of communication. Buying TV time is hard here; you have to pay Phoenix rates but you're only reaching a fraction of the Phoenix audience. There's no precedent for a televised debate for the fifth district, which was redrawn 6 years ago.

And for Mitchell, there is the issue of going up against one of the most quotable men in Congress. Asked if he is worried about the kind of pithy messaging that a lot of Democrats are convinced Republicans wield like magic spells, Mitchell said voters want more than "simple sound-bites" from politicians.

This will be a tough race for Hayworth; an uphill struggle for Mitchell -- and perhaps a disillusioning experience for the people of the fifth. Already Hayworth's people are attaching little notices on their signs, asking Mitchell not to steal them.

In sign parlance, the small add-ons are called snipes. They won't be the last.

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