Winning Arizona is certainly a heavy lift, and some are suggesting that it could prove a waste of time. And she may not win it. But the Clinton campaign is not only campaigning in Arizona today because it is hoping to pull off a surprise heist of its 11 electoral college votes.
A win in Arizona would also constitute a larger victory over Trumpism writ large, one with potentially lasting ramifications for both the Republican Party and for the immigration debate that is likely to unfold between Clinton and Republicans, if she is elected president.
“If we’re able to defeat Trumpism in Arizona, that will probably mean its ultimate long-term death,” Seth Scott, the Arizona state director for the Clinton campaign, tells me.
As I’ve argued, defeating Trump in Arizona would be significant, because the state represents in miniature a confluence of broader national trends. Arizona is where Trump delivered his hate-filled immigration speech, where notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio faces a tough relection fight, and where the hardline state law SB 1070 passed in 2010, igniting a national debate over what is widely seen as a discriminatory enforcement model. It’s also where Democrats are simultaneously trying to harness demographic shifts (the population of Latinos is growing) to turn it into a purple state.
With states like New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada now turning purple-to-bluish, Arizona is in the next round of dominoes that Democrats eventually hope to knock down. As immigration advocates on both right and left have argued, defeating Trumpism there might signal to Republicans that a hardline position on immigration is a long term demographic and political loser for the party.
“If we’re able to defeat Donald Trump in the state of SB 1070, that’s going to give a long pause to others who want to follow in his footsteps,” Scott says, adding that if Trump loses in Arizona, it will perhaps suggest that it is increasingly hard for Republicans with a hardline immigration position to succeed politically in Latino-heavy states. Indeed, arguably even if Clinton gets close in Arizona, it could be a harbinger of where things are going.
To be sure, it’s going to be very hard to pull off a win, and might only be possible if Clinton has a great night on Election Day. Clinton’s only hope for victory is probably to run up huge turnout among Latinos while also over-performing among GOP-leaning independents and Republican college educated whites, particularly women, many in the suburbs around Phoenix and Tucson. In this sense, the story in Arizona mirrors the demographic dynamics in the national election.
George Khalaf, the head of Data Orbital, a Republican polling firm based in Arizona, tells me he projects an electorate that will be around 41 percent Republican; 33 percent Democratic; and 26 percent independent. He thinks that requires Clinton to win between 55 percent and 60 percent of independents, and over 10 percent of Republicans.
“It is definitely a possibility that she can peel off some suburban Republicans in Maricopa County,” Khalaf tells me, but he thinks she is unlikely to get a big enough chunk of Republicans overall. He adds that a super-charged Latino turnout could perhaps shift the composition of the electorate a little further in her direction, but says he doubts it would make the basic math much less formidable for her.
But Democrats in the state view things differently. They expect an electorate that is more evenly divided — one third Republican, one third Democratic, one third independent. They also say Latino registration is outpacing 2012.
Scott, the Clinton campaign’s state director, says he expects Latinos to make up a larger share of the electorate than the 17 percent they comprised in 2012, in part because many younger Latinos have turned 18 in the interim and are being targeted to register. In an interesting twist, Scott also says that Trumpism is helping them win over college educated whites. “A lot of these typically moderate but reliably Republican folks are crossing over,” Scott says. “These are the folks who are very pro-immigration reform.”
Still, Khalaf, the GOP strategist, tells me that he thinks Clinton might be able to get within two or three points, substantially better than Obama’s decisive loss there to Mitt Romney in 2012. And if so, that could also signal where things are headed in the long term — as Khalaf says, it “could be symbolic.” He notes that the Clinton team really appears to be seriously contesting the state; indeed, he reports seeing Clinton ads running at two times or three times the frequency that Trump ads are.
“They’re definitely playing here,” Khalaf says.