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The Ballad of Martha McSally & other election thoughts
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What the Devil won't tell you

The Ballad of Martha McSally & other election thoughts

  • If Martha McSally is wondering why this is happening to her, she can look behind her in this image from a presidential visit.
    Gage Skidmore/FlickrIf Martha McSally is wondering why this is happening to her, she can look behind her in this image from a presidential visit.

Dylan likes to call it a "hot take." It’s a journalism term for a quick analysis of some breaking news.

Hey, I’m all in on hot takes. Molten takes, on the other hand, get tricky. Reality has to throw me a bone, and take some sort of semi-solid form so I know what I’m looking at.

I tend to get super-hot takes wrong, from a zoo election to Kyrsten Sinema losing and the inevitablity of Bernie Sanders. Each of these required rare to historic shifts in political fortunes, but they happened. Burn me four times ... 

Now that the lava from Tuesday is cooling we are left to consider weed, cash for schools, Pima County's deep Blue wave, what the country gets wrong about Arizona, and what the establishment struggles to understand about Latinos because apparently they haven't met any.

The Associated Press and Fox News have called Arizona for former Vice President Joe Biden but … uhhhhh … it’s been tight. And depending on how late earlies and provisional ballots break for President Trump, he could still win this thing. Maybe. Possibly?

We watched Trump swallow big Biden leads in a few states as the same-day vote came in and swamped the early vote. But the mix of votes here is different and it’s why of all the Trump-inspired swing states, Arizona is the least likely to revert right back to the Republican column.

Nevada and Arizona have a more urbanized population than North Carolina and Texas. We don’t have the sheer mass of rural voters for the Rs to overcome even narrow victories in the metro areas.

But here’s what the national media keeps missing about Arizona. They’ve been right to see Maricopa County as the big shifting part of the state. They’ve been wrong to exclude Pima County (and even Coconino County) from the mix.

I’ve run the numbers and rural Arizona can make up for a three-point victory in Maricopa County for Biden. Then we throw in Pima County and it goes to hell for Trump. Trump could eat a bit into Pima County but then Flagstaff provided him with a 15,000-vote cushion. If it comes down to it, there are always the Democrats in Santa Cruz and Apache counties to overcome truly tight races.

It’s not “just” Phoenix and it’s suburbs. It’s the one-two punch of Phoenix and Tucson.

Welcome to the big-time Tucson. We are the new Cincinnati.

Martha, Martha, Martha

But let’s start with The Ballad of Martha McSally.

“Oh Martha was a war hero
flew the Warthog so dangerously low
shot her cannon with a brump, brump, brump
Then got sucked into the turbines of Donald John Trump”

Outside the immigrant community, it’s hard to find someone as mangled by the Trump experience as Martha McSally.

Her race against former astronaut Mark Kelly (and the husband of shooting victim and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords) looks to be well out of reach.

She’s lost both of Arizona's U.S. Senate seat races in the span of just two years, and it didn’t need to be that way.

The McSally who represented Tucson from 2014 to 2018 was a truth-to-power, compassionate conservative, who was smart and had an appeal to independent-minded Democrats.

Under President Marco Rubio, Sen. McSally would be on the national radar for the big white building at 17th and Pennsylvania.

But it’s hard for the fighter pilot to accomplish her mission when her commanding general keeps ordering her to fly below ground level. Trump shifted the ground in Arizona away from the GOP.

I still contend Arizona is more or less a Rubio Republican State – Ducey Republicans, hereabouts. But Ducey doesn’t lie like he inhales. He hasn’t insisted the state police investigate his political enemies. Ducey is occasionally willing to change his mind when facts change. He doesn’t insist on a form of personal loyalty that is toxic, or on a slavish personal loyalty to himself and to his version of reality.

A President Rubio would have had coat tails in Arizona. President Trump had millstones. McSally's political future was smashed to pieces by blind loyalty to Trump, required by the party.

It cost McSally – twice.

Tawna Audum Rex

Sheriff Mark Napier looks on his way out — maybe — we'll have to wait and see if former Sheriff Chris Nanos is on his way back into office.

Gabriella Cazares-Kelly was elected Pima County recorder and became the first Tohono O'odham (who taught me how to say that Tawna Audum, like Nawlins for New Orleans) to win here countywide.

The jawbreaker of the night is that Democrat Rex Scott is still leading in the race for the Pima County Board of Supervisors seat representing District 1. He's beating Republican Steve Spain by nearly 2 points.

