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What the Devil won't tell you

5 reasons Arizona may finally start to swing

Latino vote is just one reason why Democrats should start building Arizona into a game changer

Quick: Which state has historically been the most reliably Republican slot in the Electoral College?

Arizona? Oklahoma? Wyoming?

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Vermont. The Green Mountain State didn't once vote for a Democrat until 1964 and didn't again until 1992. It hasn't gone red since.

Georgia has been the most reliable Democratic state over the years but has voted Republican in each of the last six cycles.

So when you hear Arizona has only voted Democratic once since 1948, that's true — but American political history is an archaeological dig that reveals how once Massachusetts was reliably Republican and Nebraska could be counted on to vote progressive.

Hillary Clinton's performance here in 2016 should finally convince the Democratic smart guys (generic, unisex version of guys) that it's time to start making long-term investments in this state. The former secretary of State was the third straight Democratic presidential candidate to grab 45 percent of the vote. In this divided country, that is as swing-y as it it gets without being an actual swing state.

It's time for Democrats to take the state seriously, but to do so before an errant poll shows a race within shouting distance. It means registering voters — Latino voters especially — with a serious effort full of cash. It means the candidate can't just drop into Phoenix twice. They have to hit secondary and tertiary media markets. It means developing a bench and recruiting top candidates.

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It means treating this state like Ohio. You laugh, but just you wait ... just you wait.

Democracy works best when incumbents fear the voters, rather than the other way around. Republicans in Arizona don't. I think more competition between the parties would be a good thing, just as I believe that competition is coming.

Remember that I have tried on any number of occasions to offer kind advice to Tucson Republicans about how to think a bit more strategically, rather than just whining, "It's not fair!" Usually, that's taken as a personal attack on them, rather than as a desire for a healthier civic discourse. But I believe unchallenged power isn't a good thing, no matter who wields it.

So if Democrats in D.C., need any more reason to look to the desert to expand their map, here are five reasons why.

1. Latinos ain't Merlin

Former Gov. Jan Brewer got into trouble for pish-poshing the notion that Arizona Latinos could prove pivotal. "Nah," she said to the Boston Globe. "They don't vote."

People had a hissy fit, but she's right. Sort of.

Latinos accounted for 15 percent of Arizona's vote in 2016, while comprising 30 percent of the state's population. That's down from 18 percent in 2012.

Look at Arizona's two Latino-heavy congressional districts, represented by Ruben Gallegos and Raul Grijalva (RGII?). The total combined votes cast in those two districts added up to 250,000. Five of the other seven congressional districts bested that figure all by themselves.

So it would appear that Latinos left at least 250,000 votes on the table in Arizona. Had Clinton matched her national victory margin among those voters, she'd have carried the state.

One national Latino organization projected Latinos would make up 25 percent of the vote and One Arizona declared they'd registered 150,000 voters — overwhelmingly Latino.

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Where'd they go?

Activists and naysayers can chatter all they want. Latinos are coming. They are coming "big league" and as inevitably as the tide.

Native-born Latinos make up 70 percent of the Latino population. The median age of whites in Arizona is 46. The median age of native-born Latinos is 20.

Think about that.

Half of Latinos born in the U.S., are not old enough to drink. Think about that more. A huge proportion isn't old enough to vote. They ain't flipping Merlin. They're not aging backwards.

Let's be crass. Whites are dying. Latinos are being born. A tsunami's wave is sizeable but that's not why it changes coastlines. Its wavelength is so long it just keeps coming and coming and coming until the beach is redesigned.

Republicans don't understand math if they take solace in the idea that Barack Obama was a once-in-a-lifetime phenom, who inspired never-to-be-seen-again turnout rates among minorities. As Latinos gobble up more of the pie, they don't need to turn out in huge percentages to reach a critical mass of raw votes. They just need to keep breathing.

The emerging Latino voter doesn't have to be a threat to Republicans in any way, shape or form. But if Republicans treat the emergence of the Latino voter as a threat to "disaffected whites," Latinos are going to notice. The more Republicans act like the Latino vote is fraudulent, the less likely they are to get it.

2. The White vote

So Latinos didn't don't match their numbers at the polls. The African-American vote wasn't a big enough sample for exit pollsters to break down. Still, Clinton broke 45 percent. That's the white vote.

Indeed, Clinton lost the white vote nationally by 21 points but the margin in Arizona was just 14 points. That ain't great, but it's not horribly bad either.

Do you remember the other three traditional Republican states Clinton broke 40 percent? In Texas, she lost the white vote by 43 points. In South Carolina, she lost the white vote by 46 points. In Georgia, whites drove her into the sea voting for Trump by 54 points.

So if Democrats are going to start somewhere to expand their reach, Arizona seems to be the friendliest terrain as it exists now.

