Arizona ACLU Pours $130K Into Spanish-Language Ads for Secretary of State Race

Katie Hobbs, the Democratic candidate for Arizona Secretary of State.
Katie Hobbs, the Democratic candidate for Arizona Secretary of State. Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Spanish-language radio ads against Steve Gaynor, the Republican Arizona Secretary of State candidate, have been warning voters that Gaynor “openly advocated to make it harder to vote for non-English speakers.”

In Arizona, the secretary of state is the elections chief and second-in-command. With less than a week until the midterm elections, polling released Tuesday by HighGround, Inc., showed Gaynor's opponent, Democrat Katie Hobbs, leading by 1.2 percentage points. Those results remain within the poll’s margin of error of 4.9 percent.

The campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona is a $129,880 effort of radio and online advertisements that began on October 15 and will run through November 5, the day before the election. The radio advertisements, which cost $100,000 themselves, began airing October 15 on Spanish-language stations in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. The remainder of the money was spent on Facebook ads.

“This year, Arizonans will decide between two candidates for Secretary of State with very different views on how to run our elections,” the ads say in Spanish, according to translations provided by the ACLU of Arizona. “Right now, the law protects all eligible voters, no matter what language they speak. But Gaynor wants the law changed so that ballots would only be provided in English.”

click to enlarge A screengrab from one of the ACLU's advertisements. - COURTESY OF THE ACLU OF ARIZONA
A screengrab from one of the ACLU's advertisements.
Courtesy of the ACLU of Arizona
The ads continue that Democrat Katie Hobbs, Gaynor’s opponent, “has pledged to defend the law and protect our right to vote.”

The ACLU says it does not endorse or oppose candidates.

“We just wanted to make sure that as this election got closer, people had the opportunity to hear about the difference in the secretary of state candidates when it came to protecting voting rights and civil liberties,” said Tony Cani, political director for the ACLU of Arizona.

“Spanish-language radio was an important buy for us, because we wanted to ensure that that was a population that could be impacted by policies debated in this election,” Cani added. “Any candidates or elected officials that talk about ways to make that stuff more difficult, we’re going to do our best to hold them accountable.”

Gaynor made headlines in August when he said at a candidate forum that election materials should be only in English, and not in Spanish, counter to federal law. He has since walked back on that position. On Tuesday, he told Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes of KTAR (92.3 FM) in a radio interview, “I did say it, but what I’m saying to you is, as a public official, I would uphold the law.”

HighGround's poll asked would-be voters which secretary of state candidate they would vote for if elections were held today. Nearly 43 percent chose Gaynor, 45 percent picked Hobbs, and 11.3 percent refused or said they didn’t know.

Gaynor faces a deficit of nearly 8 points among female voters, the poll showed. He enjoyed a comfortable majority of support from Republicans (more than 80 percent), people who called themselves very conservative (nearly 90 percent) and somewhat conservative (about 72 percent). Hobbs had more support among independent and unaffiliated voters, garnering 55.2 percent to Gaynor’s 28.1 percent.

HighGround’s poll surveyed 400 likely Arizona voters by phone last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Paul Bentz, senior vice president of research and strategy at HighGround, told Phoenix New Times. It aimed to model the likely turnout of voters by party, age, region and gender. Of those it surveyed, 43 percent were Republican, 33 percent Democrat, 15 percent undeclared, and 9 percent independent/other, according to a press release.

These results are a shift from other polls in early October — conducted by a different firm — that gave Gaynor a lead over Hobbs of 4 to 14 percentage points.
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Elizabeth Whitman was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from March 2019 to April 2020.