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Opinion

What the Devil won't tell you

Follow the bouncing stupid: California recall shows Republicans may out-dumb Dems in '22 midterms

I’ve been meaning to preview the race in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District but we do not yet have a district to preview. Sooo …

However, those interested now have a result to ponder, and it just happened in California.

Editor and Publisher Dylan Smith asked me what the hell can you tell about the Arizona 2nd based on a statewide recall in California? He has a point.

Using California (or anywhere else in America) way to measure what might happen nationally or in Arizona can be folly. Democrats overwhelm Republicans in terms of voter registration in California; the recall procedure there is rife with peculiarities; the state’s politics are specific to it and nowhere else.

We know what did happen. A high-profile campaign produced a big turnout, even in an off-year election.

We also know what didn’t happen.

Alabama 2017 did not happen. Massachusetts 2009 did not happen. Going back, Harris-Wofford in 1991 did not happen. All three of those races turned out to be shockers that presaged change a year in the future.

We know why. Democrats still vote vote when Republicans troll them Trump-style. Leading Republican Larry Elder didn't so much try to campaign as much as he tried to own the libs... in California.

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This Republican style, almost more than substance, has shoved Arizona toward Democrats years ahead of the demographic shift experts had said would make this state purple. It's left the Grand Old Party electorally bankrupt in Pima County.

On the other hand, the 2022 election should be when Arizona Republicans reassert their dominance, as they did in 1994 and 2010.

Elder provided a playbook for how Republicans can lose an election that they should win. Democratic campaigns now see Donald Trump still makes their voters charge like a bull at a matador's muleto.

Gavin Newsom held on to survive the recall attempt, as voters chose to keep him by numbers that may match his 2018 general election total.

For now, that’s all we need to know to realize that Democrats may – may – stave off a 2010 or 1994-style political whooping, and the Democratic general election candidate in southeastern Arizona remains very much in the game if not leading it.

My take has nothing to do with the slate of candidates in Southern Arizona, the Rosemont Mine or Interstate 11. We know President Biden's existence is enough to turn out Republicans. Will Democrats show up? California's Magic 8-Ball says "Signs point to yes."

Republicans insist on trolling Democrats until they turn out to the polls. Democratic leaders like U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema insist on turning them off altogether. The ones I feel sorry for are the run-of-the-mill Romney-Ryan Republicans. Where do they go?

Democrats Kristen Engel and Daniel Hernandez headline a Democratic field that must sort itself out. The Republicans are going to be left to decide if a guy like Juan Ciscomani — who may be acceptable to a wide swath of voters — is the right vessel for their anger.

That's high-resolution stuff. I'm talking the big picture. How many will turn out? 

The race to replace U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick will likely hinge on which party runs a dumber campaign to attract their voters. Watch for Dems and R's to keep handing each other their beer.

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The record

Yogi Berra once said baseball is a 90 percent half mental. Politics today are 90 percent two-thirds national. They aren't local anymore. Nine out of ten times, races for the House and Senate are defined by national trends.

And midterm elections in districts across the country are decided by how many of their presidential-year voters go missing. 

In 1994, House Republicans lost 16 percent of their vote total compared to 1992. Democrats watched 36 percent of theirs vanish from the polling places after Bill Clinton won. Republicans gained 54 seats in the House and seven in the Senate.

In 2006, the next major wave year saw Republicans lose 35 percent of their 2004 House election total. Democrats lost just 18 percent of theirs. Then came 2010, when Democrats lost 40 percent of their 2008 vote and Republicans held onto 86 percent of their vote. Landslide. Landslide.

Then came 2018 and something happened that hadn’t in modern history. Republicans held 80 percent of their 2016 House vote total. That’s great. It’s record-breaking. Except Democrats did something that should have astonished the Beltway chattering class: They held 97.8 percent of their 2016 total. They even reached 90 percent of Hillary Clinton’s vote.

In 2020, Joe Biden got 81 million votes nationally and 1.8 million votes in Arizona. He took Arizona's CD 2 by 11 points.

