Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick and Republican Sydney Hay were headed for a possible all-women showdown in November, according to early election returns in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District race on Tuesday.
With just more than 60 percent of the ballots counted, Kirkpatrick was far ahead among her Democratic competitors.
The Republican contest was far closer; Hay led Sandra Livingstone by less than 4 percentage points. Final results were unavailable at press time.
No matter who advances to the general election on Nov. 4, contest will be one of the most closely watched U.S. House races in the country because of the potential that the Republicans could lose the seat to Democrats.
The seat came into play when three-term incumbent Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., was named in a 35-count public corruption indictment in February. Federal prosecutors said Renzi tried to use his position in Congress to sway a federal land-exchange deal to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs.
Even before Renzi announced plans to leave office at the end of his term, candidates began lining up to succeed him in the mostly rural district.
The 1st District is larger than Illinois and takes in vast expanses of northern, central and eastern Arizona, including booming western Pinal County.
The Democratic primary attracted a former state representative and a trio of political newcomers, all pledging to instill a new sense of ethics in Congress.
The race featured Kirkpatrick, the former state legislator; Jeffrey Brown, a mental health advocate and a veteran aide to several Democratic campaigns; attorney Howard Schanker, who touted his work on a variety of environmental causes in northern Arizona; and former TV reporter Mary Kim Titla, who was born and raised on the San Carlos Apache Reservation .
The Republican race attracted a trio of candidates who promised to help keep government growth in check and to keep an eye on taxes.
The lineup featured Tom Hansen, who serves as vice president of environmental services, conservation and renewable energy for Tucson Electric Power; Hay, a mining executive ; and Livingstone, an attorney and former U.S. diplomat.
The district tilts Democratic in terms of voter registration, but conservative-leaning rural Democrats and the influx of new voters into Pinal County make the district hard to predict for political observers.