Democrats, Clinton counting on Latinos to win Arizona

PHOENIX (AP) -- Sara Morales became an American citizen in 2010 and has voted in every election since. This year, the Phoenix resident will be casting a ballot for Hillary Clinton, joining the tens of thousands of Latinos who Democrats hope will swing the traditionally conservative state in their direction.

The prospect of Arizona voting for a Democrat for president has become more of a possibility as Donald Trump loses support within his party and organizations make a push to get Latinos to vote in a state that has long struggled to get its sizable Hispanic population to the polls.

In some ways, Trump and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio are making the task easier this year. Trump has angered many Latinos by calling Mexicans rapists and vowing to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. Arpaio has long been reviled by Latinos over his immigration raids.

Activists are going door-to-door and carrying signs in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods to rally voters on a proposed minimum-wage increase that's also on the ballot and popular among Latinos.

Morales, a custodian at a local school who is originally from Sonora, Mexico, struggled at first to find the right words to express how she feels about Trump. She rolled her eyes.

"For me, I don't think Trump will help anybody," she said. "He doesn't have values."

Turning Arizona blue would be a historic feat. The last time Arizona elected a Democrat for president was in 1996, when Bill Clinton won his second term. Before that, Harry S. Truman was the previous Democrat to carry Arizona. President Barack Obama lost Arizona by 9 percentage points and 8.5 points in his two campaigns.

Arizona Democratic Party chairwoman Alexis Tamerón said the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee made a six-figure investment in August. Clinton's campaign invested $2 million in Arizona in October and dispatched Chelsea Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and first lady Michelle Obama to the state. Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton's running mate, will deliver a speech in Phoenix on Thursday entirely in Spanish. He also plans on stumping in Tucson.

About two-thirds of registered Latino voters identify as Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center. Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote in 2012.

But turnout has been disappointing for political parties hoping to draw the Latino vote in Arizona because they have been reluctant to register to vote.

Only 52 percent of Latinos eligible to vote in Arizona in 2012 actually registered, according to Latino Decisions. Those who were registered showed up in large numbers, with 78 percent of registered Latinos having cast a ballot. In all, 40 percent of eligible Latino voters cast a ballot that year.

Advocates hope the tide will turn with a major push to increase Latino voter registration.

One Arizona, a coalition of 14 advocacy groups, has been canvassing Latino neighborhoods all year. Spokeswoman Pita Juarez says staffers and volunteers registered 150,000 new voters in the state in the past nine months, doubling its original goal.

"These communities, these neighborhoods were not being engaged," Juarez said.

One Arizona formed in 2010 in response to Arpaio's immigration raids. Many of the organizations involved have been vocal opponents of the sheriff, staging protests outside his office and organizing massive demonstrations. The sheriff is running for a seventh term despite being charged recently with criminal contempt-of-court stemming from his immigration patrols.

Juarez said the organization is now going back to canvass those neighborhoods, reminding newly registered voters to show up on Election Day.

Former Gov. Jan Brewer, a Trump supporter who signed the landmark immigration crackdown known as SB1070, dismissed the notion of her state voting Democratic, telling the Boston Globe this month: "Nah. They don't get out and vote. They don't vote."

She later backtracked, but critics seized on the comments and urged Latinos to prove her wrong.

Robert Graham, the chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, said his party, too, has made strides in registering Latinos to vote, putting heavy efforts in Santa Cruz County on the U.S.-Mexico border. Graham said he doubts Clinton will take Arizona.

"This cycle could be different and they could turn out and whichever team they turn out for I would say they're gonna be the benefactors and definitely the victors," he said.

Experts say that if Arizona does go to Clinton, it will not be a sweep down the ballot. Sen. John McCain has a strong lead over his Democratic opponent, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. At the same time, two ballot initiatives would legalize recreational marijuana and increase the minimum wage.

"I think the voters in Arizona are a lot more liberal than the Legislature. And the image the state has is from some of the things the Legislature has done," said David Berman, a senior research fellow at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.

To succeed in Arizona, Clinton and her party will have to overcome voters like Ann Miller. The Scottsdale real estate agent identifies as an independent but registered Republican to vote for Trump in the March primary. She said Trump will broker trade agreements that will benefit the U.S.

"If he does a fourth of what he says he will do, we will be in much better shape," Miller said.

Earl Vincent de Berge, director of research for the Behavior Research Center in Arizona, an independent firm, said Arizona is becoming more competitive. He says Arizona voters are more centrist than they are conservative or liberal.

"You might not wanna believe it, but things, they are a' changing," he said.