Hillary Clinton Vs. Bernie Sanders: Democratic Race In Arizona Could Be Tight

Published: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 5:00am
Updated: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 7:30am

(Photo by Gage Skidmore - CC BY 2.0)
Hillary Clinton at a campaign event in January 2016.
(Photo by Alexandra Olgin - KJZZ)
Bernie Sanders speaks in Phoenix on July 19, 2015.

Democrats in Arizona will soon weigh in on who they want to take the party’s presidential nomination. Polls open at 6 a.m. Tuesday in precincts across the state, and the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders could be a close one.

The latest polls show former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holding a roughly 25 percentage point lead on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders heading into Tuesday’s race. But officials with both campaigns say they aren’t paying too much attention to those numbers. And for good reason — they’re not very accurate.

"We haven't seen much activity on the polling side," said Fred Solop, a political scientist with Northern Arizona University.

Solop said much of the polling energy this election cycle has already been expended in earlier primary states. He said Tuesday’s race is likely to be tight.

"Now, we don’t have winner take all rules for the democrats in Arizona, so that means Sanders will get delegates," he said

Something the Sanders is well aware of. At last count, the senator trailed Clinton by more than 300 pledged delegates. So for his campaign, the tight race here means a chance to gain ground after losing primary races in five states last Tuesday — which is an opportunity he’s been seizing. Since last Tuesday, the senator has held four rallies in locations across Arizona, all of which have attracted thousands of people.

"We know that the more people learn about Bernie, the more they like him," said Jose Miranda, the director of Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Arizona. He said the strategy is simple, make contact with as many voters in the state as possible.

"It’s also been the battleground for many of the issues facing immigrant and Latino communities as a whole," Miranda explained. "Here in Arizona, that’s a large percentage of the voting population."

That's 22 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Latino vote is something both campaigns have been seriously courting. Both Sanders and Clinton have been running ads in Spanish-language media touting their stances on issues like education and income inequality. And both have denounced Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for his immigration enforcement tactics.

In the 2008 primary against now-President Barack Obama, Clinton saw a lot of support from Latino voters in Arizona. Overall, she won 13 of 15 counties. But the Clinton campaign isn’t taking Arizona for granted.

"It’s going to be competitive," said Clinton campaign spokesman Tim Hogan. "It’s going to be close."

He said Hillary Clinton hasn’t been to Arizona this election cycle, but that’s about to change. She’s holding her first Phoenix-area rally Monday afternoon. And her husband, former president Bill Clinton, spoke to more than 1,000 supporters Sunday in Phoenix.

But no matter how the race ends up Tuesday, many say candidates like Bernie Sanders have changed the race in significant ways.

"The issues he’s been putting on the table have moved Hillary Clinton and they moved the democratic party to consider issues they were not talking about," Solop said. "Police brutality, mass incarceration, disenfranchisement for felonies."

Marketing firm Integrated Web Strategies reports more than half a million Arizonans have already voted by mail. In-person polling takes place Tuesday.