Democrats have been expecting Barry Goldwater’s home state to flip for years now. Powered by Latino voters fired up by Donald Trump, they just might do it — as long as they can actually get them to the polls.
PHOENIX — “Democrats hope demographic changes will translate into a win in November,” wrote The Nation magazine a while back. “Arizona, the second fastest-growing state … brimming with Latinos and Independents [is] where the bloodiest fight is likely to take place,” correspondent Marc Cooper trumpeted. Liberal writers of all stripes have been bullish in recent years on the Democrats’ prospects in this southwestern state long associated with Barry Goldwater-style arch-conservatism. “[C]onsider the influence of ongoing demographic changes in the state which have been steadily increasing the percentage of minority eligible voters, mostly Hispanics, and reducing the share of relatively conservative white working-class voters,” wrote Ruy Texeira in the New Republic, arguing that Arizona is a state that’s ready to “flip.” Democratic optimism in Arizona has even reached across the pond as well, with the U.K.‘s Guardian writing, “Across bone dry Arizona, Latino voters and pollsters have begun to ask openly about a change that seemed nearly impossible not so long ago: Could Democrats take the American West?”
The answer, so far, has had been a resounding no. That Nation article was written in 2004—a year in which President George W. Bush carried Arizona easily, and Senator John McCain coasted to reelection with 76 percent of the vote. Texeira’s missive in the New Republic? That was from 2012; Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 9 points that year in Arizona, and Republican Jeff Flake won an open Senate by nearly a million votes. As for the Guardian—it was bolstering the Democrats’ chances in 2016. We all know how that ended.
But this year, those indefatigable Arizona Democrats are sanguine once again. For once, their optimism may be justified: President Donald Trump’s unpopularity, coupled with an electorate that has only grown more Latino since Cooper’s 2004 article, has put two crucial races in play. One is the governor’s contest, where incumbent Republican Doug Ducey faces a likely challenge from David Garcia, a Hispanic-American professor and education expert at Arizona State University. A number of House seats are up for grabs in the state. Then there’s the race to fill Flake’s seat that pits Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema against, depending on how the primary shakes out, establishment-backed Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally. The last time a Democrat won that seat was in 1982.
A new POLITICO/AARP poll shows Democrats ahead by 7 points in generic ballots in both the governor’s and Senate races. But to actually win statewide elections in this highly ethnically polarized state, Democrats will need to juice turnout among younger and especially older Latinos, who have tended to vote at lower rates than other voters in their age group — who also are trending ever more Republican. And not just in purplish Arizona: All across the U.S. Southwest, Latino voters could be the key to flipping Republican strongholds from red to blue, if only the Democratic Party can figure out how to get enough of them to the polls. Solve that mystery, and even a GOP-dominated state like Texas could suddenly be in play.