FLAGSTAFF – Loaded with hay bales, American flags, posters and a sign that says, “Hay, Hay, Hay,” the Hay wagon is the official campaign vehicle of Sydney Hay.
At events around Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, the Republican candidate unloads all those things, creating a setting that might remind voters of the farm, the rodeo or the county fair.
The candidates are playing up their Western values in the most rural of Arizona’s congressional districts, a 58,000 square-mile area where town councils often debate open range, natural resources, agriculture and water issues and vent concerns about cattle loose on the streets.
“That’s not what you’d be hearing talked about at the town council meeting in Tempe,” Hay says.
Both Hay and her Democratic opponent, Ann Kirkpatrick, herald themselves as true daughters of the West, though Kirkpatrick more specifically as a daughter of the 1st District.
Hay is pictured on her Web site sporting a cowboy hat, and Kirkpatrick leans over the back of a pickup truck talking with voters in one of her ads.
Michael Amundson, associate professor of history at Northern Arizona University, said the district that sprawls across northern and eastern Arizona is largely perceived by Phoenix and Tucson-area residents as “rural Arizona.”
“It seems like since this seat has been created, the candidates inevitably are shown on TV driving in a pickup truck or wearing boots or jeans, which seems more like their own vision of the district than any one that I’ve seen,” he said. “Of course, much of this district relies heavily on tourism and so perhaps the candidates buy into this image, too.”
Kirkpatrick grew up in McNary on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, riding horses bareback and waking up before sunrise to go hunting with her dad. It wasn’t unusual for family members to bring the game they had shot – duck, elk, deer – along with turkey to her aunt’s home for Thanksgiving dinner, she said.
Her campaign signs lack the traditional Democratic hues and instead feature a neutral, dark brown she said represents the rustic nature of the district.
Kirkpatrick, who inherited her dad’s shotgun and rifle, first fired that rifle while a youngster with her dad, who ran a general store in town. She had a “huge bruise” on her shoulder to show for it.
“You learn early the proper way to hold a rifle, and it’s tight,” she says.
In fact, both candidates staunchly defend the Second Amendment and encourage the safe and responsible use of guns.
“It’s important to rural Arizona, it’s part of our Constitution,” Kirkpatrick said.
Hay doesn’t hunt, though she owns a Colt Python revolver mostly for self-defense.
“That gun is actually the great equalizer. If anybody would like to come into my home and my husband, Dan, is out of town, the only thing I’d have to protect myself from some big thug that wants to do me harm . . . is that I do own that gun and I do know how to shoot it and I’m proficient with it and safe with it,” she said at a debate earlier this year.
Hay was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, which gives her an “A” rating for making pro-gun statements, among other things, said NRA spokeswoman Rachel Parsons. Kirkpatrick has a “D” rating from the group.
Hay and her husband split their time between homes in Munds Park and Scottsdale.
On the campaign trail, the candidates have talked with voters at local football games, barbecues, pumpkin patches, craft fairs, parades, county fairs and have seen Wild West gun shows and quilts handmade by residents of the district.
While she was a state legislator, Kirkpatrick walked into a Phoenix lawmaker’s office to chat and was asked why she didn’t just pick up the phone and call. That’s not how things were done back home, she said.
“That was how you communicated with people, you went over to their house and talked to them,” she said. “It’s something we could use more of.”
“They want to see the candidates in person, and I knew that starting out, which is why I started my campaign so long ago,” said Kirkpatrick, a Flagstaff resident. “They really want to see you in person, in their town.”
Kirkpatrick, Hay, Independent Brent Maupin of Oak Creek and Libertarian Thane Eichenauer of Phoenix are facing off on the Nov. 4 ballot for the seat held by Rep. Rick Renzi. The three-term congressman is awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to charges that he engineered a swap of federally owned mining land to benefit himself and a former business partner.