Arizona is, suddenly, a swing state in the presidential election. How? Why? And can Hillary Clinton actually win? I reached out to the Arizona Republic's star political reporter Dan Nowicki for answers. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.
FIX: Arizona is more of a swing state right now than Virginia or Colorado. Could you imagine that being true even six months ago? Why or why not?
Nowicki: As soon as it became clear that Donald Trump was going to be the GOP nominee, the speculation in Arizona about the state being competitive started revving up. Trump, and to a lesser degree, Ted Cruz, were seen as potentially vulnerable here. If any of the other major Republican candidates had won the nomination, we probably wouldn’t be having his conversation. But Trump has been making it easy for Democrats, ticking off Hispanics, Mormons, Native Americans, moderate women, [John] McCain and [Jeff] Flake supporters and others.
FIX: Explain the way Jan Brewer signing the 2010 immigration law changed the state’s politics. Are the changes the ones you would have expected?
Nowicki: Brewer’s signing of SB 1070 launched a movement to get the underperforming Latino electorate engaged in politics by registering more Latino voters and getting them to the polls. That effort has already born fruit in local elections. Besides the presidential and U.S. Senate races, the Latino voter bloc could land a big blow against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, like Brewer an extremely controversial figure in the Latino community.
FIX: Compare the campaigns in the state. Which is better staffed or just plain better?
Nowicki: The Clinton campaign by far has the better ground game. As of earlier this month, the Democrats had 161 staffers and 32 offices in Arizona. The Trump doesn’t have much of a ground operation and it seems like Trump isn’t interesting in investing money here. Trump mostly is relying on personal appearances and earned media. At a recent Trump rally they passed around sign-up sheets to volunteer for the campaign. Some of those sheets weren’t even collected.
FIX: Michelle Obama was in the state late last week. Have we seen similar major Republican surrogates? Will we?
Nowicki: Donald Trump, Jr., is in town later this week. And I think it’s a safe bet to expect an additional visit from Trump himself or Mike Pence within the next couple of weeks. Trump has been here six times, and Pence has been here twice by himself, but they haven’t been able to nail down Arizona.
FIX: Finish this sentence: “ _____ ______ will carry Arizona on November 8.” Now, explain.
Nowicki: "Trump or Clinton."
I know that sounds cheeky but Arizona really does have the feel of a toss-up. According to our recent Arizona Republic/Morrison Institute/Cronkite News poll, which showed Clinton up by five points, 20 percent of voters are still undecided. It likely will be close either way and turnout will determine who wins. That’s why we saw Trump recently up in Yavapai County – one of the reddest parts of Arizona – and we saw Bernie Sanders last week stumping in Democratic-friendly Pima and Coconino counties. It’s about getting out the base. Despite the Clinton campaign push here, Arizona’s partisan instincts may die hard, making it a state to watch on Election Day.