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Monday musings: Analysis

Chill out and focus on turnout in 2020, Democrats

As Arizona's Democratic presidential preference election early ballots are mailed to voters this week and other state primaries continue to roll out, Democratic activists are frenetic.

Panic over Joe Biden's weak campaign and lack of energy, Bernie Sanders' "revolutionary socialist" viewpoints, Pete Buttigieg's lack of experience, and the inability of the two women in the race – Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar – to finish higher than third in the first two contests, are causing big-time Democratic distress.

I get it. I'm also nervous (actually, terrified is a better word) about the prospect of a Trump re-election in November. However, while my personal favorite is Elizabeth Warren, I also believe any of the aforementioned candidates can defeat Trump.

Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, Warren, or Klobuchar (and yes, Michael Bloomberg), can win this fall. My problem has been finding someone credible who agrees with me.

Finally, I have found a modern-day political scientist who, through new thinking and analysis, assures me everything will be fine. Dr. Rachel Bitecofer has developed a model of projecting election results that reflects the chaotic political landscape ushered in by the 2016 election.

Bitecofer's model nailed the 2018 results of Democratic gains in Congress. As for 2020, she forecasts a Democratic presidential victory – no matter who wins the nomination – further gains in the U.S. House, and a solid chance of taking the U.S. Senate from the GOP.

A recent Politico article profiles the 42-year-old political scientist and professor, as well as her new model of forecasting. As you would expect, Bitecofer's ideas are viewed skeptically by traditionalists.

Bitecofer rejects the long-held theory that only about 55 percent of registered voters actually cast ballots, and 15-20 percent of them are "swing voters" who decide each election. She calls this old viewpoint the "Chuck Todd theory of American politics..

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According to Bitecofer, a major realignment of voters occurred in 2016 that will predict future elections, including 2020, as it did 2018. First, there are far fewer moderate, swing voters than in the past – only about 6% of the electorate. So-called registered independents already lean heavily toward one of the party coalitions. Strong polarization, started by the Tea Party movement and further fueled by Trump, has pushed the remaining 94% of us into distinct coalitions.

And in that landscape, there's little reason to try to appeal to them. Just concentrate on activating your own coalition that despises the other.

Second, turnout will be far greater than traditionalists expect – possibly even record-breaking. Winning candidates need to appeal to their coalitions and get them angry at the status quo. Fury toward Trump and his chaotic style provided Democratic wins in 2018 and will do so again this year.

The Democratic coalition consists of people of color, college-educated white men and women, and registered voters living in metropolitan areas, both urban and suburban (i.e., Phoenix, Chandler, Ahwatukee, Paradise Valley, central Scottsdale, Glendale, Tucson, and Flagstaff).

The Republican coalition is mostly non-college whites, some religious-minded voters, financiers and corporate business people, and folks living in rural and "exurban" areas (communities beyond the suburbs, such as North Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, Rio Verde, and Oro Valley).

"In the polarized era, the outcome isn't really about the candidates. What matters is what percentage of the electorate (belongs to each coalition) and how they get activated," says Bitecofer. These relatively new coalitions caught political pundits and their older models by surprise in 2016.

For Bitecofer, it doesn't matter who is running. What matters is who is voting. Her 2020 model has already given the Democrats a White House victory without capturing a single toss-up state and no matter which of the "top tier or even second tier candidate" wins the nomination. She sees Trump losing the industrial Midwest states he won in 2016, as well as Florida and North Carolina. Arizona, Georgia and Texas will be the competitive toss-up states.

Interestingly, while Bitecofer doesn't believe the Democratic presidential nominee makes much of a difference, their choice of a running mate will be important. Because the presidential nominee will be white, the vice presidential nominee should be a person of color to "further ignite Democratic partisans" and increase turnout.

What drives the traditionalist forecasters crazy is Bitecofer's indifference toward issues and who is at the top of the ticket.

Bottom line: Democrats need to stay engaged. Be ready to rally around whoever wins the nomination. And chill out!

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Also… hang on for a bit to that early ballot you get in the mail this week. Your preferred candidate today may drop out of the race before Arizona's March 17 election.

Now purple, trending blue in 2020

The latest Arizona voter registration numbers must give Republican operatives pause. Not only has the state become purple, but we are definitely trending blue, especially in gigantic Maricopa County, which used to be safe, conservative Republican territory.

Look at these numbers provided by Garrett Archer, ABC15's "Data Guru," from Trump's victory in November 2016 to January 2020:

R +10% (124,321)
D +13% (137,422)
I + 7% ( 82,015)

Maricopa County
R + 72,686
D + 106,414
I + 59,788

In November 2018, Democrats Sinema, Hobbs, Kennedy and Hoffman all won in Maricopa County. This year, the county registration numbers are even better for the Dems.

More college-educated workers moving into Arizona as our economy diversifies, along with a steadily increasing Latino population, are producing more registered Democrats, and polls indicate Independents are voting more Democratic.

All of which is good news for the Arizona Democratic Party.

A true public servant

Tempe and Arizona icon Rudy Campbell died earlier this month at age 96. He was a devoted family man, community activist, and Tempe's first mayor in 1966.

Campbell was also a valuable former member of the Arizona Board of Regents, and a strong supporter of higher education in our state.

He amazingly served two eight-year terms as a regent, from 1974 to 1982 and from 1992 to 2000. I had the privilege of serving with Campbell on the board his last two years.

Campbell was a problem solver and a man of integrity and independence. I'll always remember him telling me of a phone call he received from then-Gov. Fife Symington in 1993, about a year after he had been appointed to ABOR by Symington.

Symington was not pleased with some of Campbell's votes as a regent. He asked Campbell to resign so he could appoint someone else.

Campbell refused. He cared too much to walk away from the higher education policy-making position. He would not tolerate political pressure.

Back then, regents held statutory fixed terms, along with a few other important appointed boards and commissions, such as the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. This enabled appointees to remain independent from politics and potential gubernatorial removal.

Gov. Doug Ducey and the legislature removed all such fixed-term protections a few years ago. We've seen what Ducey has done recently to the Appellate Court Appointments Commission (no Democrats serve on it today), as it reviews applicants for the critical Independent Redistricting Commission. Unfair, raw politics are now at work.

Regent Campbell would not be pleased.

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Rest in peace, Rudy.

This column was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

Chris Herstam has four decades of experience at the Arizona state capitol. He has been an elected lawmaker, a gubernatorial chief of staff, a lobbyist, director of the Department of Insurance and president of the Arizona Board of Regents. Find him on Twitter at @chrisherstam.

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Signs outside a Democratic debate in Iowa, January 2020.