3. Arizona looks like a swing state

Arizona was among the first states to decriminalize marijuana, back in 1996. It was one of two states where voters rejected a gay marriage ban in 2006. The state's voters have approved tax hikes for schools and to expand health care services. Arizona employees publicly financed elections. This year, it approved a minimum wage hike.

Voters themselves did all of this to the consternation of the Phoenix conservative Republican establishment.

Let's drill deeper.

Two years ago, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life did an interesting survey on the states that got into religion and politics.

It's just one survey and no political source should make huge decisions based on a single survey but its results seem to warrant a deeper dive into Arizona. Also, it's oddly fascinating.

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A South-centric Republican Party rises from the ethos of that region. Talking about southern politics without religion is like talking about the New England Patriots without mentioning the name "Brady."

I'm getting really numerically heavy but suffice it to say that Arizona is — like other conservative Western states — far more secular than the South. It's kind of like labor unions were for Democrats. A Democratic state without big labor ties would be more likely to reject the direction of a party steered by unions.

States with 60 percent of respondents saying religion plays a major part in their lives tend to color themselves red. States under 50 percent vote blue. States in between tend to swing. Arizona is at 51 percent.

States with more than 35 percent declaring the existence of clear right and wrong tend to vote Republican and states that have fewer than 30 percent answering aye to moral absolutes, vote Democratic. Arizona is at 38.

States where more than 50 percent say they are guided by common sense or science to understand those situational ethics, tend to either swing or vote Democratic. Those where the majority say they are driven by religion or philosophy vote Republican. Arizona is at 51.

An aside, more people believe in hell than say they are governed by a sense of right or wrong. Hmmm. You believe there is a hell for bad behavior but don't believe right and wrong should steer your own?

The point is that the raw material of the Arizona vote looks more like the building blocks of a swing state than a red state.

4. Come West, party apparatchik ...

...  and grow with your country.

My take on Horace Greeley's words seems appropriate to the changing demographics of America. The American West is where this is happening most and fastest. The political effects on big-picture politics have already been felt.

During the 6 election cycles between 1964 and 1988, Democrats went 3-63 among the quadrennial races for the 11 states west of Texas (not counting Alaska and Hawaii). Across the span of the last seven cycles, Democrats have evened it up with a record of 37-40, while absolutely crushing it in the Electoral College.

George W. Bush lost just one state in the Rocky Mountain West during his two election victories. Democrats have since swept the 20 electoral votes in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada — which is better than winning Ohio.

Democrats are going to have to expand if they suddenly have a problem in the Big Blue Wall beyond turnout during a case of Clinton Fatigue.

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5. Nothing motivates like a loss

It's always easier to destroy than it is to build. Losers in political campaigns have no stake in construction. They just tend to have appetites for destruction.

So all this talk — like the striking of the hour — about how the Democrats are about to be banished to irrelevance is about as accurate as all that talk about how Republicans were about to go the way of the dodo after 2008.

For starters, the winners feel great. They won. They can get on with their lives. The losers can't move on. They won't move on. They start plotting their revenge.

Republicans rolled to victory in both the 2010 and 2014 midterms because Democrats barely moved the needle on voter turnout. If Republicans think Democrats are going to stay home like that in 2018, they're crazy. Inspiration is wonderful. Humiliation is powerful. They will vote for a Sonoran pronghorn so long as they are voting against President Trump.

All this talk of Interior Secretary Sarah Palin, Education Secretary Ben Carson and a giant tax giveaway to the 0.1 percent will have blood coming out of all sorts of progressive "whatevers."

My guess is they'll be showing up by early April in one form or another. It would be smart for Democrats to be ready to help direct mobilization efforts.

5. Let's not get nuts

Oh yeah, there are obstacles. It's still an open question as to whether the Left will decide to take action but not get involved. Are they happy just posting memes on Facebook? Waving signs at passing cars, starting a drum circle? Breaking windows and setting fires?

In other words, Arizona Democrats could act like Tucson Republicans (without the breaking of windows or drum circles).

The Tea Party did an amazing job of using the anger to take over the GOP. They didn't just go start a survivalist camp. Although, the Tea Party's purity tests undermined their long-term efforts to wrest control of a Democratic city.

Democrats spilling too much purity on their hoodies would prevent them from making inroads among more conservative voters and prove their undoing too.

Hey, how do you solve a problem like Maricopa? Just about every other state's major metro area is a bastion of progressivism. The Valley of the Sun does not fit the profile. The trick would appear to be stave off a disaster.

Arizona is not a closet liberal state. It's not yet a true swing state. If Democrats are looking for how to build up problems in the Republican back yard, they don't have many other options. That is going to take work. It's going to take investment.

Choice is the key to the marketplace of ideas. It would be cool for voters to have that choice in Tucson. It would be cool for them to have it statewide. We'll see what happens.

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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