Why Arizona Really Hasn’t Become a Blue State

The color on the map tells one story but the reality is another.

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Photo by Dennise Leon via Unsplash

Last night, media outlets finally made the call, after over a week of ballot counting and scrutiny, that Arizona had flipped to a blue state. Of course, that’s not really what’s happened.

They’re called battleground states for a reason and Arizona is a state that is being fought for hard by both parties. It’s a tug-of-war that has meant months, if not years, of pulling from both sides. Neither side is readily willing to let go, especially of the presidency.

Biden took the majority lead in votes early on and held it. That’s not surprising. As was the case in most battleground states, democrats came out with a strong lead due to early ballots being returned more heavily by democrats rather than republicans.

In Arizona, namely Maricopa County where Phoenix is located, that early voter turnout was monumental. Two weeks before the actual election was to be held, Maricopa County voters had already surpassed the total absentee voter ballots that were cast in the 2016 election.

The initial data dump of early votes was reported quickly on election night, giving democrats hope that efforts to turn the state blue had paid off. However, as in-person votes were counted on election day, the numbers started creeping back to republican favor.

Arizona may look blue on the maps that show how states voted for the president and noting how many electoral college votes each candidate gets, but make no mistake, the state is still a Republican state and there are few signs of that changing any time soon.

The most notable indication of a swing was Mark Kelly’s win of the US Senate seat left behind after the passing of Senator John McCain. Governor Doug Ducey appointed Martha McSally to the position at the end of 2018 after McSally lost her senate race to Kyrsten Sinema, a long-time Arizona legislator.

The loss would mark the second time McSally’s race loss would flip a congressional seat to the democrats, marking a historical turn of both US Senate seats from red to blue. This is a clear cause for celebration for the democrats and the genesis of the new joke that if democrats want to win a race they merely have to go up against McSally to do it.

Going into the 2020 election, US House seats in Arizona were held with a majority of five seats to democrats and four held by republicans. This remained unchanged, meaning that at a congressional level, Arizona is indeed a blue state. In Washington DC, Arizona shows all signs of being a liberal state. Look closer and you see a different story.

The issue, and why we can’t be too quick to call Arizona a blue state, is internal. The state’s own political landscape remains largely a republican stronghold.

In Maricopa County, one of the states more increasingly liberal counties, the election results were not in favor of the democrats. Of the main positions held at a county level (assessor, attorney, recorder, superintendent, and treasurer) all five went to republican candidates.

The big loss in this group was that of the county recorder where democratic incumbent Adrian Fontes lost his seat to Stephen Richer. The loss is confounding as Fontes organized an incredibly smooth election process in the county and has prided himself on working in his role in a non-partisan manner.

Fontes was the man behind the request for proposals that led to the purchase of the new ballot counting machines that enabled the county, the country’s second-largest voting jurisdiction, to process a high volume of ballots quickly.

There’s still hope for the future of these county seats as most were incredibly close races. Still, it seems it may be a few years and take a lot of strenuous work on behalf of Arizona democrats to keep nudging votes in favor of their party.

At a state legislative level, nothing really changed. This is not the blue wave outcome democrats were hoping for.

2018 saw a flurry of contention in the state as teacher protests and an embattled fight or the state’s education budget created an opportunity for democrats to make headway on a local level.

The republican held state senate and house shot down every single bill put forth by Democratic lawmakers that year that would assist public schools. If education is going to change, this is where the change needs to happen.

It didn’t happen in 2018 and it didn’t happen in 2020.

Interestingly, the one seat in the state senate that flipped blue this year was won by Christine Marsh, long-time educator and former Teacher of the Year who beat out incumbent Kate Brophy-McGee in Legislative District 28 which encompasses much of Scottsdale, North Phoenix, and Paradise Valley.

It’s a solid sign that points toward a greater focus on education in the state that is supported by the success of Proposition 208: Invest in Education Act, which provides support and funding for public schools.

Change is slow and celebration is swift. It will most likely take several more election cycles before more progress is made in flipping the guts of the state blue, starting with a gubernatorial race in 2022 that is certain to be heated after Republican Governor Doug Ducey came under scrutiny from both sides with his handling of COVID-19.

Democrats may have won the battle, but they are far from winning the war. There’s still a lot of fighting left to do. We can expect both sides to double down and increase the number of voters on their side of the rope, hoping to land the state firmly on their side.

*Note: All races calls noted in this article are near-final tallies as of November 13. There are still a very small number of votes to be counted with some races not formally called.

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Flaming pinball, nerd, music lover, wine snob, horrible violin player. No, I won’t stop taking pictures of my drinks. vanessaltorre@gmail.com IG: vanessaltorre

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