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Just throwing it out there: Is Arizona a blue state?
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What the Devil won't tell you

Just throwing it out there: Is Arizona a blue state?

Democrats haven't occupied both U.S. Senate seats & the state's top 3 offices since the 1950 election

  • It was this election in 1948 that Democrats last controlled both U.S. Senate seats and the the state's top three executive offices.
    Byron Rollins, Associated PressIt was this election in 1948 that Democrats last controlled both U.S. Senate seats and the the state's top three executive offices.

"Dewey Defeats Truman" the headline screamed across the top of a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune. President Harry Truman held it proudly in a photo that has warned election prognosticators down through the decades.

That night in 1948 was the last time Arizona voters elected Democrats to the top three statewide offices and a donkey to the U.S. Senate. Daniel E. Garvey won the governorship, Fred O. Wilson took the attorney general's post and Curtis M. Williams was elected secretary of state. New Deal Democrats Carl Hayden and Ernest MacFarlane had a pass in that election.

To find a night that Democrats won that Senate seat, plus the trifecta of big statewide posts in Arizona, dial back history to 1944.

The Allies had just invaded Normandy. Joe Biden hadn't reached his second birthday.

A night like that wouldn't bless Democrats again until 2022.

Kris Mayes finished up the ballot count 510 votes ahead of Republican Abe Hamadeh in the race for Arizona attorney general. Democrat Adrian Fontes won his race for secretary of state over election-results-denying Republican Mark Finchem. Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake spent much of the fall touted as the future of the Republican Party but she lost her race to Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly won a full term to the U.S. Senate, beating Republican Blake Masters.

Mayes' victory, though, might be the final proof that things aren't just changing in Arizona politics. They may have changed.

I've been buying into the idea that Arizona is still a Republican state and no one should confuse a rejection of Donald J. Trumpism with an embrace of progressivism. It's kind of become the conventional wisdom. I'm not sure I buy it, anymore.

Arizona may have just become a blue state.

Immediately, I must define my terms. A blue state doesn't mean Republicans are about to be shut out of high office. It just means Democrats might have an edge over Republicans in spotlight races.

And a pattern is emerging. Democrats are winning high-profile races, year-after-year.

They gained a U.S. Senate seat in 2018, won a majority of the delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives and scored wins in the secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction.

In 2020, Democrats won the other Senate seat and a majority of House seats and Joe Biden narrowly won the state's 11 electoral votes.

And then 2022 happened. Democrats rolled in a year they shouldn't have.

They are doing that while leaving a big chunks of votes in Latino-populated districts on the table. In 2020, voters in the two Latino-rich congressional districts trailed the overall turnout by 20 percentage points. This year, they lagged in turnout by 17 percentage points. A 10% increase in turnout of registered voters in those districts would give Democrats as much as 30,000 more votes of margin at the top of the ballot.

Democrats still have a lot more room to expand their base.

If Republicans don't do something fast, the recent trend of good Democratic elections nights might become routine. And if the party hasn't noticed, they are becoming routine.

The state still has Republican heartstrings as evidenced by Treasurer Kimberly Yee posting a 56-44 victory over her Democratic challenger Martin Quezada, as well as Tom Horne's win over incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. A pair of victories on the Corporation Commission also show that Republicans are far from dead. The GOP kept their one-seat majorities in both houses of the Legislature, but failed to increase it.

And of course, the Dems' congressional delegation got gerrymandered into districts that were harder to win, so the 5-4 blue advantage in the U.S. House will now be a 6-3 red team.

That's another way of saying Republicans can still win the low-profile races and no party wants to be in that place. Remember, these midterms should have been great for Republicans in a state like Arizona, based on history and Biden's shaky approval ratings.

Democrats should have gotten killed. Instead, they are sleeping off the champagne.

I can geek out now on demographic shifts, exhaustion with one-party rule, a history of successful liberal ballot props foretelling a leftward lurch, the urban-rural split and Maricopa County's movement to the left and the GOP's evangelical thrust running contrary to Arizona's libertarian leanings.

Instead, let me just break it down in simple human terms.

Just think like a Republican voter suddenly crossing over.

The longer moderate Republicans and former right-leaning independents have to defend their Democratic votes to neighbors, family and friends, the more those voters start becoming Democrats. They might feel unwelcome in their tribe and switch to the other one.

I didn't think Mayes could pull it off.

I figured OK, they might vote for Kelly over Masters because it's Kelly and people like him. I thought moderate Republicans would vote for Fontes over Finchem because Finchem wouldn't shut up about stolen elections and canceling entire counties' ballots. Could Hobbs beat Lake? Yeah but that's asking a lot of Republicans to vote for three Democrats at the top of the ballot. Mayes would just be too much to ask of Republicans to keep guys like Hamadeh out of office. Mayes felt like one cross-over too many after two election cycles of certain Republicans voting for Kelly, Sinema, Biden, Hobbs and Hoffman. At the end of Election Day, they did it, though.

