Yet Biden held the lead as more votes came in, and was still leading Trump by six points, 52.4 to 46.3, by 11:30 p.m., the state Secretary of State website showed. The Associated Press called the race for Biden around midnight.
The result was one of the few bright spots in the night for Biden, who was on the ropes in several other swing states. Biden was down in Florida and Michigan, and had lost Ohio, before the Arizona results were announced. Nationally, and in key states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the race was still too close to call.
Biden's win marks only the second time Arizona has gone for a Democrat since the 1950s, after voting for Bill Clinton in 1996.
At a GOP watch party just before 9:30 p.m., Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward talked optimistically about Trump's chances in the state.
"We are on the path to victory folks," she said. "And guess what: Republicans turned out today, across Maricopa County and across the state. So stay tuned for another late night, another nail biter, but I’m going to tell you, I’m confident we are winning this state, and President Trump’s gonna be the next president of the United States of America."
Minutes later, Fox News announced its declaration of victory for Biden in Arizona, surprising Republicans attending the party.
"The Fox News Decision Desk can now project that former Vice President Joe Biden will win the state of Arizona, dramatically narrowing the president’s pathway to reelection," the news network reported.
The announcement drew quick condemnation from Trump campaign senior advisor Jason Miller, who tweeted, "WAY too soon to be calling Arizona...way too soon. We believe over 2/3 of those outstanding Election Day voters are going to be for Trump. Can’t believe Fox was so anxious to pull the trigger here after taking so long to call Florida. Wow."
Ducey then tweeted: "It’s far too early to call the election in Arizona. Election Day votes are not fully reported, and we haven’t even started to count early ballots dropped off at the polls. In AZ, we protected Election Day. Let’s count the votes — all the votes — before making declarations."
It’s far too early to call the election in Arizona. Election Day votes are not fully reported, and we haven’t even started to count early ballots dropped off at the polls. In AZ, we protected Election Day. Let’s count the votes — all the votes — before making declarations.— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) November 4, 2020
After AP called the race, Ducey again protested via Twitter: "Not so fast. The race has narrowed in #AZ considerably. 130,000 votes separate the candidates, with hundreds of thousands of votes yet to be counted, from all over the state. I'll say it again: Let's count the votes, and let the people decide rather than making declarations."
Eyes across the country had been on Arizona for much of the race. In 2016, more than three million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, but Trump won the electoral vote 304 to 227. This time, political analysts saw several scenarios that made Arizona's 11 electoral votes crucial for both Trump and Biden. Some polls leading up to the election put Biden ahead, though narrowly.
Trump won Arizona four years ago with 48.1 percent to Hillary Clinton's 44.6 percent and made Arizona look like the red state it typically has been. But the state's good-old-boy guard has been eroding for years, giving the state a more purple hue. Trump only won by about 3 percent in 2016, and this year, Democratic voters were incentivized to vote not only to defeat Trump, but also to elect Mark Kelly over Martha McSally, make pot legal, and enact a new tax plan to help fund public schools.
Both candidates spent millions in Arizona for TV and other ads, including $14 million between April and August. But by September, according to NPR, Biden had outspent Trump by nearly 2-to-1, or $43.7 million for Biden, and $26.3 million to support Trump. Even in the pandemic, which has hit Arizona hard and killed more than 6,000 people, state voters were energized and by last week had turned in more early ballots than the total number of people who voted in the 2016 election.
Showing he strongly wanted to win Arizona, Trump made more than a half-dozen visits to the state, including for rallies where he was criticized for encouraging fans to crowd together without masks. One venue where he appeared in June, Dream City Church in Phoenix, subsequently received a warning from the Arizona Attorney General's Office to quit making false claims about its alleged virus-killing air purification system. Trump's family and Vice President Mike Pence also came for visits. Biden and running mate Kamala Harris came for campaign stops last month.
Trump seemed to have lost support in Arizona since 2016 according to numerous pre-election polls, a trend that wasn't surprising, especially to Democrats. Despite the state's Republican bent, Trump's antics caused many Republicans to sour on him. He found an enemy in late Senator John McCain, who was mocked by Trump for being shot down in the Vietnam War. He caused the resignation of Senator Jeff Flake, who didn't want to concede to Trump politics in order to wage a campaign battle against Kyrsten Sinema. In 2018, Republicans saw several key posts go to Democrats, including a Senate seat to Sinema and the Secretary of State spot to Katie Hobbs.
Garrick McFadden, a vice chair of the Arizona Democratic Party and chair of Black Engagement for the Maricopa County Democratic Party, said Trump and Republicans made serious missteps over the last several years that cost them Republican votes. This comes on top of a slowly evolving electorate that has eroded GOP dominance of the State Legislature and made the state more purple. Winning begets more party supporters, McFadden noted.
Trump's treatment of some veterans and the military didn't always play well in Arizona, a state with several important military installations and thousands of service personnel and their families, McFadden said.
"And he's a draft dodger," he added.
In spite of the pandemic this year, "Democrats went out and aggressively talked to their neighbors," he said. The Black vote in Arizona was mobilized effectively, returns by Tuesday afternoon showed. In 2016, 43 percent of Black registered Democrats voters turned out — yet as of four days ago, 60 percent of Black Democrats had voted for the 2020 election, McFadden said. Black Republicans were at 31 percent at the same time, while Independents were at 23.1 percent, he said.
Vernon Parker, former mayor of Paradise Valley and Republican congressional candidate, bought some of his favorite cigars and settled in to watch the election, calling the presidential race "the most fascinating" of his life.
"I've just been riveted to the television," Parker said. "Win or lose, each candidate should be happy we have reinvigorated our democracy."
At 9 p.m., Parker was hopeful Trump would win but nervous about the large, early lead posted by Biden.
"The state has truly changed," Parker said. "Kelly spent $100 million on that senate seat. That typically helps the presidential candidate [from the same party.]" He added that a Kelly win, giving Arizona two Democratic senators, would be a seismic shift in the state.
Asked what Trump could have done better in Arizona, Parker praised Trump's team for repeatedly campaigning in the state while Biden hid in his "basement."
"There's not much more they could have done," Parker said of Trump's team.
Cheryl Pelletier, a member of Scottsdale's Palo Verde Republican Women group, remained confident before polls closed in Arizona that Trump would pull off a victory here and nationally.
"If they don't cheat, we win," she said on Tuesday. "I've had Democrats tell me they're voting for Trump and have never voted Republican before."
Still, Pelletier was spending the evening drinking some wine as her husband barbecued, and they didn't have the news on, she said.
"I don't want to see any of it," she said. "I'll wait until tomorrow.
New Times staff writer Josh Kelety contributed to this article. Note: The headline was altered after publication to reflect, as the original story reported, AP and Fox called the Arizona race.