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What the Devil won't tell you

Gallego's decision to bow out of Senate race a missed opportunity for Dems

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego is keeping his hat on. It shall be tossed not in the ring to lie alongside that of astronaut and Greatest Spouse Ever Mark Kelly. So Arizona Democrats won’t have a bloody Democratic primary campaign in the 2020 race to challenge the recently appointed Sen. Martha McSally.

Now, conventional wisdom says that’s a good thing for Democrats. Partisan leaders hate primaries because they are civil wars. In 2011, there were Democrats still keeping score about who supported Obama and who supported Hillary three years earlier.

On the other hand, one thing Beto O'Rourke did in Texas was plant and harvest millions of Democrats who once germinated underground but now live on list of voters across the state. Non-traditional voters can turn into regular voters in just two election cycles.

Even a losing race can help galvanize African Americans, Latinos and young voters into a surge.

Arizona Democrats could use some of that mojo and Republicans may not want to heave a sigh of relief. The one thing we know about conventional wisdom is that it can typically best described only as conventional.

It’s possible the whole 2020 race changed when Robert S. Mueller released a report apparently finding insufficient prosecutable evidence of a Trump conspiracy with the Russian government during the previous election. I doubt it. Trump can't fail to step in it, wherever he can find it. If he can't find "it," he'll go looking for "it."

Outrageous victimization gins up Trump's base and makes him go. He won't leave well enough alone. In fact, he's already calling for an investigation of the investigators who may have just cleared him. I guess we can't trust the judgment of people who decided not to prosecute El Cheeto.

Here in Arizona, Gallego may have been a clean shave away from making a noise. In fact, a Gallego primary run could have been the final step in turning the state purple, which is sort of like watching that first platypus grow a bill.

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He's got time to reconsider. It's 18 months before early voting starts for God's sake.

Numbers game

For starters, our 2018 electorate was whiter than the national demographic profile, which seems weird as Arizona is a state with barely a white majority. Whites accounted for 54 percent of the population here but provided 75 percent of the vote. Nationally, that number was 72 percent.

Let’s break down Arizona's minority vote in 2018 versus what it actually represents, as shown by exit polls and the U.S. Census:

  • Whites made up 75 percent of the total vote but accounted for just 54 percent of the population.
  • Latinos accounted for 17 percent of the electorate and 31 percent of the population.
  • African Americans were 2 percent of those casting ballots and 5 percent of the the state's population.
  • Those categorized as other races were 4 percent of the turnout but represented 10 percent of the population.

In 2016, white Arizonans made up 72 percent, as more voters showed up with a presidential race at the top of the ballot.

Younger voters (18-44) made up 38 percent of the vote in 2016 but just 34 percent in 2018. Sinema won them by 20 points last year; Clinton by 10 in 2016.

Given that non-white voters break about 2-1 in favor of Democrats, that’s a one-point head-start for the Dems. Get that number down to 66 percent, and the Donkeys would have a three-point edge in demographics alone.

The numbers tell us that Sinema won a damn-near impossible election for a Democrat. Hillary Clinton voters made up just 38 percent of a white and old electorate — 7 points less than the former secretary of state's total haul. It’s just that Clinton voters backed Sinema by a retina-bursting margin of 95 points – 97 percent to 2 percent. The last time I saw a poll number that lopsided, George W. Bush had just stood on a pile of rubble with a bullhorn three days previous.

An old, white, right-wing electorate voted Sinema into office. A Democrat will almost certainly face a more diverse, younger and more liberal slate of voters in 2020.

The search for the grail

I can tell you from experience, getting Latinos to vote is both the Holy Grail and the Lombardi Trophy of Arizona Democratic politics. It’s just really hard to get them registered because it requires knocking on doors and keeping track of a population that typically struggles more financially and doesn't have the most secure housing, so they move around a lot.

But mostly, as one local Latino activist told me (paraphrasing): One white candidate will ignore Latinos as well as another.

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Gallego is, on paper, as legit a candidate as it gets for the U.S. Senate. 

Anyone think a 39-year-old white candidate with a Harvard pedigree, six years experience in the U.S. Marine Corps (including combat) and six more in the Congress isn't already running for Senate? They would have run last time. But Latinos tend to represent Latino districts and therefore are seen as "too liberal."

I get it but I'm not so sure.

This 39-year-old Latino could have been the candidate who makes the electorate younger and more colorful. And the old, white voter is slowly getting turned off by Trump. Voters don’t tend to worry so much about who they hire when they are in a firing mood. The only way McSally loses next year is if voters are in a firing mood. I keep having to remind people how conventional wisdom said Ronald Reagan was far too conservative to win in 1980.

Maybe, Gallego wouldn't have won the primary nod. And maybe he’s too liberal for the general but if it takes losing an election to finally get Latinos registered and part of the universe of voters, then that’s worth the trouble and worth the loss to Democrats. Then he could have handed that list over to Kelly. Maybe Kelly wouldn't have won among Gallego's supporters but he'd have had access to more than he would otherwise.

Thou shalt not

Party insiders insist primaries are bad. They divide the electorate. They divide the stakeholders. They prevent the party establishment from throwing in behind their candidate of choice, who is often beaten and dinged up during the race for the nomination.

Lefty activists were already pouncing on Kelly and teeing Gallego up to take a whack. The Intercept ran a piece trashing Kelly for taking dollars for a corporate speaking tour. And Gallego gave us a taste of what might have been, even if it was a bit of an odd attack.

“It’s kind of weird, though, to say you’re not taking corporate PAC money, but then also directly taking corporate PAC money into your personal account,” Gallego said in an interview with the Intercept. “I don’t understand why even take that pledge if you’re not personally living that.”

Actually, no it’s not. That logic would pretty much prevent anyone from the private sector from running for office. Hell, I take corporate money – from a tiny local nonprofit (donate here) — but a corporation just the same. And by the way, if you think for one second I wouldn’t take $10,000 and a shellfish tower to go speak to Acme Corp, you are out of your freaking mind. It wouldn’t change what I wrote. I would assume what I wrote got me the pile of crustaceans and probably a tasty steak, too.

But Kelly will have to deal with that charge sooner or later. Let it be sooner. Primaries can make candidates better faster. Having to bob and weave with a primary opponent tends to work the flab off a campaign well ahead of the general election. And a dynamic primary joust — one that's not bare-knuckled — can leave the winner unbloodied while the opposing party's candidate withers as a wallflower, starved for public attention until the fall.

And, most importantly, the seat doesn’t belong to the party or the incumbent. It belongs to the voters. They should decide who represents the party.

Imagine though, if Democrats were able to watch a few hundred thousand more voters emerge from their dismissive pessimism and join the rest of the electorate.

Gallego could have done that and made the race better as Arizona may start wondering how it looks in Nevada Blue.

Or maybe he just wanted to keep the beard.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.

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Rep. Ruben Gallego jumped across district lines for a 2017 Tucson town hall on the American Health Care Act, a bill passed by the House that would have repealed the 2008 Affordable Care Act.


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