Kirkpatrick is a more familiar face than Tobin, and she has a record of prioritizing funding for the Indian Health Service and infrastructure, said Deswood Tome, an adviser to Navajo President Ben Shelly. Her spot on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee doesn't hurt, he added.
Locals say they expect high turnout among the district's more than 100,000 registered Navajo voters. Their presidential election features two well-known candidates, and a controversy over one candidate's eligibility has inflamed a long-standing debate over what it means to be a member of the Navajo Nation.
The presidential race pits former president Joe Shirley Jr. against Chris Deschene, a former Democratic nominee for Arizona secretary of state. It's the first race to allow a president to run for a third term after a court ruled that presidents could run again after sitting out for a term; Shirley served as president from 2003 to 2011.
The race became even more highly charged when a complaint was filed against Deschene over his inability to speak fluent Navajo, which is a requirement of presidential candidates. For now, Deschene will stay on the ballot as the issue works its way through the Navajo court system, and Nez said the debate over the Navajo language seems to have energized voters.
Navajos are particularly motivated to vote, Nez said, because the questions around Deschene's candidacy have turned the presidential race into a debate over the tribe's identity. "The more the media is talking about this and [Navajo] Supreme Court is getting involved in this, it's beginning to turn to who is Navajo." Nez said. "The question of who is a Navajo [in terms of] culture, tradition, language."
"We think it's pretty important," said D.J. Quinlan, executive director of the state Democratic Party. "It's hard to say what the effect is going to be, but this is the most competitive presidential race in a long time."
It's an Edge, but of What Order?
Nearly 65,000 Navajos voted in the 2010 presidential election, and its voter participation rates have jumped significantly during Navajo presidential election years.
Hoping to fully leverage that election, the Kirkpatrick campaign is "unleashing our largest tribal GOTV effort ever, and we expect this outreach—coupled with local elections—will have a major impact up and down the ballot," Kirkpatrick campaign spokesman D.B. Mitchell said in a statement.
But just how many Navajo voters will come out for Kirkpatrick is a hotly debated question.
Native American turnout can be hard to predict, especially in a rural district where pollsters can't reach voters who don't have landline phones. It also doesn't help Democrats that Navajo and Arizona elections have different polling places and some voters may not participate in both elections.
A Republican poll conducted in mid-September showed Kirkpatrick trailing her challenger, Tobin, by 6 points—but only 4 percent of the poll's respondents identified as Native American. Another Republican poll earlier in the month had a sample that was only 6 percent Native American.