FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Navajos are narrowing down a list of 17 candidates hoping to become the next president on the country's largest American Indian reservation.
More than 114,000 Navajos are registered to vote in Tuesday's primary. The top two vote-getters advance to November's general election.
The candidates are expected to court voters near polling places with traditional Navajo food and music. Elections are among the biggest social gatherings on the Navajo Nation, which extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
The race for president has seasoned politicians, political newcomers and the sitting president touting their platforms that include securing water rights, growing business in an area where half the workforce is unemployed, improving education and sustaining Navajo culture.
Whoever wins will oversee 12 executive branch directors, about two dozen staff members, and the majority of the tribal budget. The president earns $55,000 a year, but the post generally is seen as less powerful than the Navajo Nation Council.
Candidates do not run on party lines and can receive campaign contributions from Navajos only once they file for the office. Candidates spent long hours campaigning on the 27,000 square-mile reservation and ran political advertisements mostly on the radio. Some presidential debates are conducted in Navajo, making it important for candidates to be fluent in the language to capture votes.
Navajo President Ben Shelly is seeking a second term. The former heavy equipment supervisor was a longtime Navajo Nation Council delegate and county commissioner in New Mexico before becoming the tribe's vice president and president. His former boss, Joe Shirley Jr., is among his challengers for the presidency.
Shirley has a background in social work and also sat on the Tribal Council before twice being elected as tribal president. Navajo law prevented him from seeking a third, consecutive term, so he sat out four years and returned to his old job as an Apache County supervisor.
Freshman lawmaker Russell Begaye, former Arizona state Rep. Chris Deschene and Donald Benally, who finished third in the 2010 presidential primary, also are eyeing the general election.
The other candidates are Carrie Lynn Martin, Myron McLaughlin, Dale Tsosie, Duane "Chili" Yazzie, Dan Smith, former lawmaker Kee Yazzie Mann, Hank Whitethorne, Edison "Chip" Begay, Moroni Benally, businessman Cal Nez, tribal elections director Edison Wauneka and tribal lawmaker Kenneth Maryboy, who is the only presidential hopeful from Utah.