(ARIZONA) -- For Arizona Democrat Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who was born and raised on an Apache Indian reservation east of Phoenix, the key to re-election may lie with her roots.
Kirkpatrick's district, the vast rural northeastern quadrant of Arizona, is home to the largest Native American population of any congressional district in the country. One-in-five voters is Native American, with most hailing from the Navajo nation.
While the Native American vote rarely receives attention in state or national elections, it could be a decisive factor in Kirkpatrick's race and other key battlegrounds this year.
The Navajo nation is holding tribal presidential and council elections, also on Nov. 2, and for the first time in Arizona, a Navajo candidate and Democrat will appear on a statewide ballot, running for secretary of state.
Both developments could turn out an infusion of predominantly Democratic supporters for Kirkpatrick and other statewide candidates, observers said.
Kirkpatrick, a one-term incumbent, appears neck-and-neck, if not slightly behind her Republican challenger, dentist Paul Gosar, according to several polls. But her campaign has said the Navajo vote is one reason they're fiercely optimistic.
Native Americans typically make up 16 to 18 percent of the vote in Arizona's first congressional district, with turnout higher in years when the Navajo nation has concurrently held its elections, as it did in 2002 and 2006.
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