The battle between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Vernon Parker over Arizona’s new 9th Congressional District will be close.
That’s about where most predictions begin and end.
The district, which includes parts of central and north Phoenix, Tempe, south Scottsdale, Mesa and Chandler and all of Ahwatukee, has nearly even numbers of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters, making it one of the most competitive in the state.
But while the outcome remains a toss-up, recently released primary election data can offer clues to the tactics that each campaign may employ to try to win the race.
Sinema, a former state senator from central Phoenix, has momentum in the same area she used to represent in the Legislature, and she has an opportunity to pick up Democratic votes in Tempe.
Parker is strong in Paradise Valley, where he served as mayor for two years, and surrounding areas. He also will probably be able to gather new support in Ahwatukee and Mesa.
Sinema and Parker will likely both target north Phoenix, where primary election data shows each candidate has strong support.
Bruce Merrill, senior research fellow at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University and longtime political pollster, said more than messaging or personal appeal, the outcome will largely depend on which campaign has the more efficient operation. And that means applying some cold arithmetic to the primary results to get the most votes for each dollar spent by the campaign.
Rather than spending money pursuing swing voters, Merrill said research shows each campaign will be better off spending money and energy encouraging their already energized base voters.
And there’s a science to finding those high-value voters within the more than 345,000 registered voters in the district.
“It’s called a critical precinct analysis,” Merrill said. “You look at where the party registration advantage is strongest and where each candidate did the best in their primary. You rank-order that, then start the campaign at the top of that list and go down.”
Spending time and money to target those areas could solidify the votes of those already likely to support the candidates. And it could help candidates reach more potential supporters in places where they can most easily find them.
For Sinema’s campaign, a critical precinct analysis shows a concentration of high value voters in the central and north Phoenix portions of the district, closest to the areas she represented in the Legislature.
Rodd McLeod, Sinema’s campaign manager, said the method described by Merrill will be just one part of their strategy.
Sinema’s campaign will also add detailed information about voters that has been collected by the Democratic Party to the critical precinct analysis methods, to further identify which voters to pursue. That, McLeod said, is how the campaign finds the absolute highest value voters.
Parker’s critical precinct analysis shows strength in and near Paradise Valley, where he served as mayor between 2008 and 2010, but also stretching into north Phoenix.
With an overlap of high value campaign opportunity in north Phoenix, the analysis portends the most contentious fight there.
But each campaign will have unique opportunities to amass voters in other areas too, Merrill said.
Sinema can pursue the area where her Democratic opponent David Schapira in the primary won more votes, in Tempe and south Scottsdale, because those Democrats will likely become Sinema voters, Merrill said.
Independent voters in CD9 showed a small Republican preference, selecting GOP primary ballots at a rate of 53 percent. While that edge is slight, it’s most pronounced in the Ahwatukee and Mesa portions of the district, hinting at an opportunity for Parker to pick up independent voters there.
While independent voters only made up about 8 percent of total primary votes cast, Brian Murray, Parker’s campaign consultant, said the Republican preference is encouraging.
Independent voters participate in general elections much more frequently than in primaries, Merrill said, and that’s especially true in presidential election years. But Merrill said he has seen competitive campaigns lost by trying to go after independents. And even in a district so evenly matched, Merrill said he thinks targeting independent voters just won’t yield the return on investment that targeting already mobilized voters will.
“It’s really all about getting your base out to the polls,” he observed, which means targeting those areas identified in the critical precinct analysis.
Click on the precincts in the maps below to see details about each candidate’s critical precinct analysis