How Arizona Could Become Top 2020 Battleground State

Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - 1:53pm
Updated: Thursday, May 23, 2019 - 3:48pm
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MARK BRODIE: Is Arizona shaping up to be a political battleground in next year’s elections? A recent poll showed former Vice President Joe Biden leading President Donald Trump here — another showed the U.S. Senate race essentially tied. Josh Kraushaar has written a piece about this, called "Why Arizona is Emerging as Top 2020 Battleground." Kraushaar is political editor of National Journal, and Josh, as you write Arizona could very much be in play next year, but you say there's one very big condition to that.

JOSH KRAUSHAAR: If the Democrats nominate someone nearer to the middle of the overall electorate, if they nominate a moderate, and in Arizona among all the swing states has about as many persuadable voters as there are in any of those comparable battleground states. So that the Arizona playbook is one that the Democrats would be wise to emulate as they look ahead to 2020.

BRODIE: On the national level, I mean, is Arizona's seen as a battleground? We hear so often about places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, to some extent Florida, like are people in D.C. and outside of Arizona talking about Arizona as a battleground?

KRAUSHAAR: It is, and I would expect the Democratic nominee to spend quite a bit of money, perhaps more than Hillary Clinton spent in the state back in 2016. There are a lot of crosscurrents in our politics during the Trump era, and one of the one of the big developments is that a lot of these blue-collar Midwestern states, the blue-collar union voters are actually getting a little more Republican. But we're seeing that sort of in the 2014 midterm election, many suburban voters that are in the middle of the electorate, that are fiscally conservative, socially liberal, socially moderate, these suburban voters are being driven away from the Republican Party and are much more open to voting the right type of Democratic candidate. And Arizona is filled with these type of suburban voters, mostly Maricopa County, where Republican voters who voted for John McCain voted for Jeff Flake, voted for rank-and-file Republicans throughout their life are being alienated with the Trump version of the party are, and are much more open talk of casting the Democratic ballot as long as the Democrats are running to the middle.

BRODIE: You mentioned the idea of Democrats nominating a moderate presidential nominee is somebody who could compete in Arizona. Just recently we heard former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano say that Joe Biden was somebody that she thought could potentially win a presidential race in Arizona. I assume that's the kind of candidate you're talking about.

KRAUSHAAR: That's right. And there's actually data to back that argument up. One of the top Arizona pollsters just did a test of the ballot testing Trump with a bunch of Democratic challengers and only Joe Biden came out ahead. So Joe Biden is exactly the type of candidate that can do well in Arizona. That said I think if the Democrats went in a more liberal progressive direction, they could kiss the state goodbye. And we actually have something of a test case. And in the 2018 election where Democrats nominated someone to render the middle, even to the right on some issues, in the Senate race in Kyrsten Sinema, and she won pretty pretty comfortably, but they ran a very outspoken progressive for the governor's race. And David Garcia lost very badly to Gov. Doug Ducey. So if anything you have sort of a test of the two strategies in last year's election, and Democrats won by running a moderate in one big statewide race and they lost badly by running a progressive candidate.

BRODIE: So would you imagine then that when Mark Kelly looks at that running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2020, he tries to follow a fairly similar playbook that Kyrsten Sinema did.

KRAUSHAAR: That's exactly the playbook he ... planning to run. Now one interesting quirk of that upcoming Senate race — McSally and Kelly likely to be the nominees — Kelly is a high-profile activist for more gun control. That's one issue where Arizona is a little more to the right than the rest of the country. But we're also seeing in the suburbs, given a lot of the rampup in gun violence across the nation the more interest in and more support for measures that may have been opposed in years past.

BRODIE: Well it's interesting because you write about both gun control and immigration as two issues that could potentially be really key in that Senate race. I'm wondering how you sort of jive, you know, a moderate candidate beard for president or for U.S. senator for anything else with those two issues where moderation seems kind of in short supply?

KRAUSHAAR: Right, so take Sinema's campaign for the Senate. She notably endorsed a tough border security measures. He tried to find some middle ground between the president and Democrats in Congress, but she certainly didn't support some of the more progressive ideas so Sinema ran to the right on immigration. Her gubernatorial counterpart ran to the left, and it made a big difference. On the issue of gun, Sinema didn't really talk about the issue a whole lot. Usually Democrats sort of see that issue to the Republicans. And Arizona has among the least restrictive gun laws in the country. So what's going to be different about Kelly's Senate race is that's going to be an unavoidable issue, his activism his leadership on that issue is known across the country. So this is going to be a very big test whether the politics of gun control and in states that have been historically opposed to more restrictive gun control measures. That's going to be a test that Kelly is going to have to overcome.

BRODIE: At the end of the day assuming that Arizona is a battleground state in 2020 and continues to be so into the future, do you see that as more of a reflection of changes within the Democratic Party or within the Republican Party?

KRAUSHAAR: It's the Republican Party that's creating the opening for Democrats to contest the state as long as they were John McCains and Jeff Flakes and, you know, Doug Ducey, even the type of mainstream Republican business types center-right candidates, as long as they were leading the ticket, Republicans were guaranteed victory in all the key races. It's the opening that some of the more harder-edged politicians and certainly President Trump has created with their views on a whole host of issues his character. You know that Arizona the state whose suburban population has been booming over the decades. And it's those suburban voters who have been most alienated under under President Trump's administration. In the 2018 Senate race, Kysten Sinema won 12 percent of Republican voters. That was about as high as you've seen in any any state in the country. So that crossover support is what it's allowed Democrats to compete in Arizona. And there's no sign that that's changing.

BRODIE: All right. That's Josh Kraushaar, politics editor for National Journal. Josh, good to talk to you. Thank you.

KRAUSHAAR: Thank you. 

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