Arizona has long been touted as a potential swing state in the presidential election. Its time may have finally come.
Demographic shifts, progressive organizing efforts and President Donald Trump’s potential weakness in the state appear to be providing Democrats in 2020 with their best shot at capturing the state since Bill Clinton won it more than two decades ago.
A new poll, commissioned by a state labor union and released today, shows Trump running neck-and-neck with Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden in theoretical match-ups.
That poll follows several other recent surveys with more bad news for Republicans. A late July survey — conducted by Trump’s own pollster — showed the president losing to Biden, and another in August reported a tie. In Arizona’s closely-watched 2020 U.S. Senate race, two of those polls show GOP Sen. Martha McSally in a tie and a third shows her trailing Democrat Mark Kelly.
“Republicans are very concerned,” said Chuck Coughlin, once a top aide to Republican Govs. Fife Symington and Jane Hull. “The ground is shifting.”
The change has been gradually building for years as more Latinos, who tend to vote Democratic, have registered and voted in larger numbers.
During Trump’s first midterm election in 2018, Democrats for the first time in recent memory won three statewide elected offices. Kyrsten Sinema’s victory marked the first time Democrats have won an Arizona Senate seat since 1988; The party also picked up a handful of state legislative seats.
Two years earlier, Trump became the first GOP presidential nominee in 20 years to receive less than 50 percent of the vote.
The polling suggests the days of writing off Arizona as comfortably Republican could be ending.
Republicans point out that registered Republicans vastly outnumber Democrats in the state, Trump fires up the base like no other and the state continues to be a mecca for retirees, who tend to vote Republican.
But Trump’s approval rating is underwater, with 45 percent of Arizona voters holding a favorable impression of him and 53 percent having an unfavorable view — the overwhelming majority of whom hold a “very unfavorable view,” according to a survey of 520 Arizona registered voters by Bendixen & Amandi International. The firm, which typically surveys for Democrats and was paid to conduct this poll by SMART Local 359, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, conducted the poll from September 9-12.
Trump is tied dead even with Warren at 42 percent in a general election match-up and is essentially tied with Biden 43-42 percent, a lead well within the poll’s margin of error of plus/minus 4.3 points.
McSally is tied at 42 percent with Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of former Arizona Congresswoman and mass-shooting survivor Gabby Giffords.
“Contrary to the conventional wisdom that the presidential race is down to only four swing states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida — this poll makes it clear that Arizona is wide open,” said pollster Fernand Amandi. “Arizona is emerging as the new battleground.”
Amandi’s numbers are in line with a poll from OH Predictive Insights, a non-partisan Arizona consulting company that conducted a survey last month showing Biden at 45 percent and Trump at 43 percent. Warren, too, was basically tied with Trump, who had 44 percent to her 43 percent. Both Amandi’s poll and OH Predictive’s found that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and other candidates fared more poorly against Trump. OH Predictive, showed Kelly leading McSally by 46 percent to 41 percent in the Senate race.
In late July, Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio surveyed Arizona on behalf of the AARP and found Biden leading Trump, 50 percent to 45 percent. That poll had an error margin of 4 percent and found a statistical tie in the Senate contest.
One quirk in the Senate race weighing on McSally: She’s fresh off a bitter 2018 Senate race loss to Sinema, who has higher favorability ratings. McSally was later appointed to fill the seat held by Sen. John McCain following his death and the resignation of his successor, Jon Kyl, in 2019.
In the Democratic presidential primary, Amandi’s poll shows Biden with a slight lead over Warren, with the former vice president at 29 percent and the Massachusetts senator at 24 percent. Sanders trails with 18 percent, followed by a host of other Democrats who are polling in the single digits.
“What this poll of Arizona and what other polling across the country is suggesting is the Democratic primary is becoming a two-person race,” Amandi said.
As in other swing states and battlegrounds, however, political insiders wonder if Warren’s politics are too progressive to ultimately carry Arizona and its 11 Electoral College votes. And regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, Republicans expect their base will come home to Trump as he unloads his substantial war chest on whomever he faces in the general election.
“Trump’s numbers with independents are terrible right now. But we know what Trump is going to do to the Democratic nominee. Trump knows his universe of voters,” Coughlin said.
Sean Noble, who advised Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s successful campaign, said he believes that the recent polls could be off because people are lying to pollsters and the surveys won’t be able to easily estimate the composition of the electorate because turnout will likely be at record highs.
Noble said tens of thousands of Republicans and conservatives didn’t vote in 2016 for Trump, but he has brought them home in Arizona thanks to his conservative record of cutting regulations and appointing conservative judges. He said that should benefit McSally as well.
“Trump will carry McSally,” Noble predicted.
Chris Baker, a Republican political consultant from Arizona, said he believes the “polling is more a reflection of Trump’s flavor of the day — it will change. My guess is things will stabilize in the presidential race.”
As for the Senate race, Baker said, he sees an even tighter race in this political environment.
“With independent voters, their eyes are wondering,” Baker said. “With Democratic voters, there’s a lot of intensity. But there’s a lot of intensity on the right as well.”
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