But recall, Mayes herself is a cross-over. Not only is she a former Republican, she served in statewide office as one, as a member of the Corporation Commission from 2003 to 2010. She left the GOP in 2019, walking away from Trumpism.

How long do voters have to vote Democrat before they become Democratic voters?

The Donald problem

The argument goes, the Arizona GOP will do great again if Trump can just be nudged aside.

I have two "check yourselves" to this.

Moving the Orange One off the stage will take more than a nudge and the Republican base doesn't really want to move him at all. All indications are this is the party Republicans want to be.

Arizona's big-name Republicans were big Trump faves. None won. Yes, this is what Trump hath wrought in Arizona. His over-the-top rage, grievance and outrage has left Arizona moderates recoiling from the Republican Party.

A common rejoinder from Republicans is the voters love Trump's policies but are tiring of his personality. What policies proved wildly successful or popular? COVID snake oil? Abandoning the "DREAMers"? Stealing children from their families at the border? A failed trade war with China that lead to a bogus deal China renegged on? Abandoning the Paris Agreement on climate change? Ditching a nuclear deal with Iran deal that's left the country inches from the bomb? A dumb-ass border wall that that hasn't stopped undocumented migrants crossing over into the U.S.?

Was it his 2017 tax cut? Even if we dubiously credit it with continued economic growth, it wasn't his tax cut. It was cooked up with little White House input. Five will get you 10 Trump can't tell us what was in it.

Grievance, rage and suspicion were and remain the Trump policies. That's what Arizonans keep rejecting.

Will Republicans reject that anytime soon?

A good early test will be if Kelli "Ultra MAGA" Ward retains her control of the state GOP. If this were a meritocracy, she wouldn't even run.

The Republican Party has been consumed by its counter-culture base. A straight-up liberal like Hobbs could do well standing up to a Legislature with a taste for the extreme.

History doesn't suggest the fix is as easy as finding a post-Donald future. I'm trying to think of a state where a political party ruined a longtime grip on power and successfully returned simply by saying "we've changed."

The closest example is how parts of the South voted Democrat with southerners at the top of the ticket. Those were temporary dalliances with Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. The South has been a Republican bastion since 1972.

With each election loss, Republicans get closer to an unavoidable edge. I'm not sure they know they have a problem. They do and it's a big one.

Fool's errand

I'm not ready to proclaim Arizona as part of the Democrats' Great Pacific Wall of electoral votes. Predicting politics two years out is insanely dicey. In my political memory, just one president seemed like a lock for reelection after the midterms. He went by the name George Herbert Walker Bush.

The country could nosedive into a recession during the next two years, Democrats can just start digging their grave for 2024. A Biden re-election in 2024 could provoke an actual Red Wave in 2026.

Arizona could just be a good old-fashioned swing state – a new Ohio, now that Ohio seems to have gone the way of Missouri.

On the other hand, Republicans did try on Jan. 6, 2021 to violently seize power after they lost an election. Then they spent two years excusing their own behavior.

It looks like there are political consequences to a failed coup. Who knew?

Abortion isn't going to die out as a political nightmare for the GOP. Now that the Legislature is making it illegal in Arizona, more and more women will face real-life consequences as a result. When they do, they're going to be pissed.

Liberals paid for the hippie movement until 2004. Conservatives (if there still are such a thing) could pay MAGAism for years to come. The left was also victims of its success, facing a backlash for a lot of policies it long sought to enact. Republicans finally got the Supreme Court they wanted and now they might pay for a good, long time.

What was it Ronald Reagan said of the Democrats in the 1950s? He didn't leave the Democratic Party, it left him.

Victory fatigue

I'm just throwing it out there that a party can't keep losing a state without voters identifying more with the other party. .

States change their political character. That night 74 years ago that Truman beat Dewey and Republicans got shut out of the Arizona State Senate was one of the last good night for the Democrats in Arizona.

Two years later, the Republicans took the governorship, and two years after that Barry Goldwater won his first Senate term.

Then the tide of sun-seeking Republican refugees arrived from across America and Democrats fortunes began to fade. What central cooling did to Democrats in the 1950s, Donald John Trump may have done to Republicans in the last few years. But the freon wasn't the Democrats' problem.

Arizona keeps voting Democratic. Arizona Republicans seem unwilling or unable to stop that after decades of growing accustomed to the checkered flag waving for them.

It's like they got tired of all the winning.

Know what they call Reagan Democrats now? Republicans.

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. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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