Arizona Democrat Kirsten Engel announced Wednesday that she would seek a rematch against Republican Rep. Juan Ciscomani in the 6th Congressional District, a constituency in the Tucson area that she came unexpectedly close to winning in 2022 even after national Democratic groups canceled their planned spending. Engel, who is a former state senator and environmental lawyer, is the first serious candidate to challenge Ciscomani in a contest that could be key to a future Democratic majority.
Ciscomani and Engel competed last time to succeed Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who announced her retirement months before Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission drew up a new sprawling 6th District that Biden would have carried by a tiny 49.3-49.2 margin—a sizable drop from Biden’s 55-44 win in Kirkpatrick’s old 2nd District. Indeed, none of the nation’s new 435 House districts hosted a tighter 2020 presidential contest than this.
National Republicans quickly identified Ciscomani, who was a former senior adviser to then-Gov. Doug Ducey, as a key recruit and rising star, and the Congressional Leadership Fund even spent $1 million to ensure he defeated a primary foe backed by far-right figures. And until Election Day, it looked like Ciscomani was on track to decisively win in what both parties expected would be a GOP wave year.
Pessimistic Democratic groups gradually canceled their TV reservations and redirected the money to what they believed were more competitive races, though their better-funded GOP counterparts still deployed millions to help their recruit. Ultimately, CLF and its allies at the NRCC threw down a total of $4.7 million to aid Ciscomani, while the Democratic House Majority PAC expended all of $73,000.
It was therefore a huge surprise when early tabulations showed Ciscomani with a slim edge, and he ended up prevailing just 51-49 when all the ballots were counted. That huge Republican resource advantage may have made all the difference in a year where Arizona’s two leading Democrats ended up far outperforming Biden in this constituency. Sen. Mark Kelly, according to Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux, took the 6th District 54-44, while Katie Hobbs won 52-48 here in her successful contest for governor.
That near-miss, though, didn’t prevent Ciscomani from emerging as a GOP rising star. The new incumbent, who is the first Republican Latino to represent the Grand Canyon State in Congress, was mentioned as a possible Senate candidate even before he was sworn in. He went on to deliver the party’s Spanish-language response to the State of the Union. The freshman hasn’t outright ruled out a campaign for the upper chamber next year, though he sounds far more likely to defend his competitive House seat.
Engel, for her part, kicked off her rematch by trying to shred the pragmatic image Ciscomani built up during their 2022 matchup. “[W]hat we are seeing from the congressional Republicans—and Juan Ciscomani is in there supporting them—they are attacking access to abortion, they are rolling back our efforts to fight the climate crisis, and work which is fundamental to working on our water issues,” the Democrat said. She added, “We need to take this seat back and put somebody in there, me, who will fight for our freedom to choose when, if, and how to start a family.”
It's never too early to start talking about the House! Joining us on this week's edition of The Downballot is Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin, who offers his thoughts on the overall playing field and a wide range of key contests. Jacob explains why Lauren Boebert might have an easier time of it in her likely rematch, how some candidates have a "special sauce" that allows them to keep winning difficult districts, and why he thinks Mary Peltola is favored for re-election despite Alaska's persistent red lean.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also marvel at how the Tennessee GOP scored a remarkable own-goal in booting state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who've now already returned to the chamber with dramatically enhanced profiles; dissect the very obvious ploy by Montana Republicans to tilt the 2024 Senate election their way by changing the primary rules for just that one race; and break down a new Daily Kos Elections analysis of the 23 states that could add protections for abortion rights to their constitutions.