PHOENIX - An Arizona senator whose centrist voting record often frustrates her fellow Republicans has drawn a primary challenge from a conservative lawmaker, setting up a hotly contested primary fight over the soul of the GOP.
The race between Sen. Heather Carter and Rep. Nancy Barto is quickly shaping up to be an expensive and personal battle.
Carter, in her first Senate term after eight years in the House, has drawn the ire of conservatives for supporting Medicaid expansion and opposing guns on school campuses. She infuriated her fellow Republicans during budget negotiations earlier this year when she teamed with Republican Sen. Paul Boyer of Glendale and all Democrats in refusing to support the budget until lawmakers voted on making it easier for child sex abuse victims to sue their abusers.
Their stand delayed budget talks for days, and some Republicans believe it empowered Democrats.
Barto casts herself as the "conservative champion" for the district encompassing parts of north Phoenix and Cave Creek.
"Our current senator is not representing our freedoms and values," Barto said in a video announcing her Senate campaign. "It is vital that we bring back strong conservative leadership."
Barto told the Arizona Capitol Times she's been approached many times about running against Carter and decided to do so because she doesn't believe Carter represents the district.
Barto is a leading advocate of abortion restrictions and religious freedom and can likely tap into a deep well of money from social conservatives.
Carter quickly responded with a statement criticizing Barto for supporting a vaping measure backed by the tobacco industry and sponsoring bills making it easier for parents to avoid vaccinating their children. She also voted to increase lawmakers' daily stipends to cover their living expenses during the legislative session — a measure which passed but was vetoed by Gov. Doug Ducey.
"It's disappointing my seatmate has decided to challenge a fellow Republican," Carter said. "Maybe she has unfinished business like protecting Big Tobacco, promoting her dangerous anti-vaxxer views or however else she plans on threatening public health in Arizona. It's possible she wants another run at giving herself a pay raise while complaining about state spending."
Carter says she has a long track record of solving real problems in the district.
The district is staunchly conservative and has consistently elected Republicans by comfortable margins.