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Democrats could win majority in Arizona’s U.S. House delegation

That would end 40 years of GOP dominance

FLAGSTAFF — Arizona’s U.S. House delegation has long been dominated by Republicans, but some believe the GOP’s reign could come to an end this November.

Demographic shifts, an increase of Hispanic and independent voters in the state and a push by candidates to be seen as centrists could give the Democrats an edge in the delegation for the first time since 1966.

Just four years ago, six of the state’s eight House members were Republican. But two years ago, Democrats gained two seats to even the party split at four each.

Political observers say one and possibly two additional seats could go to Democrats in the Nov. 4 election, leading to the first Democratic majority in the House delegation in more than 40 years.

“They’re scared to death, absolutely,” William Dixon, who heads the University of Arizona’s political science department, said, referring to the state’s Republican leadership.

“Everything seems to be lining up exactly that way, it favors Democrats and hurts Republicans,” Dixon said. “Nationally (and) in the state, things aren’t very good economically. I think people want to see change.”

Democrats are seen as having the best chances to win new seats in the 3rd Congressional District and the 1st Congressional District, with the 1st being perceived as the likeliest Democratic pickup.

Political observers say the race is tight between Democrat Bob Lord and Rep. John Shadegg, who is seeking his eighth term in the 3rd District.

There’s an open seat in the 1st District, where Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick is facing Republican Sydney Hay. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has paid for mailers and TV ads critical of Hay, while the national GOP group hasn’t thrown any money into the race.

Hay, who has described herself as a champion of conservative reforms, acknowledges she’s behind in the race but said so was Republican Rep. Rick Renzi in the 2006 election when he won a third term in office. Renzi is not seeking re-election this year and has been indicted on corruption charges. He’s declared his innocence and awaits trial.

“Anybody’s guess is as valid as anybody else’s right now,” Hay said. “It’s such a wild state of affairs.”

Kirkpatrick’s claim that she is independent won’t hold up with voters of the 1st District, where Democratic voter registration is higher but more Republicans typically turn out to vote, Hay said.

“She’s pretending to be something she’s not at all,” Hay said. “When she was in the Legislature, she was one of the most liberal legislators.”

Kirkpatrick routinely calls for an end to partisan bickering and touts her “independent pioneering spirit.”

Democrats are seeing a boost from independent voters who tend to favor moderate politicians and reject far-right conservatives, said Arizona State University pollster Bruce Merrill. While the statewide percentage of registered Democrats and Republicans hasn’t changed much since 2002, the number of independents has increased from nearly 16 percent in 2002 to more than 27 percent in 2008.

“People don’t want to be members of parties,” says Fred Solop, a political pollster at Northern Arizona University. “They pride themselves on being independent and rating candidates based on their merits.”

And although Republicans have a voter registration advantage in five of the eight congressional districts, Merrill said the GOP has not adapted to the change in voter views as Democrats have.

“It’s a real interesting phenomena, but that’s part of the problem with the Republicans,” he said.

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