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Rise of the Garys: How the GOP lost the Foothills & turned Pima deep blue

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What the Devil won't tell you

Rise of the Garys: How the GOP lost the Foothills & turned Pima deep blue

  • The Trump fire has helped destroyed the once reliable Republican bastion in the Catalina Foothills.
    Lisa HornerThe Trump fire has helped destroyed the once reliable Republican bastion in the Catalina Foothills.

When considering the socialist mob from the wrong side of town colluding to fraudulently destroy America by voting out Donald John Trump, MAGAs might want to check the Garys.

You’ve heard of the Karens — white women with asymmetric bobbed hair wanting to speak to your manager. They’re pretty reliable voters for Trump.

I’m talking about the Garys, the Jims and the Helens. These are whites who worked pretty hard on their degrees and spent quite a bit sending their kids to college. They’re not so eager to follow a party when it insists known reality doesn’t exist and if Trump says “Up is platypus” then up is platypus, or you are an enemy of the American people.

The Garys and Helens still might believe tax cuts pay for themselves and that Medicare for All is an anathema. They just refuse to turn their reality over to a 74-year-old despot-in-the-making conjuring new realities on Twitter and in landscaping company parking lots to match his latest tantrums.

The Garys live in the Foothills, and 2020 looks like that area finishes a big-time realignment of its political persuasion. These are highly educated voters, who once voted Republican but have severed their ties with the Party of Trump. For the Foothills denizens, it looks like Trump was the last straw of many loaded on their political backs.

Nate Cohn of the New York Times and Perry Bacon of Politico have done precinct-level analyses of Georgia and found similar results to one another but with a slightly different take. Cohn found what put President-elect Joe Biden over the top in the Peach State was the support of affluent whites, who were well-educated — the Garys and the Helens.

Bacon found that the support in and immediately around Atlanta was key, but so too was Biden finding an anti-Trump vote in the exurbs just significant enough to narrow the margins.

Neither are certain if it’s going to last, with Bacon being downright skeptical that it is anything more than an aberration specific to Trump. That suggests Trump is an anomaly, himself. Here today. Gone tomorrow.

Anyone think Trump's going to go quietly into the night or loosen his chokehold on the Republican identity? Anyone think the Right is going to become less dependent on Fox News, One America Network or Trump TV as their only stops for news and information? Anyone think the party is going to be less QAnon-ymish?

From Trump straight down to the Corporation Commission, the Catalina Foothills hung the Republican Party’s collective ass from its ground-down tusks. They came in big for Mark Kelly and against Sen. Martha McSally. They helped send Ann Kirkpatrick back to the House. They even broke slightly for Chris Nanos over Mark Napier for Pima sheriff. 

Digging in the precincts

You want examples. Fine. 

There’s one precinct that hugs North Campbell Avenue north of River Road on the way up to La Encantada. Mitt Romney did lose this precinct in 2012 by three points. Trump lost it by 38. Snug up east of that precinct, is another batch of voters who voted for Obama by 5 and then Biden by 32.

Let’s go over to Ventana Canyon, not the kind of neighborhood you want to be caught in after dark. It's best to carry a Glock, a mace and a black-powder musket once the sun sets on that hood. Some of those golfers can be downright itinerate. Romney won voters around Tucson’s swankish resort by 10 points. They feared God and the mob. Then Trump pissed them off. Biden won them by 27.

These votes went right down the ballot bubbling the space for Democrat after Democrat. The ticket splitting in the most affluent part of Tucson has ended for now. It’s a solid blue bastion.

Oh it gets worse here.

I’m old enough to remember Mayor George Miller trying to annex the Foothills and one of his selling points to the business community was that it would create a solidly Republican ward.

Not anymore, says Supervisor-elect Rex Scott, as tripped-up wannabe Ally Miller successor Steve Spain blames the leftist hordes in the Foothills for his loss.

Beth Ford, they still like. Keep So long as she keeps Pima County’s accounts straight and runs the Treasurer’s Office like a good Republican she’s set.

Gay marriage vs. Libertarians

I have one advantage over Cohn and Bacon. I live in the flipping swing state not the in the Eastern Time Zone, therefore I'm a red-headed step-child and I've been watching this trend for a while.

It seems like upscale Georgians are where Tucsonans were in the mid-00's.

In 2009, when I was just starting my gig in Democratic politics, I was working to help elect Cheryl Cage oust state Sen. Al Melvin. The district they sought to represent bound up the eastern Northwest Side and the western Catalina Foothills.

Local political consultant Shasta McManus had gone to town providing precinct-level breakdowns of the 2008 and 2006 votes, compared to voter registration. I sat down with those binders underneath a precinct map of Pima County hung on the wall above. I found the precinct on the map and went to the corresponding number to note the voters in the pages in front of me.

The Foothills voted for Sen. John McCain for President. They also voted for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by sizeable margins. This wildly shocking. It was a little bit swingy and those two cycles were bad for Republicans.

What was wildly shocking was how just how harshly they rejected an ultimately successful gay marriage ban. It passed statewide by 10 points. It lost in the Foothills by 30 to 40 points.

It was so specific to that one part of town and so consistent across precincts that I didn’t even have to look at the map. I just found gay marriage ban fail 67 to 33 and knew it was the Foothills. It was passing pretty much everywhere else.