Southern Arizona tends toward higher turnout than the rest of the country, so the swings aren’t as big — but they can still prove decisive. The peculiarities of individual races make partisan breakdowns hard but the trend is when turnout doesn't fall much, Democrats do better.

This vanishing was most evident in Southern Arizona back in 2010, when just 14 percent of the Southeastern Arizona vote went missing compared to 2008 and almost all of them were Democrats. Gabrielle Giffords saw her vote total fall by 41,000 votes while Republican Jesse Kelly received just 2,000 fewer than Tim Bee did in 2008. Giffords won by 4,000 votes to Kelly, a complete doofus who had no business coming within 40,000 votes of Giffords.

Martha McSally won the seat for Republicans in 2014, when overall turnout dropped 25 percent from 2012.

Ann Kirkpatrick flipped the district back to blue during the 2018 midterms, when just 6.7 percent of the overall electorate disappeared from the presidential election.

This is big-picture stuff. It’s not parsing the numbers to figure out which subset of the voters broke 5 points this way or that way. Did you get your people to the polls or didn’t you?

Midterms aren’t about persuading voters to change their minds or finding new voters, as much as they are about convincing people who voted last time to not to sit out the "little" election.

Always eager to auger in

So may I present the American Democratic Party, which may well work overtime to make sure the sedentary voters don’t so much as jostle.

They have a three-point plan to make House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy the new speaker of the House.

Part 1) The Sinema Effect.

Arizona's U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema's message to the foot soldiers of the Democratic base so far is best summed up by her viral tweet: “F—k off.” She sent that not-so-subtle message drinking sangria wearing a ring with the vulgar command inscribed.

That’s one way to convince the committed to pack the autodialers and work the phones.

She's been absolutely insistent that the base be cut out of the wheeling and dealing as Congress tries to pass Biden's legislative agenda and secure voting rights.

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What Sinema’s doing isn’t new. In days past, Sinemas went by the names of John Breaux, Ben Nelson, David Boren and Arizona’s own Dennis DeConcini. They were “Red State” Democrats eager to prove they had no use for the liberal wing of the party. They killed investments in Bill Clinton’s economic plan in 1993, nixed the public option in 2009 and now are pearl-clutching at the idea that Democrats would dare deliver on 2020 campaign promises.

If future ex-senators want to know how to keep the base at home, make sure to seek out the things they want most and make sure those are the things that don’t get signed into law. Go chase the voters hearts who want only your defeat and defeat will follow.

In 2002, Democrats stayed home with George W. Bush in charge, after Democratic politicians ignored their base and insisted on supporting a war with Iraq. How’d that turn out, Presidents Clinton and Kerry?

Republicans rarely chase Democrats around either chamber screaming "Please love me! Please love me!"

Part 2) Chase the wrong voters.

Democrats have a thing for white men in unions. Bobby Kennedy briefly put together a Golden Coalition of hippies, hard hats and African Americans and the party has been pining for a return to that former glory.

The party has the majority right now but it’s not the coalition of the '60s. Black women, Asian men, Latino non-binaries and white cisgender lawyers provide its punch.

Stop chasing grandpa. He's screaming at Fox News for a reason.

Part 3) Don’t be “mean.”

Why play hardball when hugs are free? Republicans support insurrection and are arguing to spread the pandemic. That should be easy to beat. Whack them over the head with it between now and next Nov. 8.

History tells us Democrats won't work to tie a guy like Ciscomani to Trump, if the Republican tries to show an inkling of independence.

See, that’s mean. The voters don’t like that. No, voters prefer to be educated about how to bring down prescription drug prices by achieving economies of scale in bulk buying through the federal procurement process with programs like Medicare. They want 14-point plans about how to solve their problems.

Republicans just shout "Socialism!" Guess who wins the battle of slogans?

This isn't me cheerleading. This is me playing the part of a recovered political consultant trying to show Monty Python's Upper Class Twits of the Year how to back up a car. 