That ought to be an impossible seat for a Democrat to even strongly compete in, let alone lead late in the vote counting.

This district includes the Catalina Foothills and Oro Valley, where Republicans hold a slight lead in voter registration. But Ally Miller won there just four years ago by nearly 9 points, even after the whole absurdist "HeraldGate" fiasco in her office.

The Catalina Foothills must be breaking hard for Scott. Apparently, four years of Trump has moved the affluent voters looking down on Tucson aghast. I'm going to love to see how exactly the Foothills broke and why.

Over on the other side of our valley, Democrat Steve Diamond made a race out of things in challenging Republican incumbent Supervisor Steve Christy. That'll be one of the few GOP seats remaining locally, as day-of voters boosted Christy to a win after a wave of early voters gave Diamond hope he'd pull things off in a district where Democrats haven't even run a candidate in about a quarter-century.

The only other Republican officeholder left in Pima County will be Treasurer Beth Ford — maybe. She's up a handful of votes over challenger Brian Bickel, with plenty of ballots left to tally over the next several days.

Of pot and schools (but not pot in schools)

Weed is legal and taxes are going up to pay for K-12 funding. Both have been a long time coming.

Arizona ranks at or near the bottom of the nation when it comes to per-pupil funding. We have voted to increase the sales tax to boost school budgets and in so doing loaded up tax burdens on middle class families. And now we are going after the better off.

It’s an overnight repudiation of the economic model conservatives have sought to establish for 30 years: protect wealth to spur investment. It’s lead to a bunch of companies moving here for the friendly business climate. It’s cost us, is the thing.

Services have suffered and none more than K-12 funding. Voters decided to fix that by ending protections for the “wealthy.” I don’t necessarily think anyone who lives on a paycheck is “wealthy” but they can afford to kick in a little more to invest in the future.

Take this vote, a potential Biden win here and Kelly’s win and there’s a yellow light shining bright on Republican leaders. Prudence would suggest the Legislature start tacking more to the middle. History says they’ll bolt further to the right than ever before and I’m not sure that comes with an immediate cost. Over time, sure, voters decisions make sense. They look herky-jerky as hell from election to election.

In 1996, Arizona became one of the first states to decriminalize marijuana with a similar vote of the people. It’s success caught Arizona conservatives by surprise. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry had to dash in provide some sort of late opposition to the proposition but it didn’t work.

Federal law superseded this state liberation. In 2016, supporters failed to pass a similar initiative and I thought they should have waited a couple more years to let voters change their minds.

Nope. Turned out they changed big time.

This vote shouldn’t shock us too much. Arizona’s brand of conservatism is more libertarian than it is evangelical. Let people smoke up.

However, I have a major bone to pick with people saying “I don’t care who it kills, I don’t need to wear a mask,” telling bonghitters they should go to jail for it.

Latinos swagger

Democrats need a swagger, especially to help with the machismo-loving parts of their base.

Latinos seem to have voted pretty strongly for Democrats in Arizona but there are warning signs elsewhere.

Trump has done an effective job of winning over some Latinos and African-Americans, despite his obvious racism. The man says no one is any better than their ancestral origin in “shithole countries.” That's racist. Full stop.

There’s a weird thing going on here, where the GOP is casting entire communities as a threat to "real Americans." However, voting Republican makes some of their ranks stand out as “exceptional.” Who doesn't want that?

I’ve described white supremacy before as a more muted effort to defend white social promotion. Anyone willing to help with that, is now welcomed by those who support that system. Pitch in, and there may be a little something in it for you. Anyone who challenges it is the enemy.

Anyone who says I’m generalizing, thank you. That’s my other point. While the very definition of a culture is a shared set of idiosyncrasies, those particularities don't define every member within the culture. There are as many different Latinos as there are Germans. Check that. Latinos can be funny.

Reducing the whole of the Latino experience to “comprehensive immigration reform” is as silly as reducing the entire white experience as one tied to “universal health care.”

I saw the internal polling that showed the Latino vote in approving of SB 1070. I covered elections where Latinos supported English-only ballot initiatives. But the left can treat the Latinos like somehow they are outside the community of America.

More than one Latino politician has told me with exasperation: “Why don’t people understand the same things matter to Latinos that matter to whites: Jobs, health care and education.”

Democrats are going to have to work harder and think harder to win the Latino vote. No one would say “I’m pro-Italian because I like pasta and am against stereotyping the community in Hollywood as gangsters.”

