Navajo Nation Changes Primary Date to Help Native Candidates

| July 17 2012
Christopher Cook

Will this help Wenona Benally Baldenegro against Ann Kirkpatrick?

The Navajo Nation Council passed a bill earlier this year to change the date of its primary to coincide with that of the State of Arizona. The idea, according to one of the candidates and council members we spoke to, is to maximize the Navajo vote as much as possible to support Navajo candidates, especially Congressional District 1 candidate Democratic Wenona Benally Baldenegro.

Benally is in a tough Democratic primary battle with Ann Kirkpatrick, who lost the seat in 2010 to Republican Paul

Gosar.

“We want to get more Navajos to come out and vote, we also want more voter turnout for Wenona,” said Lorenzo Curley, the Navajo Nation Council member who introduced the legislation to change the primary date to August 28. Curley said the idea was to take the high turnout for the council’s elections and apply that to the typically lower turnout for state and federal elections.

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The particular makeup of Congressional District 1 is another factor in how this change will be beneficial to Benally. Navajo voters tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, she said. What’s more, she told us that the Navajo reservation spans three of the most Democratic counties in the district, which in her words, means the Navajo vote is going to matter this year in the primary election.

Chances are, Kirkpatrick will still win the primary. She is backed by the Democrat establishment (heavily so, in fact, in spite of the fact that she is not  particularly impressive candidate). Ironically for the Democrats, Baldenegro’s heavy backing among the Navajo would make her a formidable candidate against Republican Paul Gosar. The Navajo tend to vote Democrat, but Gosar is well-liked and has a decent relationship with the Navajo nation, and Baldenegro might be able to cut into whatever crossover support Gosar might enjoy.  A bitter primary fight between Kirkpatrick and Baldenegro, with Kirkpatrick coming out the victor, might reduce enthusiasm among some Navajo to get out and vote, either for Kirkpatrick or against Gosar.
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