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Tanya Contreras Velez was born to a teenage mother and grew up with the family living paycheck to paycheck.

She took a job at a local bakery at 14 to earn spending money, but still managed to earn an academic scholarship for college. But she continued to sweep floors and work at the register on weekends and breaks to keep earning extra cash.

Wheeless became the first in his family to graduate from college and eventually joined a law firm after becoming a lawyer. She became a lobbyist for the Banking Association and later joined the Phoenix Suns as an executive. She eventually left to start a consulting firm before staffing then-Sen. Martha McSally.

Now, Wheeles, a second-generation Mexican American, is vying to become the first Latina to represent Arizona in Congress.

“I came into the race to protect the American dream,” Wheeless, a Republican, told Fox News in an exclusive interview from his home. “I’m a product of it.”

On the sidewalk: Congressional candidates battle for the right to represent a hotly contested Arizona district

Tanya Contreras Wheeles, who is running in the primary race for Arizona's 4th District, sat down for an exclusive interview with Fox News.

Tanya Contreras Wheeles, who is running in the primary race for Arizona’s 4th District, sat down for an exclusive interview with Fox News.
(Matt Leach/Fox News)

“My grandmother immigrated here as a little girl from Mexico,” the former Phoenix Suns executive continued. “So I believe in its power.”

The timing of Wheelless’s run in Arizona’s 4th District may dovetail well with her background: The Republican Party has turned to Hispanic candidates for November’s midterm elections as Latinos have turned away from Democrats and toward the GOP.

Indeed, Wheeles has received endorsements from the Congressional Leadership Fund — a super PAC tied to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik.

Wheeles also criticized Democrats, who “take Latino support for granted,” she told Fox News, days after first lady Jill Biden compared the Hispanic community to breakfast tacos.

Wheeless plays her pinball machine at home with her son.  A notebook with her family's highest scores taped to the side of the paper.

Wheeless plays her pinball machine at home with her son. A notebook with her family’s highest scores taped to the side of the paper.
(Matt Leach/Fox News)

“Things like this also show where the Democrat Party is losing support in the Latino community because we’ve been boxed in,” Wheeles told Fox News. “And I think this will be a huge wakeup call for them in November.”

“Certainly the values ​​that grew up in my family, like many Latino families — faith and family and freedom and entrepreneurship — were aligned with the Republican Party,” Wheeles continued. “We’re going to see more and more Latinos coming to the Republican Party.”

Still, the former banking lobbyist faces a crowded primary in Arizona’s 4th District. Her opponents include a veteran and businessman who aligned himself with the MAGA platform, a two-time general election candidate and a former NFL running back who gained national attention after making a shock announcement.

But Wheeles is confident her humble upbringing will carry her to victory in Tuesday’s primary election. She also believes her district is fed up with Democrats on kitchen-table issues like inflation and will vote to unseat Rep. Greg Stanton.

A speech by Rep. Greg Stanton, who will face the winner of Tuesday's Arizona primary.  (Photo by Carolyn Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

A speech by Rep. Greg Stanton, who will face the winner of Tuesday’s Arizona primary. (Photo by Carolyn Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)
(Carolyn Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

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“From a policy standpoint, I think there are some significant differences between me and the incumbent,” Wheeles told Fox News. “I want secure borders. I want less spending. I always want our law enforcement to have their backs.”

“These are things where he’s not a leader in Congress, I will be,” she continued.

But it’s not an easy race: According to the Cook Political Report, Staunton’s district is carried by a Democrat by two points.

‘you learn’

Despite growing up in a working-class family, Wheeless considers herself lucky.

“I was very fortunate to be raised by real salt of the earth people,” she told Fox News. “We learned at a young age that no one is going to give us anything.”

Wheeles’ parents worked various jobs during Wheeles’ childhood, with her mother at one point working at Kmart and her father working in construction.

“I grew up with the old-fashioned ethic of your word is your bond,” Wheeles told Fox News. “You work hard. You take care of your family.”

“I also think that when you grow up with nothing, you struggle a little bit to do something,” she continued. “You learn grit.”

Wheelless’ grandfathers certainly knew grit. Both of her grandparents worked blue-collar jobs, and her father’s mother was a nurse.

Her maternal grandmother, meanwhile, remained at home with the family, but only after immigrating to the US with her Wheeless great-grandparents. There, according to Wheeles, she worked on a farm as a teenager and into her 20s.

Wheeles shows a photo of her at her law school graduation with her grandmother, who immigrated to the US from Mexico as a young woman.

