Kaufman: For first time in decades, Arizona matters

Much like America, Arizona is divided. Their 11 electoral votes, which will go up to 12 in 2024, clearly are up in the air six weeks from now. 

Northern Arizona. Photo by A.J. Kaufman.

The Grand Canyon State has voted Republican every presidential election but one since 1948. And yet most polls show Joe Biden leads over President Trump. 

After John McCain and Mitt Romney won the state by nearly 200,000 votes over Barack Obama, Trump won by fewer than 100,000 in 2016. Arizona is changing for various reasons, including immigration patterns.

While I didn’t have time to hit the desert and enjoy triple digit heat, I’m there annually to visit family and thus have extensive contacts.

Whereas Trump rode the coattails of many popular GOP senators four years ago, he’s arguably being dragged down by Sen. Martha McSally, who consistently trails her Democrat opponent.

McSally lost one U.S. Senate seat two years ago, and after being appointed to fill McCain’s seat (Barry Goldwater’s prior) its final two years, could have the ignominious distinction to lose both U.S. Senate seats in 24 months. 

Let’s start with my mother, a lifelong Democrat, who slowly moved right the last decade or so and re-registered as an Independent. She retired to the Phoenix suburbs in 2014. She didn’t vote for Obama either presidential run, went for Evan McMullin in 2016, and remains undecided this fall. Like many non-ideological women her age, she likes Trump’s policies but dislikes his character.

Suburban Phoenix.

“I don’t respect Trump or like how he treats people, but I agree he’s done a lot of good for America,” she said. “I don’t mind Biden as a person, but can’t stand Kamala Harris. We left California to get away from politicians like her.“

As for the Senate race, she’s a reluctant McSally supporter.

“I am voting for McSally but wish she was clearer with her views on issues like pre-existing conditions,” she explained. “Mark Kelly seems to be riding the coattails of his career and his wife, while benefiting from an influx of money.” 

I then contacted another California transplant near Phoenix.

“I voted for President Trump in 2016 for his transparency rather than a political campaign strategy,” the retired software engineer told me. “I’ll be voting for him again, since he’s followed through with everything he said he’d do and wants to keep our country great and our freedoms  in tact.”

She keeps it straightforward on the Senate side.

“My husband and I are both voting for McSally because she supports Trump’s policies and protects our Constitutional rights. She also supports veterans and the common good of Arizonans.”

An entrepreneur, originally from Israel, is a fan of the president’s role as CEO.

“Trump is like a boss in a new factory that everybody has been stealing from and now everybody has to cut the crap,” he said. “He is the bodyguard of the Western world and delivers on his promises.”

I contacted a Massachusetts native who was raised a Democrat but now, living in Phoenix, leans right.

Downtown Phoenix.

“I am voting for Trump, McSally and (Rep. Debbie) Lesko,” she said. “I hope McSally will get in but I have my doubts. Lesko has done a fabulous job, and I believe she’ll make it. I am praying daily for Trump, because I’m so afraid of the socialists and what would become of our wonderful country if they got in.”

Finally, I spoke with an octogenarian retired stock broker, originally from New York. He’s a registered Independent who voted for Trump in 2016 and will again. 

“Trump is a New Yorker, and people don’t like him because of that,” he said. “But he has done more for this country than any past president. The Democrats have also brainwashed the public against him.”

He has different feelings about his Republican senator, however.

“McSally is just a yes person, never elected, defeated when she ran, and has done nothing,” he claimed.

Arizona is a unique mix. Even with over a million retirees, it remains one of the younger, fastest-growing states. One-third of Arizonans are Hispanic, a group the cantankerous Bernie Sanders is concerned about since Trump may exceed expectations; meanwhile military veterans comprise over 10% of the population

Trump recently made his fifth Arizona visit of 2020, for a roundtable with Latinos. Biden said he plans to campaign in Arizona after Labor Day but has not announced a date for a visit.

Four of the five people above also relayed they see roughly an equal balance of Democrat and Republican yard signs in their neighborhoods. Recent Supreme Court news intensifies matters even more as Democrats seem ready to bully Republican senators.

Ben Jealous, a man so unlikable he lost the governor’s race in deep blue Maryland, spoke among frenzied Democrats at a Saturday night vigil-turned-political rally. He warned McSally not to vote for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee if she wants to keep her job. 

Much like America, Arizona is divided. Their 11 electoral votes, which will go up to 12 in 2024, clearly are up in the air six weeks from now.