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AZ-Sen: Looks Like Kyrsten Sinema's (D) Playbook Is Paying Off For Mark Kelly (D)

6 min read

Vox has a great piece out about how U.S. Senate candidate, Mark Kelly (D. AZ), is following the same game plan and path now current U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D. AZ) took in 2018 to defeat Martha McSally (R. AZ):

“I would be willing to wager Sinema just handed Kelly her playbook and said, ‘Here you go, here’s how you win the US Senate in Arizona,’” quipped OH Predictive Insights pollster Mike Noble.

Many of the dynamics that defined 2018 — and contributed to the state’s shift to the left — have only become more apparent in the two years since.

Independent voters, which make up about a third of the state’s electorate, are still dissatisfied with President Donald Trump and likely to favor Democrats this fall. In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden led Trump 57 percent to 38 percent among independent voters in the state. Democrats are also making inroads with moderate Republicans, particularly suburban women, who are interested in less polarized leadership and concerned about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. And the state’s growing population of Latinx voters is continuing to skew Democratic.

Looking at recent polling, it’s very clear it’s paying off:



— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) September 27, 2020


— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) September 25, 2020

FiveThirtyEight also puts everything into perspective:

That’s in part because of Latino voters, who are a rapidly growing group in Arizona and promise to play a larger role in the 2020 election than in previous years. According to Pew Research Center projections, for the first time Latinos will be the largest minority group participating in the 2020 election, with 32 million Latinos eligible to vote. Arizona has among the largest Latino populations in the country — 31.7 percent of the state’s population is Latino, according to 2019 American Community Survey estimates, up from 25.2 percent in the year 2000 — and the group’s participation in elections appears to be growing. Exit polls from the 2008 presidential election showed Latino voters as 16 percent of Arizona’s electorate, and an independent analysis of the state’s electorate in 2016 showed that about 21 percent was Latino. In 2018, exit polls showed that 18 percent of Arizona voters were Latino in a year that gave Democrat Kyrsten Sinema the victory in a close Senate Race.

While the Latino vote isn’t a monolith, there are factors that tend to make Arizona’s Latinos more Democratic-leaning. For one thing, the majority of Latinos in Arizona are of Mexican descent, a group that has leaned more Democratic than, say, Cuban Americans. According to data from Equis Research, compared to more Republican-leaning Texas, there’s a higher rate of foreign-born Latinos in Arizona, and they tend to be more anti-Trump. A higher share of Arizona’s Latinos live in more urban areas compared to Texas’s Latinos, another factor that skews their vote more Democratic.

In addition to the population growth of Latinos in Arizona, Democrats say that they’ve also worked to leverage their advantage with the community. “We’ve created an electorate,” Democratic strategist Rodd McLeod said of the party and community groups. He pointed to Arizona’s Permanent Early Voting List — even before the pandemic, about 80 percent of the state voted by mail — as one key to building out the Democratic coalition in the state. Identifying people who are “on the edge of voting or not voting,” McLeod said, helped push out reminders and door-knockers to voters who might not be in the habit of regularly casting a ballot, like some Latino voters.

But ongoing demographic shifts are not the only reason that Arizona is competitive in the 2020 race. White voters are also leaning towards Biden, marking a change from 2016 when Trump won 54 percent of Arizona’s white voters, according to exit polls. Current polls show a much closer race between Biden and Trump with that group: a recent New York Times/Siena College survey, for example, showed Trump leading Biden by only a percentage point with white voters overall in the state. Among white voters with a college degree, Biden was beating Trump by 15 percentage points — Trump won that group in Arizona in 2016, by a margin of 6 points, according to the exit polls.

It’s also the coronavirus, stupid:

When the pandemic struck and the country’s economy hit the rocks, Mr. Trump found his most powerful argument for re-election thrown into jeopardy. That was particularly true in Arizona, where business had been booming. Corporations across industries — including tech, insurance and defense contracting — had opened new operations in the state in recent years, bringing high-paying jobs by the tens of thousands.

Partly as a result, Phoenix and its surrounding county, Maricopa, are now the fastest-growing city and county in the country, according to census data. On average, more than 250 people move to the Phoenix area each day.

A few years ago, a flood of good jobs into the suburbs around Phoenix might have been great news for Republicans, bringing an influx of middle-class and predominantly white voters to a county that accounts for three of every five votes cast in Arizona.

But particularly under Mr. Trump, the suburban political calculus has changed. Voters in the suburbs are now far less likely to support him or members of his party than they were just five years ago.

But remember, it’s all about turnout:

The election might be decided by voter turnout. According to data compiled by Arizona Highground, a public affairs consulting firm, Arizona will likely surpass 3 million voters for the first time in the state’s history.

The firm’s data also showed record turnout in the 2020 primary elections. This included a 30% increase from the 2018 primary among registered Democrats, compared with just a 7 percent increase among registered Republicans.

Arizona Highground President Chuck Coughlin said younger voters that often lean to the left might be driving the shift in the Arizona electorate.

“Republicans always turn out,” Coughlin said. “The sun rises in the morning. Republicans go vote. It’s who shows up around them in the cycle. And we’ve seen higher participation rates amongst nontraditional cohorts of the electorate.”


If Mark Kelly, the Democratic nominee, wins, he could be seated in the Senate as early as Nov. 30, six weeks before the other winners are sworn in, according to elections experts from both parties. Mr. Kelly currently leads Senator Martha McSally, a Republican, in the polls.

There are many ifs: If the Arizona results can be rapidly certified, and if Senate Republicans hold a confirmation vote in the postelection lame-duck session and if three Republicans defect, Mr. Kelly could cast the deciding vote to defeat Mr. Trump’s as-yet unnamed pick to the high court.

Such a scenario is possible (if not probable) because Ms. McSally, who was sworn in in 2019, was appointed, not elected. The Arizona Senate race this year is a special election, and under state law the winner can be seated pending a final review of the election results, known as a canvass, completed at the end of November.


Adam Jentleson ― who served as spokesman for the former Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), a notable procedural bruiser ― detailed some of the tactics that Democrats could deploy to slow down the nomination process in a New York Times op-ed on Monday.

Those tactics would include refusing unanimous consent for every item that comes to the Senate floor; forcing Republicans to appear for quorum calls; boycotting the nomination hearings in the Judiciary Committee; and promising retribution, in the form of adding seats to the court and eliminating the legislative filibuster, if the nomination goes through. These tactics, which were used to defeat the Affordable Care Act repeal vote in 2017, could provide a chance, however small, to extend the process past the election. A post-election vote could allow Democrats to gain a vote if astronaut Mark Kelly wins his Arizona Senate race in a special election that would put him in office at the end of November.

“Democrats’ options before the election may indeed be limited,” Jentleson writes. “But if they win, the only restraints will be their own ambition and will.”

Let’s keep up the momentum to flip Arizona Blue. Click below to donate and get involved with Kelly, Biden and their fellow Arizona Democrats campaigns:



Mark Kelly

Hiral Tiperneni

Tom O’Halleran

Arizona Democratic Party

Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee

Coral Evans

Felipe Perez

Jennifer Pawlik

Judy Schwiebert

Kelli Butler

Felicia French

JoAnna Mendoza

AJ Kurdoglu

Doug Ervin

Christine Marsh

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