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What the Devil won't tell you

As I said: Biden can't be beat — and what being wrong means to Arizona

(Writer's note: This 'mea culpa' column has been in quarantine during the COVID-19 crisis and has practiced proper social distance for a full week.)

The U.S. Marines were being run out of North Korea after the Battle of Chosin Reservoir but they refused to say they were retreating. They insisted they were attacking in a different direction.

I don't like to think that I was wrong about the Democratic primary as it's rolled along through the states. I like to think I was right in a different direction.

I'll explain more about that in a sec but first to the news bigger than me.

Former Vice President Joe Biden's Lazarus act is good news for Arizona Democrats on the ballot this fall because the Sanders wing was in no position to provide a unified message that would work for all voters — not if they insisted those voters be educated about the salutary effects of Nordic socialism, let alone French dirigsme or the German Renisch model.

Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly can think past the red blinking light on the former astronaut's control panel telling him he has a problem. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick can run without being asked to pick sides in favor of socialism or against a big part of her base.

During the 2008 Democratic primary, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords refused to endorse Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton until the season was all but over, even though both were scraping for unpledged superdelegates like her.

Giffords has joined her husband Kelly in endorsing the inevitable Democratic nominee for President Joe Biden. Do you hear the "thank God" out of the Kelly for Senate headquarters.

Biden continues to battle back from the political grave with a victories across the country Tuesday, including a double-digit win in the Arizona presidential preference election, or whatever it is we call it.

Arizona Dems can't endorse Uncle Joe fast enough.

Candidates up and down the ballot can focus on health care and/or contrast Biden's ditzy grandpa tendencies with Trump's presence like mom's abusive boyfriend calling himself your "new daddy" and asking if there's a reason you don't sleep in the garage.

Trump can resurrect his own fortunes if he can maintain his latest political straight man act he's displayed the last few days. Let's face it though, 75-year-old billionaires don't change.

It stayed in Vegas

After the Nevada caucus, I wrote the Democrats had bet the ranch on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The insistent socialist was bound to get creamed by Trump, leaving Arizona a solid red state for another four years. It was a done deal. Over. Fin.

Well, here we are. Arizona just jumped on the Biden bandwagon and the Dems are stampeding toward Milwaukee and the prospect of (maybe) a Democratic National Convention — if we're not an arms-length nation, still.

What's amazing is just now dead he was. He was ashen. There was no blood in the face. The pupils were fixed and dilated. The gloves were coming off the doctor's hands. And then ... Lazarus.

It's not like Dylan didn't try to warn me that it was too early to call the nomination Bernie's. It's not like Tucson Citizen sports guy Michael Caccamise didn't say you can't tell how the next races would go. I treated such wisdom like a certified Facebook Troll on an ether(net) binge.

Bernie had money, organization, momentum and was surging in the polls after a series of wins. Biden had no money, no organization, and had been piling up loss after loss. Only Mike Bloomberg, the former Republican mayor of New York, had any of what candidates need to keep going. Well, he didn't have W's but he had so much money that he could afford to absorb L's, just not Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's body-blows on the debate stage.

This election looked a lot like 2004. It wasn't unconventional. It was very conventional. It was fighting a populist demagogue on the right with a populist socialist on the left. It was pitting one army of Facebook trolls against another. Just like Democrats putting liberal war hero John Kerry up against war-time president George W. Bush.

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So Sanders was killing it in poll after poll, even narrowing the gap in South Carolina.

Bernie was standing pat with a full house, kings over queens. Biden asked for four cards and drew four aces.

Benie's big night in Vegas stayed in Vegas and remains in Vegas.

History fickle

I was superimposing history on this race. There are three kinds of races. Those with multiple candidates with money, organization and able to chalk up victories in the first three contests. Think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's rough path to the nomination. There's the frontrunner building a "make-or-break" narrative through scandal (Bill Clinton) or difficulty (Walter Mondale). And then there are the runaway trains, (Mike Dukakis and John Kerry), who face splintered opposition and mount victory over victory.

They can have bumpy rides but they never have completely augured in the way Sanders did.

The closest, historically, to what happened was Mondale. Mondale won Iowa and then was shocked by Colorado Sen. Gary Hart in New Hampshire and a bunch of other early states. The media set up an artificial bar of conventional wisdom that if Mondale didn't win Georgia, his campaign was over. He won Georgia and rolled after that.

Biden's comeback is basically without precedent since the modern primary system was invented in 1972. We haven't seen anything like Bernie's collapse since Arizona treating top-ranked Illinois like a speed bump en route to a Final Four before forgetting how to inbound a pass.

By "right in different direction," I was correct in that previous column in pointing out that Bernie and his supporters had to stop running against the establishment and understand their goal was to become the new establishment of a party that includes diverse thought.

Coffeehouse radicals aren't particularly good at bridging divides. They live by exploiting them. So they never did the work of convincing others in the party that they had a better plan. They bombarded Democrats with the message they had the only plan and anyone who failed to support it was corrupt.

