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What the Devil won't tell you

Burbs of a feather: Why GOP is in trouble with key voting bloc of 2018

The road to CD2 victory runs through the Foothills and East Side, where Trump is a big problem

The Swinging Suburban Dog Leg starts in the area of North First Avenue and East Skyline Road, sweeps east through the Catalina Foothills to Sabino Creek and then shoots south, following Harrison Road clear down to Escalante Road.

In these 13 precincts, voters cast about 30,000 ballots in 2016. John McCain carried these precincts by five to nine points. Martha McSally ran up victories by 14 to 22 percentage points.

Not surprisingly, Republicans hold a registration advantage in each.

Hillary Clinton won all but one of them.

Lest one think these aren’t really Republicans, but mere "RINO" voters, I checked down the ticket where reflexive partisan sentiments shine through. Mark Napier obliterated Chris Nanos by 20 to 30 points. Republican State House candidates Todd Clodfelter and Ana Henderson won, too. Pima County Republican Supervisor Ally Miller found more troubled results but that race broke a point or two for her or against her across those voting areas that lie within her district – hardly an existential threat to her.

Finding these results required comparing the official Pima County canvass with smart guy about town Luke Knipe’s blog, where he imported voter registration totals to show how precincts break Democrat or Republican.

If every McSally voter had thrown in with Trump or every Clinton voter had bubbled in Matt Heinz name, more than 10,000 votes would have swung in these 13 precincts alone. That was a quarter of McSally's victory margin. 

In the race to serve the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives goes through the Tucson suburbs and that's bad news for Republican Lea Marquez-Peterson, in particular, as well as the party as a whole as long as the GOP keeps playing up the culture wars.

Marquez-Peterson is in double dutch with Pima County’s red suburban precincts and Democrats would be stupid not to run on Donald J. Trump’s antics. Then again, Trump is taking care of that all by himself.

Marquez Peterson is largely unknown, despite her years as head of the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and if her base voters demand she state that she's one of Donald's hammers, these friendly-looking precincts are going to be enemy territory. Clearly, McSally enjoyed a brand that was independent of Trump two years ago. She's doing her best to eliminate that in favor of the president as she runs for U.S. Senate, hoping to turn the race into a referendum on U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema's supposed "radical" past.

Former U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, the Democratic nominee in CD 2, is known to the district's voters, having run for U.S. Senate in 2016 and performing not-too-shabbily against John McCain. 

It bears pointing out that Gabby Giffords did very well in these precincts in 2006 and 2008, when the Democrat was sent to Congress. McSally was able to recapture them. That was back before the Republican Party got wholly acquired by Trump, Inc. It's not clear Republicans will be able to put Trump behind them as easily as they did George W. Bush.

None of this matters because the CD 2 election won't be decided by local factors or the candidates themselves. Donald J. Trump won't let that happen. It's always all gotta be about him, everywhere.

So long as these voters are allowed to swing back and forth they probably will. Yet Trump has transformed the party into a reflection of his angry, severe self that demands total allegiance. The question is: What happens to these iffy suburban voters if the GOP doesn't change back, but quick? 

In terms of riff-raff

I need to differentiate here between suburbs and exurbs. Back east, suburbs are those first rings of communities outside of an urban core. Exurbs sprawl beyond the suburbs (four years as growth and values reporter, right here). 

In Tucson, it's not so cut and dried.

On the coasts, metro areas that didn't grow up around the car, grew in a more traditional way. Small villages once dotted the landscape back east and then one of those villages would catch on and grow like gangbusters and they were surrounded by made-to-order suburbs. That’s why cities and suburbs are often separated by sparsely populated areas. Suburbs are specific destinations.

Growth in Tucson would hop over desert to try to establish those breaks but Tucson sprawled so fast that the urban core just filled in the gaps. Tucson ate its suburbs almost as soon as they sprung up. So suburbanites found themselves entangled in the urban core. Still, suburban voters populate the engulfed housing tracts. They drive suburban cars, live among suburban neighborhoods, commuting to suburban jobs that pay suburban wages. In other words: the East Side.

