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State lawmaker Kirsten Engel announces run to fill Kirkpatrick's seat in Congress

Arizona Sen. Kirsten Engel, a member of the state Legislature, announced Friday that she's running for Congress, seeking to fill the seat to be left open when U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick leaves office.

Engel was elected to the state Senate in 2020, after serving two terms in the state House. She's the first candidate to declare for what will likely be a crowded Democratic primary in what has historically been a hard-fought district.

Kirkpatrick, 70, announced last week that she won't seek reelection.

Engel, 59, is an environmental law professor at the University of Arizona. Federal Election Commission records show she has not yet filed paperwork to run for Congress.

"I'd like to thank Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick for her dedicated service to the people of Arizona. Like Ann, I have also felt the call to public service. And that's what's led to my announcement today," Engel said in a press release.

"I want to bring my experience as an attorney, a legislator, a woman, and a mom to Washington to help Southern Arizona families and small businesses — to not only recover from the global pandemic, but to take that next step to building a sustainable economy with opportunities for all," she said.

Because the redistricting process has just begun, it's not yet known how the boundaries of what is now Arizona's 2nd Congressional District, covering eastern Tucson and all of Southeastern Arizona, will shape up. Engel is now serving the state's Legislative District 10, which includes the East and Southeast sides of Tucson, along with a section of Midtown.

Born in Chicago, Engel attended Brown University and the Northwestern University School of Law. She was an attorney for the Enivronmental Protection Agency and the Sierra Club, then taught at Tulane Law School for eight years. Prior to moving to Arizona to teach at UA, she was a lawyer in the Massachussetts Attorney General's Office for four years.

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Engel was first elected to office in 2016, to the state House from LD 10.

"I want to be upfront and transparent with you from the get-go. Ours is one of the most competitive districts in the country," Engel said. "It was only four years ago the Republicans controlled this seat. Republicans will pour millions into the race to try and win it back."

Before Kirkpatrick was elected in CD 2, the SE Arizona seat was held for two terms by Martha McSally, who won a narrow election over Democrat Ron Barber to take office in 2012.

McSally's 2014 opponent, Matt Heinz — now a Pima County supervisor — is among the many politicians whose names are being floated as potential candidates on the Democratic side. Heinz also ran in 2018, but lost the primary to Kirkpatrick.

Another Democrat whose name is quick to appear on lists of possible candidates is state Rep. Randy Friese, from LD 9.

While for much of a decade the district was a close contest between Democrats and Republicans in the general election, Kirkpatrick won easily in her two races in CD 2. But the prospect of an open seat is likely to renew GOP interest in a Southern Arizona seat in Congress.

Engel, in her announcement and revamp of her campaign website, did not reference the Democratic Party — a sign of positioning herself as a centrist candidate in the race.

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Kirsten Engel