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What the Devil won't tell you

Red shift, blue shift: Things to watch for on election night & what not to dwell on

So is Arizona a Blue State? Is Arizona a Blue State? Is Arizona a Blue State?

There are so many questions to ask ahead of the election and I jotted down what I'm watching for tonight, tomorrow and into next week, maybe.

Election night could tell us a lot, but many of the bigger questions will be decided in the days, weeks and decade to come.

No, Arizona is not a Blue State. Democrats could do very well. That’s to say the state could vote for former Vice President Joe Biden, Senate candidate Mark Kelly, again send five Dem congressional representatives to Washington and flip the Legislature.

Don’t be terribly shocked if Trump wins Arizona and the races further down the ballot revert to the Republican mean. My “model” (a number I pulled from you know where) puts the odds of that at 22.45 percent. It’s not likely but about as un-shocking as a missed 38-yard field goal.

So cool your jets. Even if 100 percent of votes are counted tonight and Democrats win everything, we won’t know what color Arizona is for maybe 10 to 12 years.

And we can be certain that 100 percent of votes will not be counted tonight, because that's just not how this works — now or ever.

Arizona may be a swing state from now on, so be prepared to have you mind numbed with political ads every other October. It can take a while for states to switch their allegiances.

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The Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina took 15 years to truly start to vote reliably Republican. First the South flirted with George Wallace, then it went to Nixon. It flipped back to Carter. Then Ronald Reagan secured those states for his party in 1980.

Virginia, Colorado and California jumped from solid Republican to reliably Democrat but it took more than a decade for pollsters to basically call those states for the donkeys a year prior to an election.

However, if you are looking for evidence that the first trap has been sprung, don’t look at the presidency. Look down-ticket. Look to see if the Legislature flips or if Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes wins re-election. Watch the Corporation Commission. See if Sheriff Mark Napier and Treasurer Beth Ford get the boot in Pima County.

Lower-information races tend to break to party preference. For decades the party has been Republican in Arizona. Pima County has been willing to cut some Republicans some slack. If voters are changing their party preferences the real sign is further down the ballot.

The blue mirage

But Arizona has been here before. In 1992, Democrats won a majority of the state’s seats in Congress and a majority in the state Senate. Then came the 1994 midterms and the Democrats were so wiped out, it took them a decade to recover.

The Democrats in 2006 won a landslide in the governor and attorney general races, a majority of the congressional seats and stood at the cusp of taking over the state House of Representatives.

After the 2010 midterms, so many Democrats lost that party struggled to find candidates to run for governor or even for Congress in the 2nd congressional district serving Pima County. The party honchos had to recruit Flagstaff transplant Ann Kirkpatrick.

Historically, Democrats have paid a big price for having one of their own in the White House because the state seems to remember its conservative leanings. The seeming "Blue Shift," has just presaged a bigger "Red Shift" back.

What’s different now is that Maricopa County seems to be progressing to a national mean where big, urbanized counties break blue with a suburban shift. The Phoenix area has long been a Republican bastion. If they lose that sizeable population, then Arizona's GOP may not be able to recover long-term.

But there could be some big red shifts back as the change happens.

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Weed and schools, not weed in schools

Voters will decide two ballot propositions in Arizona and I am fascinated to see how voters react to taxing the rich for school funding and legalizing marijuana for personal use.

Polls show both with a good chance of passing but the research has been limited so I take it with a "Meh, believe it when I see it."

I thought the weed question was premature because voters just rejected something similar in 2016. 

You gotta give voters a chance to change their mind. On the other hand, a whole bunch of us might need to spark up a joint after the year that has been 2020.

If voters bless Prop. 208, I would urge backers to make sure that the windfall of new tax dollars get spent wisely because the tax hike is so dramatic that it might affect the state economically. 

Voters best have something to show for it in terms of better schools.

The way of the future?

Prop. 208 could have a lot to do with the state's political future.

As much as national issues can galvanize a vote one way or the other for federal races, a state's change can also be much more home-grown.

Colorado's flip from Red to Blue had a lot to do with voters in 2005 taking the teeth out of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and California's blue-state status may have been sealed in 1994 with the passage of Prop. 187, which targeted undocumented migrants (and presaged Arizona's SB 1070).  

Prop. 208 has that kind of potential because it's a repudiation of a long-standing priority the state's Republican majority has put on offering up Arizona as a low-tax, low-service state.