I grew up in one of these communities outside Rochester, N.Y., and my first high school job was running deliveries for a computer graphics firm downtown. I would commute to work down the expressway. And when I told my classmates where I worked, they would practically freeze for a moment and ask in elongated words “you mean you work innn thheee ciiiittyyyy?” For a nanosecond the cheerleaders considered me kinda dangerous and hot. The football players would snark: “Yeah, how many times you get mugged yesterday, Morlock?”

But that was it. Suburbanites stood apart from the urban mass they orbited. Cities were dark and scary and full of roving riff-raff up to skulduggery. Suburban moms and dads wanted to raise their kids safe from the urban upheaval, so we grew up fearing the cities.

Then in the 1990s, cities began to reinvent themselves as hip, friendly and crime-free products of urban renewal and gentrification. They weren’t so scary anymore.

Increasingly, suburbia interlocks with the urban cores culturally to form the economic and cultural engines of America. They form a community where stuff is designed and built for the global market. The East Side and Foothills kinda belong to the city more than, say, Red Rock.

Exurbia or not exurbia

Modern urban flight now seeks a home in the exurbs. Think Oro Valley, Sahuarita and Rita Ranch. Here, Republican precincts broke heavily for Trump. The exurbs are like the suburbs we remember in their rejection of the big city for a more bucolic life safe from degenerating, globalizing culture. Exurbs provide safety, security and separation. I'm not busting on them. These folks want to live closer to their values and those values have more in common with rural America. Tucsonans can sort of understand that. God knows we don't live here for the money.

These exurbs are fast-growing communities that provide the Trump coalition with its real demographic muscle.

The Catalina Foothills grew more like traditional suburbs for a simple reason. The Murphey family. John Murphey bought most of creation north of River Road from North Oracle Road to the New Mexico line. He sold the land off bit-by-bit for big lot development.

The Foothills match the description of exurbia but those neighborhoods weren't Trump country. If you are going to sink north of $500,000 into a house in Tucson, odds are you like the character of the place. If you like the character, you like the idea at least of the riff-raff (or at least looking down on them from on high).

The city is not their enemy. It's their fiefdom.

It's also worth pondering how highly educated voters feel about forgetting all they've learned to just let The Donald tell them what's what. Y'know. Canada's a national security threat.

Choose your reality

The danger is that Suburban Republicans start to resemble Reagan Democrats, who abandoned their New Deal roots in the face of social trends they didn't like. Trump is forcing a culture war and fostering white fear in the name of white grievance tailor made for rural voters and netting the exurbs in the process. 

The thing about Trump is he's all-or-nothing. You are with him or against him. You vote for him or you are his enemy. You watch Fox News or are oblivious to his truth. If you criticize him, he's glad when you die. And his party is increasingly his party. Partisans don't want to hear about independent thought or a reality different than the one he's selling. It's all fake news and deep states.

The results are starting to pile up as he asks the suburbs to choose nationalism over globalism, the flag over intellectualism, saddle up with the heartland instead of the work place, and team up with evangelicals instead of modern culture. 

In special elections in places as diverse as  Alabama,  Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania the suburban voters broke bluer than ever and rejected Trumpism. Suburbia in all these states has already turned against Trump.

The Pima County Republican Party has all but abandoned the city of Tucson. They’ve gone out of business in city elections, fielding marginal candidates when they bother at all. They can’t afford to lose the suburbs and the Latinos.

Maybe this plan will work. Maybe he's got his base riled up with this tough talk so much they'll turn out in record numbers. Maybe he's worn out the opposition by outlasting them. 

We're about to find out, and the East Side and Foothills are likely going to make the decision we all get to live by.

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Kirkpatrick and Marquez-Peterson will either ride the wave or be crushed by it.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.

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2 comments on this story

Sep 11, 2018, 11:10 am
-0 +0

So, do you think Cochise County will have any effect on the results for CD2?

Sep 10, 2018, 2:47 pm
-0 +3

Wow! Excellent article

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Click image to enlarge

courtesy Luke Knipe

The Catalina Foothills and Tucson's East Side have a slightly red hue in a map of precinct voter registration. Will that hold in the CD 2 election?


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