Two recent polls show Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) — who hasn't faced a tough challenge in his eight years in the House — within the margin of error against an unknown Republican.
The results mean that Grijalva, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is in a similar position to his colleagues holding battleground districts in the state.
Sensing Grijalva may be vulnerable, national Republicans are starting to back his challenger, Ruth McClung, a rocket scientist employed by a defense contractor. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced Tuesday he was supporting her and, earlier this week, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gave her an endorsement via Facebook.
Polls show her in a dead heat with the four-term Democrat.
An automated survey conducted Oct. 5-6 by the Phoenix-based Summit Consulting Group found McClung leading Grijalva 39-37 with 24 percent undecided. The poll of 1,807 likely general voters has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percent.
A second automated survey, this one by Colorado-based Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies, showed Grijalva in the lead by two points, with 13 percent undecided. The poll was conducted Sept. 29 and surveyed 686 likely voters. Its margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.74 percent.
Grijalva did not respond to a request for comment.
McClung said the results are consistent with numbers her campaign is getting.
"We do feel these are true results," McClung told The Ballot Box. "He's made a lot of people really unhappy.
"He's called for a boycott of his own state at a time when we’re second in poverty," she said. "The boycott was just a slap in the face. It was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back."
Shortly after the Arizona Legislature passed a controversial law against illegal immigration this spring, Grijalva called for an economic boycott of his home state.
The law, known as S.B. 1070, calls for law enforcement officers, "when practical, to determine the immigration status" of a suspect. If the person is found to have violated immigration law, they’re to be transferred to the federal authorities.
Critics have said it promotes racial profiling, but polls have shown the law to be popular — a Rasmussen Reports survey in April found that 70 percent of likely voters in Arizona approve of the legislation, while just 23 percent oppose it.
On Monday McClung got an endorsement from Palin, who cited Grijalva's call for a boycott as one of the reasons she's backing McClung.
"Ruth is running against a four term incumbent who is so out of touch that he actually called for a boycott of his own constituents," Palin wrote on her Facebook page.
In addition to anger over Grijalva's call for a boycott, McClung is also benefiting from the growth of the Tea Party movement in the Southwest. "I've definitely been reaching out to the Tea Party," she said.
Still, observers are skeptical this race will be competitive. Grijalva's lowest winning percentage was 59 percent of the vote, and that was in 2002 when he was first elected. In 2008, he took 63 percent, while President Obama netted 57 percent of the vote in the district.
The district is almost 55 percent Hispanic.
"It's a district drawn in favor of a Latino candidate," said Rodolfo Espino, a political science professor at Arizona State University. "To say this race is within two percentage points, I’m wary of that."
Espino disputed the suggestion that Grijalva's calls for a boycott led to a drop in support, noting he's recently tempered those statements. Moreover, when he initially made the comments, some polls showed a majority of Latino voters actually favored a boycott.
Espino said the GOP would like to win what they regard as a "trophy" district, but there are several things working in the Democrat’s favor. Grijalva had close to $75,000 banked at the start of August, while McClung had only close to $16,000.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has yet to commit any resources to McClung's race. She is, however, getting support from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who held a joint press conference with her on Monday.
"Of course we would like to get more help, but we've been making do," she said. "We've been frugal."