Calling the race early

I’m also fascinated to see how the national media should cover — oh, I don’t know — if a candidate declares the election over because he or she is winning no matter the number of outstanding votes.

Say for instance, Donald Trump decides that the only day votes can be counted is on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. It would be the only time in the history of our republic that that would happen.

Some legislatures (in states other than Arizona) have outright forbidden the counting of early ballots until the polls close. So election workers must start a five-day job election night. They can’t finish because the law won’t let them start until it’s too late to finish by an outside arbitrary deadline.

The media has been trafficking in fear porn on this one but they can just as easily blunt the effects.

I will say this much: The U.S. Supreme Court will break a tie in Donald Trump's favor. I'm not sure that counts as a conspiracy as a failure to produce a result. We've only had two in American history: 1876 and 2000. If the race is decided by even 10,000 votes in a single state, that's beyond the territory of a "draw."

Votes are always counted late. Always, always, always, always, always.

Will the media legitimize this fantastical maneuver by describing it as “strategy”?

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“The president has made good on his promise to declare victory and call for an end to ballot counting …”

Or will it be: “What the hell is he doing? You can’t do that! If my kid takes an SAT, I can’t jump in and say 'she got the first question right. Test over. That’s an 800 verbal!'”

The general public may not have an enumerated right to vote for president and the legislatures may have absolute power in determining how the electors are picked. But those processes are determined by making laws before an election, not by fiat after one you don't like. And the voting public has absolutely the right to pick the legislatures, county supervisors, decide community college budget questions and choose the county sheriff.

Tossing entire ballots would deprive the public of that right. 

Not even the clerics who oversee elections in Iran have tried that particular move.

I’ll be really pissed if my vote for TUSD doesn’t count to please a Dear Leader. I mean, I suppose the legislatures could meet and declare an end to vote counting for presidential electors on Nov. 4, but that would mean the ballots were good enough to decide who sits on the Arizona Corporation Commission but too compromised to choose the state’s slate of 11 presidential electors.

And in Arizona, we have long gotten used to huge tranches of provisional ballots and early ballots dropped off at polling places getting counted days after Election Day.

I'm seriously not sweating this too much. The courts would have to declare the law void of any principled underpinning to allow such a scheme to succeed.

Venus, Mars and bass boats

Another question often asked this election is how will a divided country come together. 

We are hopelessly split along party lines, right? That's one way to look at it. Try for a moment to see it through a different lens.

It's actually more of a Mars-Venus thing.

Women tend to vote Democrat and men vote Republican. 

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Check out the gender gap during the 24-point gender gap in 2016 and 23 points 2018. Interestingly, in 2018 Arizona witnessed a teeny, tiny gender gap of just 4 points in the Senate race. But it was a full 17 points in 2016.

This year it’s polling in the teens but largely because Biden is doing better with men.

What we have is an accelerated gender divide, which doesn't portend much toward civil war.

It's a different problem. Any straight person (at least) who has ever been single for long can attest: Women are crazy and men are almost irretrievably stupid.

Looking at this way, the divide looks different.  It's not enough that men should see their taxes go up but they have to want to pay more in taxes to show how much they care and men shouldn’t have to be told that.

And it's more: "Oh my God, he bought a bass boat when with the money that was supposed to go to the college fund. I don't care that he got a deal!"

(By the way, there is nothing this columnist would love more than a bass boat, and then maybe some largemouth to use it on). 

Under the boy-girl model of political typology, Democratic messaging should be reduced to: “No, it’s fine.” 

Republican messaging should just be barely audible mumbling followed by “I didn’t say anything.”

That way one party would follow the other around the country saying “No, what did you say? What do you mean? What? Effing tell me!”

The broader point is: There’s no way we can have that civil war. It’s hard to say: “Women are traitors, socialists and enemies of the state” and “Men are fascist, racist and corrupt.”

One of the best moments in the whole election cycle was a guy in Frank Luntz’s focus group after the first debate responding to the question: “What would your closing advice be to Trump?” Now this guy was undecided in name only. He clearly loved Trump but the source of his frustration burst forth in his answer: “Yeah, tell him to stop pissing my wife off!”

And with that, we're off to the races.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who spent 20 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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Election night could bring about some profound answers but it's just as likely we'll have to wait — perhaps years — to know what the 2020 vote in Arizona means.


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