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Set to self-destruct

Put a gun to my head right now and order a prediction, and I would have to say Republicans will in 50-75 seats and one of them will be in Southeastern Arizona. They'll gain five to seven seats in the state House and three in the state Senate.

Republicans can’t lose in 2022. It’s not possible. Even if they can't rig the Independent Redistricting Commission to serve them up a wildly gerrymandered set of new district boundaries, they should still roll as part of a national wave.

And yet they have their own 14-point plan, which requires them to:

  • Applaud the pandemic.
  • Defend insurrection.
  • Question the 2020 results and call all elections rigged.
  • Compare masks to the Holocaust.
  • Turn vigilantes loose on pregnant women.
  • Demand another 200,000 deaths from coronavirus because you want a steak in that restaurant right now.
  • Restart Donald Trump.
  • Make Marjorie Taylor Greene the face of the party.
  • Run Oro Valley's own Mark Finchem for Arizona secretary of state to kill democracy outright.
  • Hire a firm called Cyber Ninjas to tell Arizona voters they didn't actually vote how they voted.
  • Violently attack hostesses, flight attendants and grocery clerks enforcing anti-coronavirus measures.
  • Threaten poll workers and school board members.
  • Harass nurses.
  • Talk about how opposing tax cuts reveals a person to be a part of an international child sex trafficking ring or proves them to be ... good God ... vampires.

So to invoke the Cleese Gang: Vivian! Shoot the staked down rabbit and not Nigel!  This is a chip-shot election.

Majorities don't vote for death and menace.

Over time the Republicans have forgotten the point of "Culture War." They used to pit the "right kind of people" (hard-working, god-fearing, patriotic Christians) against the "wrong" kind of people (gays, welfare moms, illegal immigrants and black people seeking racial parity "at the expense of" junior getting into Yale).

Arizona Republican super-strategist Chuck Coughlin calls his firm "High Ground" for a reason.

But the GOP has stepped away from their supposed city on a hill, choosing instead of wallow more openly in muck and fear.

If Democrats don't pull a Democrat and break and run, they should be able to beat an under-equipped, under-manned ragtag army attacking uphill and into the sun.

Leading the way

Southern Arizona has been at the leading edge of this change. 

Consider not too long ago, the local Republican Party punched way above its weight.

Republicans controlled the Pima County Board of Supervisors for most of the 1990s. They had functional control of the Tucson City Council in the early 2000s. 

Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe served in Congress representing this part of the state for 22 years. He was all but unbeatable. 

Say what you will about his votes, the man was brilliant, hard-working and played the local game. 

He quit in 2006. That was the year the first inklings of the Tea Party started in Pima County, when moderates were largely driven from the GOP. They began taking college-educated and suburban voters with them.

Hell, Kolbe left the party in 2018.

McSally then had a sensible couple years until the red hats showed up and abducted her soul.

Pima County Republicans went from resurgence in 2009 to oblivion just three years later. Now, if they can't be crazy, they don't want to play. 

In the last election, Biden trounced Trump in Republican strongholds that are now bright blue.

A point about redistricting: 

Republicans may want to make CD 2 a "safe" district for them in 2022 but the the "safe districts" they would have to steal voters from are in north Phoenix or the northwestern corner of the state. 

That's going to make for a geographic mess and it's not clear that they have the votes on the Independent Redistricting Commission to make that work. They can scramble parts of Maricopa County but Pima County might be somewhat safe.

Republicans have a bigger problem. Their most reliable voters are older than 75. A super demographic coalition of Millenials and Gen Z is what's replacing them and they voted for Biden by 20 points.

Right now, in what is District 2, these two generations account for 35-40 percent of the electorate and that number is growing. Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation account for 30-35 percent of the vote and they are dying because that's what people do when they get older.

Hyper accurate micro-mapping can do a lot but it can't beat time.

Time always shows up.

Or is it fake news?

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. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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State Rep. Mark Finchem's race for secretary of state and against democracy is one way to turn Democrats out and replicate California recall results in Southern Arizona.

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