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Welcome to battleground: New poll shows why Dems are bullish in AZ in 2020

By: - May 27, 2020 5:37 pm

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz, gestures to President Donald Trump during a rally for her U.S. Senate campaign at the International Air Response facility on Oct. 19, 2018 in Mesa. Photo by Ralph Freso | Getty Images

New polling that shows Democrats leading the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Arizona demonstrates why Arizona will be one of the political epicenters in 2020.

In the presidential contest, former Vice President Joe Biden narrowly leads President Donald Trump by about 2 percentage points, 47% to 45%. In 2016, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Arizona by about 3.5 percentage points.

Meanwhile, the Senate race is especially dismal for Republicans, with incumbent U.S. Sen. Martha McSally trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Mark Kelly by double digits, 41% to 51%. Two years ago, McSally lost to Kyrsten Sinema by about 2.5 percentage points.

The poll of 400 likely general election voters comes from Highground, a Republican Phoenix political consulting firm, and has a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points. The poll was conducted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones.

The primary reason Trump and McSally find themselves trailing in the poll is that they are getting trounced in Maricopa County, which is home to nearly two-thirds of the state’s electorate. Biden is the choice of nearly 52% of voters in Maricopa, compared to less than 40% for Trump. McSally is getting blown out of the water in the metro Phoenix area, with Kelly beating her 57% to 36%.

The most surprising nugget in the poll’s details might be that the Republicans are losing in Congressional District 6 in northeastern Phoenix – including suburbs like Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Cave Creek and Fountain Hills. The district is represented by Republican David Schweikert in Congress, and is a reliable win for GOP candidates. 

It is, in essence, the type of district where Democrats won strong support from suburban women in 2018 during the “blue wave” that resulted in the GOP losing control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Trump is getting creamed in CD6, 34% to 55%. For McSally, the news is worse: she trails Kelly 32% to 57%.

The Maricopa County figures are important for a fairly obvious reason: If a candidate loses badly in the most populous county, there aren’t enough voters in the rest of the state to make up the difference.

In modern Arizona political history, the only candidate who managed to win a statewide election despite losing Maricopa County was Republican Diane Douglas in 2014. She lost Maricopa County by about 1,200 votes, but still eked out a win by some 16,000 votes (out of more than 1.4 million cast). How? She ran much stronger than every other Republican in Pima County – a traditional Democratic stronghold – and overperformed in a few smaller rural counties.

The Highground poll shows it will be difficult for either Trump or McSally to replicate that feat. Not only do they badly trail their Democratic opponents at the moment in Maricopa County, but neither shows particular strength in Pima County. Trump trails there by about 4.5 percentage points, while McSally – who represented about half of the county in Congress for years – is nearly 18 points behind Kelly.

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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, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.