For the GOP in Arizona, the story boils down to the McCainites vs. the conservative base. In a shock to Governor Ducey and the establishment, the state party voted out chairman Jonathan Lines in favor of the more conservative, controversial, and clearly pro-Trump Kelli Ward. She had been a vocal critic of John McCain, Jeff Flake and others within the state party establishment. She ran against the party favored Martha McSally in the GOP Senate primary and lost. Unlike Lines, Ward has taken on a more high-profile position attending anti-impeachment rallies and other demonstrations.
This squabble had been brewing for some time in the state within the GOP. Long under the sway of the McCain machine, with his absence the fight came to the fore. Unfortunately, there is a another problem, other than the obvious rancor and ideological differences. One of the main functions of the party chair in the state is to raise funds. In January, after Ward was selected, the GOP reported they raised slightly more than $81,000 in the first quarter of 2019 compared to almost $348,000 for the Democrats. After nine months of 2019, the GOP trailed the Democrats in Arizona in fundraising by a 2-1 margin.
As some observers have noted, the ability to raise cash is based upon established relationships with the donor base. Ward lacks those relationships and she has burnt some bridges with others. For her part, Ward has pledged to fill all the local leadership positions and motivate the base by making the reelection of Trump the primary focus of the party. The RNC along with the White House have signaled support for Ward without wading into the particulars of the fray. However, some politicians running for office are now looking for ways to bypass Ward and the state party. In Maricopa and Yuma counties, some are considering setting up a separate fundraising apparatus.
The fissure could not have come at a worse time. With the reelection of Trump on the horizon and the impending race between Mark Kelly and Martha McSally in the balance, Democrats are smelling blood in the water. The DNC has officially put Arizona in their crosshairs and they hope to flip a Senate seat. Recent polls show McSally either tied or trailing Kelly in the Senate race. Trump’s own pollsters found the President trailing or tied with Biden in the state.
In 2016, Trump became the first Republican to win the state with less than 50% of the vote. Fortunately, registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state, but that gap is shrinking. Some observers note that sub-50% vote was because many Republicans did not vote for Trump in 2016, but now with a conservative agenda under his belt- judicial appointments, cutting regulations, a pro-life record- Trump will likely motivate these voters come 2020.
Similar to other states in the west like Texas, Utah and Nevada, Arizona is witnessing an influx of younger voters from other states, mainly California. Given this migration trend and the rising Latino electorate, Democrats are attempting to register at least 250,000 new voters by Election Day by using a consortium of 19 special interest groups.
However, like every state, there are two key prongs to securing victory: your party’s GOTV efforts and securing the votes of unaffiliated or independent voters. In 1988 in Arizona, independent voters made up 11.6% of registered voters. Today that figure stands at 33.5%. Part of that is due to the influx of millennial voters. Roughly 44% of that slice of the electorate considers themselves independent. Some have seen a subtle shift in the Arizona independents from center-right to strictly center.
It is hard to account for the shift. Some have claimed that it is an outgrowth of western self-reliant sensibilities while others claim it is disaffected NeverTrumpers dissatisfied with Trump, but not enamored with the Democrats either. This latter cause does not make much sense since the drift started before the arrival of Trump on the political scene. Perhaps the real reason is a 1998 law that allowed unaffiliated voters to cast a ballot in party primaries. Regardless, while many focus on the Arizona Latino vote, it is not as important as the vote of independents since they have higher turnout than Latinos in the state. If there is one bright spot here, it is the case of Yavapai County. In the three decades leading up to 2016, independent voter registration increased 300%, yet Trump carried the county by 31 points.
Of course, the Trump campaign is fully aware of what is happening in Arizona. It is the reason his campaign hired Brian Seitchik in April- 18 months before the election. The campaign has considerable boots on the ground. And the state GOP is hoping that a Trump victory in Arizona will help Martha McSally.
She is fresh off a bitter loss in 2018 against Kyrsten Sinema. Appointed to the Senate after John Kyl, who replaced John McCain, resigned, her fundraising has been anemic and she does not carry the best favorability/approval ratings into the race, no matter who her opponent is. At this point, it would appear that it will be Mark Kelly, the former astronaut, husband of Gabby Giffords, and noted gun-grabber. A potential bitter Democrat primary was avoided when Rep. Ruben Gallego decided to forego a challenge.
This race looms large in determining the balance of the Senate. Although there are vulnerable Democrats out there ripe for the picking, the GOP is not short on targets either for the Democrats and McSally is high on that list, along with Cory Gardner in Colorado.
Democrats are touting the fact that Trump managed to win by only 3.5 points in 2016. They also cite the Sinema 2018 victory along with statewide wins for Katie Hobbs and Kathy Hoffman and the 2018 election of Tucson mayor Regina Romero. To illustrate how the GOP intends to play this game- and what may be a misplaced strategy- the state GOP has been trying to tie Hobbs and Hoffman to Pelosi and the national Democrats. In reality, no one really cares about Pelosi’s alleged link to the secretary of state or superintendent of public education in Arizona. In other words, they were nationalizing what should have been local/state races in off-years.
Next and finally: California (in two parts)