A purple Maricopa County means Republicans need to find a center that may no longer exist




The GOP's post-Trump physical

There was no blue wave in 2020. Not in Maricopa County, anyway. But there wasn’t a red wall, either.

Democrats bested Republicans in the races for president and U.S. Senate and won two progressive ballot initiatives. But they also lost down-ballot, even with a fundraising edge in competitive districts.

An analysis will be done to determine why Democrats lost certain legislative and countywide races, though I suspect some of it had to do with the pandemic and the need to scale back or eliminate door-to-door canvassing due to safety concerns.

But I do believe it’s easy to understand — and replicate — why Democrats won at the top of the ticket.

Two elections in a row, Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate have modeled a winning strategy in a state that is no longer ruby red but still remains far from blue.

Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly didn’t win their races by mud-slinging and petty name-calling. There were no Moscow McSally ads.

Nor did they win by embracing confusing or controversial titles such as “democratic socialists” or slogans such as “defund the police,” which seems to mean different things to different people.

Sinema and Kelly (and President-elect Biden) won by staying above the fray and sticking to the kitchen table issues that voters care about, such as an economy that works for all, affordable healthcare, and a science-backed response to the pandemic. They espoused bipartisanship and a commitment to work for all Arizonans, not just those who voted for them.

If Democrats stick to this model in the next race for Arizona governor, they’ll be in a good position to win, especially since Republicans seem to have lost their center.

As an example, consider the two Republicans rumored to be eyeing a run for governor in 2022: state Treasurer Kimberly Yee and Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

Yee seems to believe the road to the governor’s office was paved by Doug Ducey, and she must follow the exact same path.

Like Ducey, Yee is a Trump loyalist, happy to attend his COVID super-spreader rallies and embrace his nationalism. Yee serves as the state’s treasurer, just as Ducey did before he ran for governor. And, like Ducey, she fronted an opposition campaign for public education funding, the No on Prop. 208 campaign.

But what Yee doesn’t seem to understand is that times have changed. Arizona voters — and, more specifically, Maricopa County voters — are not as Republican or Trumpy as they used to be.

Prop. 208 won, Trump lost, and Ducey’s hands-off approach to handling the coronavirus has made him one of the nation’s most unpopular governors.

For the life of me, I can’t imagine what Yee would run on that would resonate with Arizona’s independent voters. More cuts to public education? Fewer benefits for the unemployed?

The same can be said for Brnovich. While he hasn’t been a Trump sycophant, he is working with a group of Republican attorneys general to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

I’d venture a guess that whoever the Dems nominate would run a message on repeat about Brnovich as the guy who wanted to take away health care from hundreds of thousands of Arizonans and end protections for preexisting conditions. In fact, I’m pretty sure that message was the one that tanked Martha McSally’s campaign — twice.

It’s possible Republicans could find a unicorn — a moderate Republican in the mold of former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. But just as Smith was unable to secure his party’s nomination in 2014 because he was more problem-solver than ideologue, I believe it would be next to impossible for a centrist candidate to be victorious in a statewide Republican primary in this day and age, when folks that espouse crazy conspiracy theories, like Paul Gosar and Kelli Ward, rule the party.

Democrats, on the other hand, have shown that they are willing to support candidates who stay focused on the progressive policy issues that non-Democratic voters overwhelmingly support instead of insisting on candidates that pass an ideological purity test.

Where the spotlight is brightest — at the top of the ticket — these Dems tend to shine. Unless there is a major realignment in the Republican party, I give Democrats the early edge in the next race for Arizona governor.