One of the candidates is Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President Dan Quayle. Ben Quayle won a tough congressional battle two years ago.
The other is David Schweikert, who defeated a popular Democratic incumbent that same year after spending millions and getting national support.
The two face each other in the Aug. 28 primary for the Republican-leaning 6th District, which includes Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and parts of Phoenix. The winner will move on to the Nov. 6 general election against a relatively unknown Democrat.
Quayle currently represents Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, and Schweikert holds the 5th District seat.
After Arizona won a ninth congressional seat following the 2010 census, the state’s redistricting commission carved up metro Phoenix’s four districts to add a fifth, moving Quayle into the new and much more competitive 9th District.
Top Republicans had wanted him to use his strong incumbency status to run in the 9th District, where three Democrat heavyweights are duking it out in what is considered a toss-up race.
Instead, Quayle announced in February that he would be running against Schweikert in the 6th District.
“Both personally and a lot of the folks around me had great disappointment that he chose not to run in the district he lived in,” Schweikert said from Washington. “It demonstrated caring more about one’s individual political career than the cause.
“I have no idea what was in his heart,” added Schweikert, who’s 50 and married without children. “But ultimately, the millions of dollars being spent in this primary — can you imagine if we had those dollars and his name ID in Congressional District 9?”
Quayle, 35 and married with one daughter, defended his decision, saying that 67 percent of his current constituents live in the new 6th District.
Schweikert consultant Chris Baker said his campaign wasn’t contesting the figure, but said it’s irrelevant because it’s registered voters that matter, not overall population numbers.
Of the district’s 397,000 registered voters, 42 percent are Republican, according to a June report from the Arizona secretary of state. About 24 percent are Democrats and about 33 percent are Independents.
Schweikert and his camp point out that Quayle was living just inside in the newly drawn 9th District — which is about evenly split among the parties — before he moved to the 6th District, into a posh Paradise Valley home owned by his parents.
U.S. House members don’t have to live in the districts they represent, but those who don’t leave themselves vulnerable to criticism as political opportunists.
Baker said that Quayle “cannot get around the fact that he was not drawn into this district.”
“He didn’t live in the district up until the point he moved into Mommy and Daddy’s million-dollar house,” he said. “He abandoned his own party and moved into our district because he thought there were more Republicans there.”
Quayle said he’s renting the home from his parents and moved there because he thought it was important that he live in the district he wants to represent.
Both candidates have peppered the district with ads. In one, Quayle revisits the essence of a 2010 ad that drew national attention when he called Barack Obama “the worst president in history.”
In the 2012 ad, Quayle says the phrase again and says that Obama has only gotten worse.
Schweikert’s ads have emphasized that he is a respected and trusted conservative leader who doesn’t back down, and also have been critical of Obama.
Schweikert, a former state legislator and county elected official, defeated Democrat Harry Mitchell in 2010 to win his current congressional seat. That race was a rematch of a 2008 contest that Mitchell won.
Quayle easily won the 2010 general election in his current district after emerging from a 10-candidate Republican primary for the seat vacated by the retirement of Republican John Shadegg.
Bruce Merrill, a longtime pollster and senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said that one of the two incumbents likely will win the general election because of the registration numbers.
Just as long as their fight doesn’t start alienating voters, he said.
“Because the primary battle is going to determine the outcome, they do get more intense and that ends up being a factor in the general,” Merrill said. “If it gets really nasty between the two of them and it becomes too divisive, the candidate’s supporters that lose the election may not want to go out to the general.”
Merrill said that’s just how Democrat Dennis DeConcini became an Arizona senator in 1976.
In the 6th District, Democrats Matt Jette and John Williamson are running in the primary.
Jette ran for governor in 2010 as a moderate Republican who opposed Arizona’s illegal immigration law, known as SB1070. He said he became a Democrat shortly after he lost that race to Gov. Jan Brewer.
Williamson is a 61-year-old public high school English teacher who said he’s running because he supports the nation’s 2-year-old health care law and knows too many people who go without insurance.
“I’m doing my best to put best foot forward and I’m hoping people will vote for me,” said Williamson, a divorced father of one grown daughter.
Jette, a 39-year-old divorced father who lives in Phoenix, was reached on a cross-country trip that he said he was taking to get the pulse of America.
“Our campaign is about putting America first, not your district, not your state,” he said. “I think we’re going to have the best message when we come back from this.”
He likened Quayle and Schweikert’s campaigns to children fighting on a playground and said he’s got a good shot at the race, partly because of their tough primary.
“You haven’t seen the fireworks yet,” he said.