The fight to represent a far-flung congressional district could be determined by how Arizonans feel about whether children of illegal immigrants are entitled to U.S. citizenship.
In announcing his bid for Congress on Wednesday, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu touted his law enforcement background.
"There's literally an emergency in Washington," Babeu said. He said that makes the problems there an ideal fit for his status as a "first responder."
"While people are running the other direction away from trouble, I'm running towards it," he said.
That specifically includes the issue of illegal immigration.
Babeu said he and his department have been on the front line in that fight, especially against the gangs that smuggle drugs.
"We can continue doing that," he said. But Babeu said the problem cannot be solved within one county, or even one state.
"There has to be a federal solution," he said, promising to provide "subject-matter expertise, first-hand experience" for Congress.
His promise to focus on securing the border makes him not so different than state Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, who also is weighing a bid to represent the far-flung district that stretches from Pinal County through Prescott and Kingman and then south to Yuma. Gould said Wednesday he is still making a final decision.
But there is one area where the pair clearly disagree: Whether to challenge the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which has so far been interpreted to mean that anyone born on U.S. soil is a citizen.
Gould has been at the forefront of that fight in Arizona.
Last year he sponsored a package of legislation which would require at least one parent to prove either citizenship or legal residency in order for the child to be recognized as a citizen of Arizona and, by extension, the United States.
Parents who provide the necessary documentation would get a birth certificate certifying the child as a citizen. Failure of a parent to provide that proof would result in issuance of a birth certificate stating it is not proof of citizenship.
And the package would require Arizona to enter into compacts with other states with similar laws and agree to recognize the two types of birth certificates - and treat the person accordingly.
Gould acknowledged that Arizona changing its laws would not affect federal policy. And he conceded it likely would be challenged, with the question likely winding up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"They've never made a ruling specifically on whether the children of illegal immigrants born on United States soil are illegal immigrants," he said. "The bureaucrats have decided that they are. But the court has never ruled."
Gould was unable to get the votes last session. But he said the issue will not go away.
Babeu, however, said such a debate is a waste of time.
"Clearly, we're not going to go back, and anybody who's been born in the United States to take citizenship away from them," he said.
More to the point, Babeu said he considers the issue not only divisive but diverting attention.
"Why don't we solve the problem?" he said. "This is where so many people are focused on the symptoms and trying to fix those" instead of securing the border.
Gould said he cannot legally make a decision on whether to run until next week.
That is because state law makes it illegal for an elected official to seek another office before the last year of his or her campaign. And Gould's legislative term runs until a new crop of lawmakers is sworn in on Jan. 7, 2013.
But Gould signaled he is ready for a fight with Babeu, including on who is better suited to address illegal immigration in Washington.
"I've spent the last 10 years fighting illegal immigration in the Legislature, which is a legislative job," he said. "And Congress is a legislative job, also."
Babeu also promised to combat what he sees as runaway spending by the federal government. That, too, is an area where Gould has some credentials, having made a name for himself at the state Capitol, even fighting spending plans by his own Republican colleagues.
Gould said if he decides to run he will serve out the balance of his Senate term rather than resign, as has been the practice of some lawmakers seeking federal office.