Biden, Harris aim to tip battleground Arizona for Democrats

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris pitched an economic message Oct. 8 during their first joint appearance on the campaign trail, hammering President Donald Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and a failure to address the needs of working Americans.

“You’re facing real challenges right now, and the last thing you need is a president who exacerbates them, who ignores you,” Biden told a union crowd in Phoenix, adding that Trump “looks down on you.”

“We’ve paid too high a price already for Donald Trump’s chaotic, divisive leadership.”

The Democratic presidential ticket chose Arizona to kick off a bus tour, underscoring the significance of a state whose 11 Electoral College votes could tip the scales if Trump can rebound from his fall slump. Vice President Mike Pence was campaigning in the state as well Thursday.

Harris introduced Biden by blasting Trump’s “reckless disregard for human life and for the well-being of the American people” when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. She encouraged Arizonans to vote “like your life depends on it,” because, she says, “it really does.”

Early voting began this week in Arizona, and both Biden and Harris placed a heavy emphasis on the importance of getting to the polls. Speaking of Republicans, Biden warned that “they’re setting up the argument that these votes aren’t gonna matter,” and mentioned Trump’s comments during the first presidential debate that a far-right group should “stand back and stand by.”

“This is serious stuff. We can’t just win by a vote. We have got to all turn out,” he said.

Thursday’s bus tour marked Biden’s first trip to Arizona as the presidential nominee, but it was a long time coming for a campaign that for months has singled out the state for expanding the battleground map, owing to demographic changes, new residents and a noticeable realignment away from Republicans among key suburban voters.

Arizona’s transformation seems stark for a state that just a decade ago was the epicenter of Republicans’ push against anti-illegal immigration push. But with early voting underway and millions of ballots in the mail, the home of pathbreaking Republicans from Barry Goldwater to John McCain to Sandra Day O’Connor is a top Democratic target this year, and some Republicans are anxious.

While the Trump campaign projects confidence in a state the president won by 3.5 percentage points four years ago, it’s notable that Thursday marks Pence’s fourth trip to the state this year, on top of Trump’s five trips in 2020.

“I didn’t think it would happen this soon,” said former Republican Gov. Jan Brewer of the shift. Brewer rose to national prominence when she signed the state’s anti-illegal immigration law in 2010 and publicly feuded with then-President Barack Obama. “But I think we have done a bad job of trying to educate them, the new population, that they ought to be Republican.”

Veteran lawmakers and political operatives point to three main factors driving Arizona’s move away from Republicans: Democratic-leaning newcomers such as Novoa; a young Latino population that was politically activated by Arizona’s immigration fights of the past decade and is now reaching voting age; and the turn away from the GOP by suburban women.

The state appears to be following a pattern seen elsewhere in the West, going from solidly Republican to up for grabs. To varying degrees, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico have all moved closer to Democrats since the turn of the century.

Democrats point to Brewer’s decision a decade ago to sign SB1070, a law that cracked down on immigrants living in the country illegally, and immigration roundups by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Young Latinos organized, ousting the legislator who sponsored the legislation in 2011 and Arpaio in 2016. In the process, they built a progressive infrastructure that endures.

DEM, GOP campaigns in Arizona

When Dolores Novoa left Orange County, California, for her new home in a Phoenix suburb, there was one thing at the top of her to-do list.

“As soon as I got here, I did my civic duty. I registered,” said Novoa, a 70-year-old Latina and retired legal secretary who now lives in Peoria, Arizona. She immediately voted in local elections and is eager to cast a ballot for Democrat Joe Biden for president.

Newcomers such as Novoa are helping turn Arizona increasingly toward Biden, transforming a state known just a decade ago as an epicenter of the Republican anti-illegal immigration push into the nation’s newest political battleground. With early voting underway and millions of ballots in the mail, the home of pathbreaking Republicans from Barry Goldwater to John McCain to Sandra Day O’Connor is a top Democratic target this year.

Former vice-president and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden (L) and Senator from California and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris greet supporters outside the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, at the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention, held virtually amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, on August 20, 2020.

Former vice-president and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden (L) and Senator from California and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris greet supporters outside the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, at the conclusion of the Dem (Photo by Oliver Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Veteran lawmakers and political operatives point to three main factors driving Arizona’s move away from Republicans: Democratic-leaning newcomers such as Novoa; a young Latino population that was politically activated by Arizona’s immigration fights of the past decade and is now reaching voting age; and the turn away from the GOP by suburban women.

The state appears to be following a pattern seen elsewhere in the West from solidly Republican to up for grabs. To varying degrees, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico have all moved closer to Democrats since the turn of the century.

Democrats point to Brewer’s decision a decade ago to sign SB1070, a law that cracked down on immigrants living in the country illegally, and immigration roundups by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Young Latinos organized, ousting the legislator who sponsored the legislation in 2011 and Arpaio in 2016. In the process, they built a progressive infrastructure that endures.

“It created a whole new class of activists and organizing,” said U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, who represents many of Phoenix’s Latino neighborhoods. “I came out of the 1070 movement. A lot of the state reps, state senators, voter registration organizations — all were born because of SB1070.”

Brewer, who has never wavered from her support for the immigration bill, agrees that it galvanized Latinos.

“I’m sure it was probably a rallying cry that they utilized to bring people together,” Brewer said.

Biden did not campaign in Arizona ahead of the Democratic primary in March, which he won comfortably amid the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak. A Democratic primary debate between Biden and Bernie Sanders was moved from Phoenix to a television studio in Washington.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have campaigned extensively in Arizona as they look to keep a longtime Republican stronghold in their column. Trump had announced plans to appear in Tucson and Flagstaff on Oct. 5 and 6, but those plans have been postponed due to the president’s coronavirus diagnosis. He won Arizona by 3.5 percentage points in 2016. 

Since 1952, a Democrat has won Arizona only once — Bill Clinton in 1996. But public polling has consistently shown Biden with a narrow lead.

Biden’s path to an Arizona victory runs through Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and its rapidly growing suburbs. It’s grown 18% in the past decade, according to Census Bureau data. Once a reliable Republican stronghold, it went comfortably for Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in 2018, a victory that got attention in Washington and opened the spigot of money for Democrats and progressive organizing groups.

Democrats have long dominated in the Tucson area. Biden will look to run up the score there and on the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona.

Trump’s hopes lie in winning back some of the suburban women he’s alienated and picking up votes in the whiter areas of rural Arizona, where he remains popular.

Arizona is in the midst of a political transition away from the old-guard Republicans who held sway among moderate voters, such as Sens. McCain and Jeff Flake, said Lorna Romero, a Republican consultant who worked on McCain’s last re-election campaign. McCain died in 2018 and Flake walked away from politics after angering the GOP base by feuding publicly with Trump.

Now those voters habituated to voting for Republicans are looking around, and some are finding they’re open to Democrats like Biden, she said.

“We have a group of Republicans that don’t really have a home,” Romero said. “They’re trying to figure out who that is.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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