Wheeles shows a photo of her at her law school graduation with her grandmother, who immigrated to the US from Mexico as a young woman.
(Matt Leach/Fox News)

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Eventually, Wheeles’ great-grandparents opened a store and even bought houses that they rented out.

“I think that’s their version of the American dream,” Wheeles said.

That achievement is central to the Wheelless platform. In her interview with Fox News, she repeatedly touted the importance of the American dream and worried that liberal policies are making it harder to achieve.

“I’m dissatisfied with the direction of our country,” Wheeles said. “To me, it’s essential to have a strong economy, to have safe communities.”

“I saw a lack of support for what was happening in the Biden administration and with the Democrats in DC,” she continued.

Wheelless will be showcasing Phoenix Suns memorabilia from his time with the NBA team.

Wheelless will be showcasing Phoenix Suns memorabilia from his time with the NBA team.
(Matt Leach/Fox News)

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On the campaign trail, Wheeles draws on her childhood rather than her work experience, despite her executive prowess.

“I remember my mother sitting at the kitchen table struggling to figure out when my brother was going to get new cleats?” Wheeles told Fox News. “I look back and I’m grateful because I learned to appreciate the little things.”

“I think as the congresswoman for this district, I take all that with me,” she continued.

Tap from left and right

But Wheeless’ work history could be a liability in her campaign.

Wheeless “was a big bank lobbyist at the height of the subprime mortgage crisis whose behavior and policies she promoted forced hundreds of thousands of Arizonans out of their homes,” Stanton’s campaign manager Caitlin Johnson told Fox News.

Wheeless disputed the characterization. She noted that most of the institutions she represents are community banks, but some are larger.

“Community banks, here and across the state, did none of the things that started the subprime debacle,” Wheeles said. “Community banks are vital to the community, to our state, because they provide the loans small businesses need to start, other businesses to grow, and certainly families to buy homes and cars.”

“I look at this and say this is an example of me standing up for the little guy,” she added.

This strikes at the heart of another key component of the Wheels platform: empowering local communities to create support systems that are independent of the federal government.

“I also think about how the community can reach out to each other,” she said. “Government doesn’t have to answer for everything.”

“You can fall into the trap of thinking that it’s the government’s job to solve all your problems,” Wheeles continued.

However, her time as a lobbyist isn’t her only potential baggage.

Kelly Cooper explains what America First and Maga mean to her.

Kelly Cooper explains what America First and Maga mean to her.
(Matt Leach/Fox News)

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Wheeles has donated at least $2,180 to Democratic campaigns in Arizona. The Arizona Republic reported In July, a primary opponent, Kelly Cooper, called it out in an interview with Fox News. Among her contributions were $680 to Stanton’s mayoral run in Phoenix.

“As a Valley business leader, Tanya wrote checks to various candidates for various offices — all while President Donald Trump was in business,” Wheelless campaign manager Katie Larkin said in a statement to the Arizona Republic. “It should be noted that Tanya has given 4 times more to Republicans than Democrats, has never been a registered Democrat, nor has she ever campaigned for a Democrat.”

Larkin also listed the many endorsements Wheeles has scored, including from the Border Patrol union and various law enforcement groups.

Candidate Dave Giles brandished a pocket constitution in Arizona's 4th District Republican primary.

Candidate Dave Giles brandished a pocket constitution in Arizona’s 4th District Republican primary.
(Matt Leach/Fox News)

Douglas Wolff, campaign manager for primary candidate Dave Giles, told Fox News in an email: “WheelsAz gives freedoms and 2nd amendment rights.” He said she made comments in favor of stricter gun control at a public event in the spring. Fox News could not find a record of those alleged comments.

“Tanya is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment and has an AQ rating from the NRA,” Larkin said in a statement to Fox News. “Anyone who says it is wrong information.”

“AQ” is the National Rifle Association’s highest grade for a candidate with no voting record. That too Same rating GilesHe was armed with a pistol and two magazines during his interview with Fox News.

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Regardless, Wheeles hopes voters will see in November Problems like inflation and public safety concerns, stemming in part from border insecurity.

“What voters are really going to do when they go to the ballot box is to decide between change and change,” she told Fox News. “Do you feel like things are on track now and that your life is going well now? Or do you need a change?”

“I think they’re going to find that they don’t feel like things are going great, and they’re going to be ready for a change,” Wheeles said. “And I’m looking forward to delivering that.”