Arizona a top Dem priority for president, Senate, legislature

By: - February 18, 2020 6:00 am

Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

In their effort to defeat President Donald Trump, win a U.S. Senate seat and flip control of the state legislature, Arizona Democrats are launching what they say will be their largest-ever effort to organize voter outreach.

The effort, dubbed “Mission for Arizona,” is the Arizona Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign with the Democratic National Committee. Although primarily focused on electing Mark Kelly to the Senate – a top priority for national Democrats – the campaign will work to bolster Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

“Republicans got their butts whipped in Arizona in 2018, and we’re making investments to make sure Democrats win again in 2020,” said DNC spokesman David Bergstein. 

Although Arizona was nominally seen as competitive in the 2016 presidential contest, national Democrats and the Hillary Clinton campaign spent little money campaigning here. Even still, Clinton lost to Trump by only 3.5 percentage points, a far closer race than four years earlier, when Mitt Romney carried the Grand Canyon State by 9 points.

Two years later, Kyrsten Sinema became the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Arizona since 1988. Democrats also made gains in legislative races, leaving  Republicans in the state House of Representatives with a slim 31-29 majority.

Now, Arizona is seen as winnable territory by national Democrats – not only because of the 2018 results, but also due to demographic changes to the electorate that are making the state’s voters younger and more racially diverse than in the past.

The 2020 campaign for Arizona began earlier than ever, with party organizers beginning their work in November 2019. By comparison, in 2018, the party didn’t get organizers on the ground until June of the election year.

Luis Heredia, a former executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said there is a “night and day” difference between the support Democrats in Arizona got in 2010 and what they will be getting in 2020.

“You could talk about Arizona, but people would end the conversation with a, ‘but…’” he said.

And there’s particular importance in national money coming to Arizona so early. Heredia said not only will that money allow the state party to hire good talent and put them in position to influence races sooner, but “money begets money,” and the party will be able to fund-raise off of that investment.

All of that will allow Democrats to be on the offensive in 2020 campaigns.

“When we’re on offense, not just reacting, we tend to win,” Heredia said, pointing to Sinema’s 2018 campaign as “the path to victory” for Democrats in 2020.

Some of that offense will be done in legislative races, said Murphy Bannerman, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Demcoratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

“By having that uniformity, we’re really able to amplify the message,” she said. 

ADLCC is already on the ground in targeted legislative districts, and the organizing from Mission for Arizona will allow party workers and volunteers to knock on more doors and speak directly with more voters, Bannerman said. 

“This is an incredible and exciting year,” she said. “We really have a chance to flip the House and Senate at the legislature.”

That on-the-ground coordination will also help in congressional races, said U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, a Sedona Democrat. He represents the sprawling 1st District, which covers much of eastern and northern Arizona and central parts of the state, and includes all or part of 11 of the state’s 15 counties.

“The grassroots efforts are still really important to campaigning in this district,” he told Arizona Mirror

That face-to-face contact with voters has a dramatic effect on turnout, and turnout is key in competitive races like his, O’Halleran said.

“You draw out the electorate that sometimes is a little bit (apathetic) to get to the polls,” he said.

Mission for Arizona will be led by Emma Brown, who comes to the party from Kelly’s campaign, where she worked as deputy campaign manager. 

“We’re thrilled to launch this statewide mission to build on our historic success in 2018 and elect leaders who will take on corporate interests, put people first, and fight to make Washington and the state legislature work for Arizonans,” Brown said in a statement.

Mission for Arizona will launch with field offices in Phoenix and in Tucson. Another field office is planned for south Phoenix by the end of March, and more offices across the state are likely, the Arizona Democratic Party said in a written statement.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications. He has also served as the editor and executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.