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It's Republican Paul Babeu And Democrat Tom O'Halleran In Monstrous CD-1 Race
Tom O’Halleran won the First Congressional District Democratic primary against Miguel Olivas by a wide margin— 59.2 to 40.8 percent as of Wednesday morning.
O'Halleran was previously a fixture at the state legislature, first serving as a Republican before running as an Independent in 2014 and eventually changing affiliations to Democrat just before announcing his run for Congress. Some called that opportunistic. But O’Halleran called it a strength, saying he knows how to work with everybody.
"Everything I’ve learned in life is you work toward solutions through unification; that leadership is about unification," he said. "I did it on the police department. I did it in private business. And I did it for sure in the legislature."
On the Republican front, former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu claimed the GOP victory before many of the votes were counted. He beat out four Republican candidates to go onto the general election. According to the Secretary of State website, Babeu secured more than 31 percent of the votes, compared to his closest challenger— Gary Kiehne with 23 percent.
Babeu was attacked by one of his opponents for the "baggage" he would hand to a Democratic opponent in the general election. He was forced to publicly acknowledge being gay and drop a congressional bid in 2012 after pictures surfaced of him in his underwear that he had posted on a dating website and allegations that he threatened a former lover.
Tuesday evening, Babeu called his victory "historic" and said it showed that while Republicans are often portrayed as intolerant, they were willing to look past his sexual orientation. "I want to be judged on my merit, on my performance and my contributions to my community and my nation," he said.
Fred Solop, a politics and international affairs professor at Northern Arizona University, said Babeu’s tough-on-immigration stance was popular in this rural district.
"Paul Babeu’s message around immigration and being tough on crime and being a sheriff who is going to approach these issues with a really strong manner— that has resonated," he said. "It’s interesting because we’re also getting that kind of message from Donald Trump."
Now in the home stretch to the general election, the race for the First Congressional District is gearing up to be a doozy. Solop says both national parties will invest a lot of money in this district to see their candidate take the congressional seat and impress the nearly 400-thousand registered voters in one of the largest and most diverse districts in the country, spanning across 11 counties with Native Americans accounting for 25 percent of its population.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.