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Red State no more: Tight races show Arizona no longer a gimme for GOP

What the Devil won't tell you

Red State no more: Tight races show Arizona no longer a gimme for GOP

  • U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly takes a 6-point lead against Republican Blake Masters is bound into the next round of vote counting.
    Meg Potter/Cronkite News, Gage Skidmore/FlickrU.S. Sen. Mark Kelly takes a 6-point lead against Republican Blake Masters is bound into the next round of vote counting.

"Are you ultra maaagggaaaa?" The Arizona Republican Party Chairman asked a crowd in July. 

The voters responded: Uhhhh. No. Nope. Nope. Nope. Arizona may not be thrilled with the octogenarian wearing aviators on Air Force One, but voters here aren't going to put on a helmet of horns and go storm the U.S. Capitol.

I still don't know how this is going to turn out tonight but no longer is Arizona a state that flirts with Democrats and then retrenches into safe Republican territory.

Republicans fell behind big early and are closing hard late with same-day voting.

Early ballots dropped off on Election Day remain to be counted. In 2020, those votes broke big for Republicans. In 2018, they put Democrats in office.

What about 2022? We'll find out together.

At best, Republicans are looking at narrow wins. 

Rest in peace, Red State Arizona. This is now a swing state, if the voters have anything to say about it. The state may have to wait and see.

Mark Kelly leads Blake Masters by 52 percent of the vote to 46, as I'm typing this. Katie Hobbs is clinging to what may be a short-lived two-point lead over Republican Kari Lake.

Adrian Fontes looks poised to win the Arizona Secretary of State's office and turn back Oro Valley tin foil hoarder Mark Finchem, but it's not certain.

This thing is going to be close.

It shouldn't have been. Republicans may never get a better campaign landscape than 2022. 

The Afghanistan pull out looked like a catastrophe, inflation is eating away at bank balances and – to hear Republicans tell it – you are right now being mugged by an El Salvadoran with a face tattoo.

Don't go bragging on two to four point victories in that environment and with Democrats all but going catatonic for the last month of the campaign.

The question I've had is if Arizona 2022 was Indiana in 2010. Hoosiers voted for Barack Obama (along with a handful of long red states) only to snap right back into place come the midterms. Indiana went right back to its old red self again.

Or is it more like Virginia, a state that broke with its Republican past to vote for Obama and has just kept lurching to the left.

Arizona has flirted with Democrats before only to swing back wildly in midterm elections. Democrats pulled even in the State Senate in 1992 and actually sent more Democrats to the U.S. house than Republicans. Then voters hit them so hard in 1994 that the Democrats couldn't win a statewide office or swing district for 10 years.

In 2006, they held the governor's seat and by 2008 had won a majority of House seats. Then when President Barack Obama started governing as a Democrat, Arizonans remembered why they were Republicans. Come 2010, they ran back to their fellow elephants. 

Jan Brewer easily won a full term as governor, defeating Terry Goddard by 12 percentage points. John McCain beat Rodney Glassman by 30 (I take personal blame for that not being 50). U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva only won by 7,000 votes in what was supposed to be a safe district. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords won by 4,000.  Present and former U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick lost her seat in northern Arizona, as U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell also lost his in Tempe and the East Valley.

Democrats could lose two seats in Arizona this year. Redistricting handed former special forces operator Eli Crane a fat pigeon of a district to grab. Kirsten Engel has a lead as a type but it's wilting fast. I think Republican Juan Ciscomani wins this district that took a big right turn when redrawn last year.

U.S. Rep. David Schweikert is facing a tough challenge from Democrat Jevin Hodge. I like Schweikert's chances as votes are being counted but in a year better for Democrats, the long-time incumbent could be in for trouble. The district is just too suburban to stay safely Republican for long.

Ciscomani and Schweikert would both be serving with Democrats salivating after their seat and being bird-dogged by a fat guy in Mar-a-Lago making their life hell.

Perhaps even more telling is how the GOP is struggling in the Legislature. If I called the legislative races early Wednesday morning, Republicans would fail to achieve a majority as both houses would be evenly split.

Lawmakers should fear the voters, which is exactly what is needed when lawmakers may be called upon to overturn a 2024 presidential election.

I'm assuming some key races will break red, but again, not by much. Republican lawmakers should comfortably be adding to their narrow margin and not fighting for their lives.

I think we can conclude the following things aren't popular: Donald Trump, election deniers, storming capitols, spreading a deadly virus, Christian Nationalism and teenage girls being forced give birth to their brother because a politician said that's what Jesus wants.

Somehow, Republicans felt safe to channel all of this. 

Bad mechanics

The Republicans again blew it on mechanics. 

The first thing they did to undercut a 70-seat congressional mandate was plus up gerrymandering. That limited the number of swing districts they could flip.  

They also haven't internalized that they are no longer the party of the inner suburbs and well-educated voters. The GOP has exchanged those dependable supporters for lower efficacy, working class supporters who need to be ushered to the polls.

Early voting is clutch for getting out the vote but Republicans suddenly want no part of banking votes in October.

They decided that Trump was right and that they should only vote on Election Day. Well, that pretty much destroys the field operation. They gotta get everyone out to vote on one day.

Trump invented suspicion of early voting because he knew he was going to lose in 2020 and decided the way to hold power was to declare early votes fraudulent and nullify his defeat with a good old fashioned insurrection against a "stolen" election.

Yeah, I get it. Now, Republicans are only hurting themselves. 

The cost of self-indulgence

Then again, the apocalyptic message the GOP used to close out the election was a bit over-the-top.

What do we expect?

This is the party that wants its self-indulgent radicalism and swing voters, too. Turns out, that's a tall order.

The Jan. 6 insurrection probably cost them 30 seats in 2022. Mocking Paul Pelosi after the House Speaker's husband was attacked 10 days before the election didn't help. Voters may have decided bad behavior shouldn't be rewarded.

Abortion rights and democracy defense seemed like issues that voters were ready to ignore in favor of good, old-fashioned prosperity and security.

And yet, Arizona Republicans seem to be struggling to turn the phenomenal terrain they got to campaign on into sweeping victories — and definitely not crushing victories.

Lake effect

With these results, to default on the U.S. debt, impeach Biden and defunding Ukraine should be off the table, right? I mean Republicans should be on their best behavior.

Lake apparently isn't getting the memo, griping yet again about rigged elections. “We need honest elections and we’re going to bring them to you, Arizona," Lake told her supporters. "I assure you of that. The system we have right now does not work.”

See, the voters think they voted how they voted and Lake not liking it doesn't make the system broken.  

Expect an avalanche of rumors that are lies and claims about fraud that no lawyer would dare make in court. Same old same old.

It's just that Lake faced a candidate who spent the last month in her room and the former newscaster is hardly posting a superstar showing. 

So I guess what Lake is saying is that Hobbs should challenge a loss and call the results corrupt, right? No? That's not how it works?

Red slosh

Republicans still could ride some late breaking ripple out to some narrow victories that start to mount. The Democrats' 2018 Blue Wave only materialized in the days after the last votes were cast.

It's looking like the best the Republicans can expect is a Red Slosh. And the thing about sloshes is that they tend to slosh back the other way.

If this split decision holds, what happens to Republicans if Biden has a good economy and falling crime rates?

Donald Trump accelerated Arizona's shift toward the middle. That's where the state remains. It's not a blue state by any stretch, but any idea that it is "ultra MAGA" is fake news.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 25 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.

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