Lest anyone think I'm being misogynist, the Democrat who best fits this bill is Katie Porter, D-Calif.

She's an Orange County progressive, unafraid to cause trouble and unapologetic about the truths she tells. She looks like a normal woman untouched by stylists and sounds uninformed by consultants. 

Polls and the axe

Finally, indulge me for my national take.

Consider a President Rubio, or a President Scott Walker, or a President Nikki Haley. They’re riding a strong economy they didn’t hobble with a trade war.

Then a national crisis hits. A pandemic threatens millions of Americans. A paint-by-numbers fix is at the ready. All they gotta do is listen to scientists and get control of the virus’ spread. So they do. It’s controlled. They coast to re-election — maybe by the biggest margin in 30 years.

Then there's Trump, who plays a strong hand worse than any president I've ever seen.

And everyone will be all over the pollsters, but pollsters have way too much power to dictate the coverage of the race and journalists, myself included, keep forgetting just how off polls have proven themselves over the years.

This year, the final result was off by maybe four points from the average of polls. They were off three in 2012  They showed George W. Bush winning the national vote in 2000 but were off by a few points. They showed Clinton winning by double-digits in 96 and 92, just as they showed George H.W. Bush up by that amount in 1988. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Obama was supposed to lose Florida twice and won it twice. He was supposed to squeak by in Colorado and Michigan, he blew it out in both places. It's just that no one pays attention when a candidate wins a 8-point race after a 13-point poll and carries Ohio by 5 instead of 10. Turn a six-point lead into a one-point lead and recriminations fly.  

Maybe, just maybe, we should cover the competition of ideas and not the competition in dubious public opinion polls. I don’t know, perhaps political reporters should learn about economics. Report on farming challenges and climate science.

Politics is about tradeoffs. Maybe spend more time explaining the stakes of the election as opposed to the betting line.

I would also argue that Trump caught onto the pre-existing grievance-oriented culture that began to overtake the party rank and file and amplified it through disinformation. Fox News created an ecosystem that rejected reality, and only those who also reject reality are welcome in that party.

Gay marriage was a ridiculous issue. I remember going over precinct-by-precinct numbers after the 2008 election and found something weird. All I had to know was the vote on the state’s gay marriage ban and I knew the polling place was in the Catalina Foothills.

They hated it. Even in Republican precincts that measure was getting killed 2 to 1. Bill and Steve getting married has zippo to do with the success or failure of Jeff and Lisa’s marriage and soon enough most of the rest of the country understood that.

I’m going to use the “My Dad” test – always dangerous for wannabe pundits – to simply explain the suburban flight. My dad used to go to hockey games, and I swear to God, he pulled for the refs he was so conservative. He loved, loved, loved Ronald Reagan. He voted for Bob Dole. I learned my debate chops arguing with my dad.

I still do: “No Dad, Medicare for all isn’t the answer. Dad, you gotta stop watching MSNBC so much.”

Republicans, it turned out, got to the point where he said they were “insulting my intelligence.” What he meant by that was the utterly unnecessary construction of an alternative universe of disinformation and a slavish devotion to being necessary for conservative membership.

True Progressives do this too, on a more limited basis. Mention to them that there are different models of universal coverage than the single-payer option and they decide you are corrupt. They reject the existence of the German, French and Swiss health care models. Don’t even mention Singapore.

With Republicans, it’s everything.

Trump demanded absolute loyalty as he told the suburbs to bugger off in favor of those Rust Belt factory towns killed by free trade. My old stomping grounds of Gila County is a place like that. It used to be a reliably Democratic county full of union households because dad worked at the mine.

I was there from 1993-94. I used to joke that you can tell who has a college degree in Globe because they drove the crappier cars. The miners in the 1990s could buy a nice house for $50,000, which left plenty for an F9000 hemi pickup that got a half-mile a gallon.

The mines bailed. The towns fell apart. The people blamed the liberals. Trump came along and won Gila County by more than two to one.

Wonderful. There are only about 20,000 people in the Globe-Miami metroplex.

So the national trend played out here without the Republicans “Out-Yonder Cushion.” That as opposed to the “Up Yonder” cushion, with “up” denoting a specific place.

The Phoenix suburbs turned out from under McSally and she was not allowed to course correct showing any independence. She was forced by the party's loudest activists to show absolute loyalty to Trump, and that subservience cost her the non-MAGA vote.

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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