Like any race, the most important considerations are the math and the issues. I think Bowers is strong on both. Let's start with the math. In 2008, Sydney Hay lost to Ann Kirkpatrick by about 45,000 votes. That equates to a 16% loss in the worst year for Republican Congressional candidates since Watergate.
Conventional analysis would say that Bowers starts with Hay's base and then adds the folks who voted for change but have been put off by the Obama/ Reid/Pelosi troika. Then let's speak the unspeakable--all other things being equal, LDS constituents will support LDS candidates. District 1 has a huge LDS population and many of them are Democrats.
That's the conventional wisdom and it's OK as far as it goes, but that's not why you pay the big bucks to read Espresso Pundit each day...Ok, I digress. The real issue is turnout. Check out the two charts. (click to enlarge.)
Hay received more votes in 2008 (nearly 110,000) than Renzi received in 2006 (under 106,000). Hay's vote total would have prevailed in 2006. She lost because an extra 75,000 people turned out to vote and most of them voted Democratic.
Who were those people?
They're young, idealistic Obama supporters who aren’t going to vote in 2010. Those voters aren’t coming back to the polls in a non-presidential year and they sure as heck aren’t coming back without Obama on the ticket. Forget about the fact that independent voters and moderates of both parties feel like they were sold a bill of goods with Obama’s “change” mantra. Forget about the Bailouts, nationalizing the auto and health care industries. Forget about Cap and Trade and the other environmental restrictions that are reminiscent of the restrictions that have already devastated rural Arizona. Forget about the radical environmentalist forest policy—"keep it pristine until it all burns". Forget about the percentage of the electorate who—like Bowers--are 4th or 5th generation LDS Arizonans. Focus on turnout. The extra 75,000 young idealistic voters who showed up to vote for Obama aren’t going to be there in 2010. In 2010, CD 1 is a Republican seat.
Of course, we can't ignore the issues completely. There are a few that will be important.
First, let's start with the red Herring. "Golly, Bowers doesn't live in the district." Hmm, No Cigar. Bowers has lived in the same home for decades and it has variously been in and out of the district. So in 1992, when he was elected to the Legislature, Karan English was his Congresswoman. They both represented constituents in the District. Following English's defeat after one term, Hayworth became Bowers' Congressman until Bowers' house was redistricted out of the District in 2002. Now his house is in Flake's District.
Bowers was raised in Chino Valley near Prescott and has roots in the District that go back four generations. It would be pretty tough to characterize him as a carpet bagger. He has owned a home near Globe for about eight years and will presumably re-register and declare the Globe home his primary residence.
The point is legally irrelevant because Congressmen don't have to live in the district that they represent. However, a true carpet bagger (like Renzi) has to make a case to the electorate that he should be elected anyway. Bowers won't have that problem.
Then of course, there's the environment. Kirkpatrick will try to portray Bowers as the great dismantler of the protections that generations of environmentalists have been pushing since the days of John Muir. But Bowers isn't so easy to pigeonhole. Check out this Phoenix New Times article from 1997; Bowers was on the cover and a framed issue hangs in his office.
State Senator Russell Bowers is best known for his archconservatism, his assault on environmental regulations and . . . his fine art?
Indeed, the professional sculptor doesn't fit the narrative.
Besides, I think north eastern Arizona would appreciate a referendum on modern environmental policy. Let's talk about Goshawks--hunted in Europe but "endangered" here. Let's talk about families whose grandparents used to work in saw mills, but whose kids work at Starbucks serving Lattes to the Maricopa County residents who spend weekends at their cabins in the pristine forests that have become their playground.
Actually, the race won't be a referendum on the environment, it will be a referendum on Barack Obama. It will be referendum on perfectly good American Cars--better than the ones most people in District 1 drive--being destroyed and replaced by Japanese imports. It will be a referendum on Wall Street Salaries, Global Warming, GM (Government Motors) and national healthcare.
And it will be a referendum on constituent service--which is why the RNCC will run the last 30 seconds of this video a couple hundred thousand times and the phrase "What a Nitwit" will resonate throughout the district. Because, frankly, when many of the residents of District 1 look at Congress, they must shake their heads and wonder if indeed, they are all nitwits.
In fact it seems like Kirkpatrick would be wise to buy the domain name "WhataNitwit.com"
Oops. Too Late.
To be sure, incumbency has its advantages; that's why there are so few one-term Congressmen--except of course, Jim McNulty, Karan English and Sam Coppersmith. But the issues, the momentum and the math look good for the challengers in 2010--especially in District 1.
*Footnote: Rusty may be most famous for the time he served as the so called "Senate Majority Leader" but the highlight of his legislative career was obviously his stint as Vice Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee during the time that I served as Gov Op Chairman.