Is Arizona A Swing State This Year?

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Friday, September 9, 2016 - 1:08pm
Updated: Monday, September 12, 2016 - 8:42am
(Photo by Jude Joffe-Block - KJZZ)
Arizona Democratic Party field organizer Kari Hull at the Yavapai County Democratic Party headquarters in Prescott.
(Photo by Jude Joffe-Block - KJZZ)
Republican volunteers phone bank at Arizona GOP headquarters in Phoenix.
(Photo by Jude Joffe-Block - KJZZ)
Democratic volunteers canvassing in Prescott.
(Photo by Jude Joffe-Block - KJZZ)
The phone bank at Arizona GOP headquarters in Phoenix.

The last time Arizona voters picked a Democrat for president was two decades ago to re-elect Bill Clinton. To find another example, you have to go back to 1948.

But now the Hillary Clinton campaign has started investing in the state, raising the question: Is Arizona actually a swing state this year?

Democrats would like to believe so. On a recent Saturday in Prescott, a pair of volunteers from the Democratic Party canvassed a peaceful residential neighborhood shaded by tall pines. They asked voters how they were leaning for the presidential and Senate race and told them Arizona had a shot of going blue this year.

When independent voter Dawn Klekner came to the door, she confided she feels alienated from the dominant political views of the area.

“There are a lot of right wing Republicans, a lot of hunters, a lot of gun owners,” Klekner said. “They tend to base their decisions on those issues.”

Yavapai County is known as a Republican stronghold. More than 64 percent of the county voted for Mitt Romney last election.

And Klekner said it is not all that friendly towards Democrats.

“I have people in my office saying, what are you registered as? And when you say Independent they are a lot more nice,” Klekner said. “But if you say, I’ve heard other people say Democrat and they give them a stern stare.”

Nevertheless, Democrats are making a hard push all over the state, even in places like Yavapai County where they have long been a quiet minority.

The county has a dedicated Democratic field organizer this year, Kari Hull.

“I make the joke of having Democrats coming out from under the rocks,” Hull said. “It’s time, let’s go! You know, let’s all come together.”

She said she is overseeing volunteers phone-banking, voter registration and canvassing every day.

Hull is one of 160 paid Arizona Democratic Party staffers on the ground in the state working out of 27 field offices.

The party said it is the largest field operation it has had to date, and this year it has benefited from investments from the national party.

Field organizers say while in years past the party prioritized getting out the vote in key swing districts, the additional staff this year is allowing Democrats to also be active in strongly Republican areas as well as “safe” Democratic areas where turnout could be boosted.

Adding to the momentum, this month Clinton started airing TV ads in Arizona, and the Democratic National Committee announced a plan to expand its field operations in Arizona, Georgia and Utah.

“It’s super exciting because everybody is talking about Arizona, Arizona,” Hull said. “So it is like wow, there is hope for change. Maybe we can turn Arizona blue and we can help Hillary get elected and Arizona can be a part of it.”

Democrats are encouraged by a growing Latino vote here that opposes Donald Trump and polls suggesting a much tighter race than in years past. A recent Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll showed Clinton leading by 1.6 percent among likely voters, with nearly 23 percent undecided. A Real Clear Politics average of several polls has Trump leading by 1.7 percentage points.

Ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana and raise the minimum wage could also boost Democratic turnout.

Statewide, Republicans outnumber Democrats 35 percent to 30 percent. But most of the rest of the state — over a third of all voters — are independents.

“Arizona has been one of these states, that national groups look at investing in and never quite get around to it,” said Andy Barr, a Democratic consultant with Saguaro Strategies who is not working on the presidential race. “The big difference this year the Clinton campaign has actually put money down.”

Barr said Arizona isn’t a key state for a Clinton victory. But it does present a promising opportunity for Democrats.

“Donald Trump is performing so poorly in so many traditional swing states that it has freed up a lot of resources for other places,” Barr said.

By the same token, analysts agree it won’t be surprising if Clinton stops investing in Arizona this year if her lead narrows in more important swing states.

But Barr says there is good reason for her to spend here.

Arizona has a competitive Senate race, with Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick challenging John McCain, and the state could become more critical to Democratic strategy in future election cycles.

“Arizona is one of these states that is on the cusp of changing,” Barr said. “This election is really about trying to jump start that process and move us ahead a few election cycles.”

Meanwhile Democrats aren’t the only ones trying to get out the vote. At the Arizona Republican Party headquarters in Phoenix on Tuesday, over a dozen volunteers phone-banked for Donald Trump.

But so far these phone banks are just once a week, and with fewer campaign field offices and paid staff compared to the Democrats.

Arizona Republican Party spokesman Tim Sifert was unfazed to hear about that discrepancy.

“The Democrats have done so poorly in Arizona over the last ten years it is only natural they would try to do something a little different,” Sifert said. “And they are really going to have to step it up quite a bit."

Sifert said Democrats may have more money for the ground game, but Republicans have more registered voters and a volunteer army at the neighborhood level in the form of precinct committeemen.

As for Democrats' excitement over potentially swinging the state this year, Sifert called it "a false hope."

Still, Sifert said elections can be unpredictable and Republicans here are taking nothing for granted.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to clarify a poll percentage.

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