Cliques make for bad coalition-building. They take as much pride in who they exclude as as whom the include. They don't want moderates, they're Republican Lite. They don't want liberals, that's like neoliberals and that's the Clintons. They don't want suburbanites or rich people who know the game is rigged. They're corrupt. They don't want former Republicans or Southern white men. They want the young, the people of color and a base who reject phone calls.

For a group of people that hails the non-binary, they sure like saying "You are either with us or against us, and we are Democratic Socialists."

And they ran smack into the crossed arms and askance looks of Southern African Americans. Finger wags ensued.  These voters were like the aunts and uncles at the toy store telling their nephew you can't have the socialist from Brooklyn. Go pick yourself out a nice former veep.

If Sanders devotees want to dismiss African American voters in the Alabama Black Belt as "the Establishment," that's up to them. They best be careful about with their whitesplaining or they'll have to demand that Twitter ban them.

By the time they get to Arizona

So now the Phoenix and Tucson suburbs are back in play. The white vote accounted for 75 percent of the statewide vote in 2016 and 2018, which is higher than the national figure. So despite talking heads in D.C. talking about the Latino vote putting Arizona in play, it's the dubious white voters who are turning the state purple (but the Dem-ographic shift is coming).

That vote isn't likely going to throw in with a candidate who shabbily treats heretics and broadly defines the term for maximum effect.

Democrats in Arizona won't have to spend the fall parsing the upsides of the Oslo workday versus the Parisian co-pay and whether either go with fries and a shake because this is 'Merica.

David Garcia ran a Bernie-esque campaign for governor against Doug Ducey and lost the suburbs by 30 points. Kyrsten Sinema lost the suburbs by 10 on her way to a 2-point win. Arizona's urban growth patterns means that the line delineating urban and rural isn't as bright. Tempe might consider itself suburban and places like Goodyear and the San Tan Valley might consider themselves suburban but are more exurban. Just 6 percent of Arizona voters surveyed in exit polls described themselves as "rural."

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Garcia lost independent voters by 7 and won the white college-educated vote by 1. Sinema won the independent vote by 3 and white college educated voters by 15.

Sinema won Pima and Maricopa County, something that no Democrat has done in a Senate race since 1988.

Arizona isn't a blue state yet. Traditional Republicans like Ducey and the late John McCain still run as touchdown favorites. Trump isn't traditional. Grand Canyon State voters growled at Trump in 2016 (though giving him Arizona's 11 electoral votes). Then they ripped and snarled at him 2018 and they drew blue blood, electing Sinema, five congressfolk, a state schools chief and a secretary of state.

In 2020, they could fell Trump's second term like a wounded elk.

Republicans in the Legislature have to get back to worrying about their half-century's worth of control as well. They have held the Arizona House of Representatives by one seat and the Senate by two. Republicans have held control of the House since 1967 and controlled the Senate for 44 of 52 years.

Latinos, African American, native Americans, rural hippies and urban liberals simply haven't been a big enough coalition to make a dent in the state but for isolated moments of moderation. If enough suburban voters turn to Democrats, that could be enough to push past 50 percent.

And that's what I mean by being right in another direction. Winning elections is the art of building a coalition of actual voters. It's not about reducing to the purity that will summon forth fellow travelers who have never voted because Bernie hasn't run.

They also deluded themselves into thinking that there would be a brand-new electorate drawn out of the void. So they had no use for the voters who were already voting.

My mistake was in believing the polling numbers that showed Democrats starting to coalesce around Sanders, as if one candidate is just as good as another. South Carolinians said, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no ..."

So now Bernie's Bros are left blaming the establishment for being out to get him, while checking their privilege because it was the African Americans who did him in.

They'll argue Trump can't be beaten conventionally but that's just so much talking. Trump and the GOP have lost elections in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The man is running on what had been a strong economy but was losing and is still losing to Democrats. Reagan and Clinton – similarly situated atop good times – were both up double-digits at this time in their re-election effort.

Fights on

This is good news if you believe politicians should hustle for voters and balance interests.

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It means good things for the state because suddenly the state won't be knee jerk one way or another. So long as Tucson is habitually Democratic and the Legislature is instinctively Republican, politicians won't fear the broad electorate. That's bad for everyone.

A final point to people thinking about running for office. One reason the people so distrust government is the degree to which there is a difference between campaign promise and what is delivered after election day.

I see no value in promising to forgive student debt, bequeath Medicare for All and redesign the social contract. Lyndon Johnson himself could not deliver that if he could carry it like a basset hound's ears.

That's a sure way to leave another generation disillusioned to the art of the possible.

This isn't to say Sander's base should just go away. They won't, anyway. They just need a new plan because this one doesn't seem to be working. Might want to consider moving toward goals progressively, rather than all at once. The irony of ironies is that they have the money. They have become the thing they say they hate but that means they can warp political spacetime. They just can't break it.

They might want to figure out how to make friends to influence people among the people, who — I don't know — vote.

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Joe Biden proves columnist wrong and comes back from the bad to the delight of Arizona Democrats not feeling berns.


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