Why did this issue stick out to them? Because banning gay marriage as a way to protect straight marriage made no sense. The argument pre-supposed Gary would stop loving his wife because Bill and Steve could tie the knot. It was a clear case of bigotry cloaked in another excuse.

Let me put a more straight-up analysis on this even though it's fun pointing out the unspoken obvious. Gay marriage was always more of an evangelical issue that animated Southern conservatives. When Republicans pivoted to the Evangelicals in the Deep South for and after the 2004 election, they ran afoul of the more libertarian west.

The more secular nature of Arizona conservatism found those social issues less appealing.

Al Melvin and the Republican split

Something else had happened in the mid-00s. The Pima County Republican Party changed. Gone were the moderates and in were the true conservative purists. They were lead by Melvin. They made a lot of noise and made it clear that RINOs were no longer welcome in the party.

Well, it's happened again. The party is no longer what it was, so Republicans become former Republicans when they start asking:

"What do you mean Barack Obama wasn't born here?"

"Can you please show me where it says death panels?"

"Default on our debt? Excuse me?"

"Please explain Benghazi to me and show the scandal."

"This wall of yours will do what, allegedly?"

"Having sex with a porn star while his wife is at home nursing his son?"

"What in the name of Anna Kournikova are you doing around all these Russians?"

"You are saying the virus that killed my mother is a hoax, but voter fraud is real?"

"Know what? Get off my damned xeriscaping and take you stupid red hat with you."

Running a-foul of Tucson

The damage wasn't limited to the Foothills.

Biden won Arizona by 10,000-ish votes out of more than 3.3 million cast. We can fall into the foul-shot fallacy in looking at this outcome: say an NBA player sinks two foul shots at the buzzer and is credited with 1-point winning margin. But every missed jumper and every made free-throw in the first half also determined the outcome. 

Biden won the tribal vote by 60 points. If he won them by 30, that could have been the margin. And in Pima County, he won everywhere. It’s not shocking, maybe, that Biden won the vote down by West Nebraska Street and South Sixth Avenue by 6 to 1, or East Ajo Way and South Park Avenue by 4 to 1.

He won Midtown by a lot, too.

But the East Side shocked me, too. Take just one precinct, where voters east of Old Spanish Trail in 2012 went for Mitt Romney by 17 points. They went for Biden by 18.

If Trump had simply lost by his 2016 margin in Pima County,  he would have picked up 32,000 votes and have carried the state.

Oversold, ripe for clawbacks

Now, if I’m a Republican I look at this and see opportunity. Democrats in Pima County represent a slightly oversold market. Clawing back 15,000 votes of margin in Pima County is doable with smart, targeted strategy.

Team Trump did a great job digitally identifying and "activating" new voters and getting their own out to the polls. The Republican Party today is responsible for the two best turnout machines in the world. The second best is getting Rs to vote accordingly. The best, unfortunately, is the one they trigger to vote against them.

Republicans nationally did win back House seats they lost in 2018. What’s lost in the current hand-wringing is those seats where each a reach for Democrats facing gerrymandered districts.

What’s more alarming for Democrats is their failure at the Senate level. They needed to win in winnable reddish states to take over the upper chamber but Trump’s turnout machine swamped them.

I also tend to think they were hung by their own messaging. They did what they always do and use polling research to dig down on micro-issues that swing voters their way, while ignoring the larger “leadership” message. Pre-existing conditions was a winning issue right up to the point where it turned into a loser.

Republicans are on the wrong side of most ground-level issues, insomuch as overall public opinion is concerned. Taxing the rich is popular. So is universal health care, addressing climate change, the minimum wage, .... etc. They win on swagger and that ain’t nothing. They come across like they belong in charge. Democrats couldn’t swagger if … never mind. Democrats have no idea how to swagger.

It’s why they preach “de-alignment.” It goes like this: “Vote for me. I’m a bland alternative to bad Republicans.” Republicans preach “re-alignment,” which goes: “Vote for us. We’re always right, we always rock and watch us make libtards cry.”

Georgia may be de-alignining the way Republicans in the Foothills did a dozen years ago. After 12 years, the more affluent parts of Tucson are seeming to realign.

Hey, this happened the other way in Gila County. When I was covering the comings and goings of the Globe-Miami metroplex in the early 1990s, running as a Democrat was a must. The county government and legislative delegation was entirely Democratic. But the environmental movement within the Democratic Party began to shake the mining region loose. And so Trump just won Gila County 18,000 to 8,000.

Problem is, Gila County cast 27,000 votes. More than a half million Pima County voters showed up in 2020. It’s not fake news, MAGAs. The sum of 500,000 is greater than 27,000. That’s not a hoax. It’s not fraud.

Fickle fingers

I joke but make a point. My personal anecdotal evidence involves (but is not limited to) my Dad’s break from the Republican Party. He’s the original Gary. His reason had nothing to do with a policy or candidate. It was this: “They insulted my intelligence.”

What he meant was: Don’t tell him the war in Iraq was going great, the Katrina response was perfect or that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. He could see all of that on fire, drowning or catering. 

Between Republican talking points and Dad's lying eyes, he chose his eyes.

The Republican Party’s problem, I’m willing to wager, is that they believe in manufacturing their own reality. It’s that old thing from Orwell’s 1984. “I’m holding up however many fingers the party tells you I am.”

So the Garys held up a finger of their own. It was the middle one.

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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