In the past, Arizona was a GOP stronghold closely identified with Sen. Barry Goldwater and later, Sen. John McCain (a self-described “Goldwater Republican”). But in recent years, Arizona has evolved into a swing state — and journalist Josh Kraushaar, in an article for the National Journal, argues that the southwestern state could make or break President Donald Trump’s chances of winning reelection.
Kraushaar opens his article by noting that many political analysts have “focused on Wisconsin as the tipping point state” in 2020’s presidential election, but he goes on to explain why Arizona could be “equally as important.”
“The Sun Belt battleground of Arizona, which hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996, is emerging as the state that could deny President Trump a second term,” Kraushaar observes. “Its 11 electoral votes outpace Wisconsin’s ten, providing Democrats with a handy insurance policy if they can’t fully win back their midwestern blue wall. And with a pragmatic-minded Joe Biden at the top of the ticket, poll after poll shows the former vice president in an unusually strong position to win the state.”
It remains to be seen whether the Democratic presidential nominee will be Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont or former Vice President Joe Biden, but Biden has been surging since South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary and Super Tuesday and is ahead in the delegate count. And Barrett Marson, a GOP strategist based in Arizona, sees Biden as quite electable in his state.
“We could see the real prospect that a Democrat could win Arizona for the first time in a generation,” Marson told the National Journal. “Joe Biden is seen as a moderate, a known quantity, and someone that independent voters can trust.”
Kraushaar offers a list of reasons why Arizona has become more competitive for Democrats, noting, “Arizona is an example of the demographic trends benefiting the Democratic Party in the long-term: a booming suburban population centered around Maricopa County — Phoenix and its suburbs — a fast-growing Hispanic constituency, and a cohort of moderate-minded Republicans turned off by Trump’s conduct in office. Benefiting from these trends, Hillary Clinton only lost to Trump by 3.5 points in 2016.”
For many years, Democrats had a hard time winning statewide races in Arizona. However, centrist Democrat Janet Napolitano served as governor of Arizona from 2003-2009 before becoming secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under President Barack Obama. And in the 2018 midterms, there was a shocker in Arizona politics when centrist Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeated Republican Martha McSally in the state’s U.S. Senate race and took over the seat vacated by former Sen. Jeff Flake (who, disenchanted with the GOP’s Trumpian direction, decided not to seek another term).
McSally ended up in the U.S. Senate anyway when, in 2019, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her to the seat once held by the late John McCain — and before that, Barry Goldwater. This year, McSally is seeking reelection. Polls have showed McSally trailing Democrat Mark Kelly (a former astronaut) in head-to-head matchups, and if Kelly won in November, Arizona would have two Democratic U.S. senators — which would be downright shocking in a state that was known as Goldwater Country for so long.
Kraushaar points to a poll from OH Predictive Insights as an example of why some establishment Democrats are pushing for Biden to receive the nomination: that poll showed Biden defeating Trump by 6% but Sanders losing to Trump by 7%.
For that matter, many Never Trump conservatives — from Washington Post columnists Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot to GOP strategist Ana Navarro to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough to just about anyone who writes for The Bulwark — have been downright giddy about Biden’s recent surge.
“Republicans need their strong dedicated base of support,” Marson told the National Journal. “They cannot win without Trump’s base being happy, but the challenge is trying to expand that base and try to bring in the suburban voters to push you over 50%.”