Biden visits Arizona to woo Latinos amid pushback from left on Gaza | Phoenix New Times

Biden visits Arizona to woo Latinos amid pushback from left on Gaza

Primary voters sent a message to Biden on Tuesday. He came to Phoenix and delivered one to Latinos: ‘I desperately need your help.’
President Joe Biden visited El Portal Mexican Restaurant on Tuesday as he won the Democratic primary in Arizona.
President Joe Biden visited El Portal Mexican Restaurant on Tuesday as he won the Democratic primary in Arizona. El Portal Mexican Restaurant
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It may be time to revise an old political saying to "As Arizona goes, so goes the nation."

President Joe Biden won Arizona, a critical swing state on his path to victory in 2020, by only 10,457 votes. The margin of the state’s upcoming November election, a showdown between Biden and former President Donald Trump, is expected to be similarly razor-thin.

On Tuesday, Biden won Arizona’s Democratic presidential primary by a landslide, but more than 15,300 people voted for author and candidate Marianne Williamson. This happened after progressives organized a protest vote against Biden for his administration’s handling of the humanitarian crisis in Palestine — even though Williamson suspended and unsuspended her campaign in the weeks before the primary.

Those 15,300 presumably disaffected voters could be difference-makers in November. And Democrats across the country are sounding similar notes of protest.

The New York Times published a story on Tuesday about a letter sent to Biden by more than 100 Democratic donors and activists warning the president that progressive anger over Israel’s war in Gaza is “increasing the chances of a Trump victory.”

“Regrettably, President Biden has provided what appears to be unconditional support for the Israeli operation,” the letter reads. “The Biden administration has been providing armaments, including 2,000 lb bombs, which have been used to flatten entire civilian neighborhoods, causing massive casualties with a high ratio of women and children.”
click to enlarge Kai Newkirk at Arizona Capitol
Kai Newkirk and other Valley activists spoke out against Israel’s military campaign that has killed tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza during a press conference on March 11 at the Arizona Capitol.
TJ L'Heureux

‘We need to look at things as humans’

Counting the dead in Gaza has become an unfathomable task. UNICEF estimated on Tuesday that well over 13,000 children have been killed. Time Magazine reported on March 15 that more than 30,000 people have died in Gaza since Oct. 7, when a Hamas terrorist attack on Israelis sparked a new, deadly phase of a decades-long conflict.

Maher Arekat, a Valley entrepreneur who was born in Palestine but was displaced after the Six-Day War of 1967, is on the Arizona Palestine Network's board and has been an outspoken advocate for the U.S. to put more pressure on Israel to protect civilians in Gaza.

"The American people have been awakened with the genocide that is going on. We lost a lot of innocent people," Arekat told Phoenix New Times on Tuesday, emphasizing that he did not support the killing of innocent people on either side but believed that Israel used the Hamas terrorist attack as a pretext to kill as many Palestinians as possible.

"We need to come clean," Arekat said. "We need to look at things as humans."

Arizona is not ground zero in the U.S. for anger about Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, but it is one of the states where progressive dissatisfaction has the potential to minimize turnout and flip the election to Trump.

The number of people who voted for Williamson in the primary, whether in protest of Biden or not, is greater than the margin of votes by which Biden won Arizona in the 2020 presidential election.

Kai Newkirk and Belén Sisa, two progressive community organizers in the Valley, helped lead efforts to get voters to cast their ballot for Williamson under the campaign name Vote Ceasefire AZ.

“While the Biden administration’s recent shifts in response to the protest vote movement are welcome, they are far from enough,” the campaign wrote in a statement on Tuesday after primary results were announced. “To earn the votes to defeat Trump and the fascist MAGA threat in November, President Biden must use his full power now to demand and secure an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza.”

Newkirk and other organizers noted that they are not endorsing Williamson, but rather, trying to send a message to the president.

“There are so many voters in Arizona and other places around the country who are so dismayed and outraged and heartbroken about what’s happening that they’re saying they don’t know if they can bring themselves to cast that vote,” Newkirk said.

After Biden’s State of the Union speech on March 7, the president was caught on a hot mic saying he told Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the two would soon need to have a “come to Jesus meeting” about Israel’s military campaign. Still, the violence raged on this week.

In a press conference on March 11 calling for a ceasefire, Newkirk and other organizers stated that Trump’s rhetoric reflects a willingness to let Israel escalate its war in Gaza.

The Associated Press also reported that Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner said in February that Gaza’s waterfront may be “very valuable.”

“I think from Israel’s perspective, I would do my best to move the people out and then clean it up,” Kushner said.

In addition to pressure from the left, Biden faces a threat from the other direction. Independent and moderate voters, especially those with economic concerns about a steep rise in the cost of living in Arizona, may be swayed toward Trump, even if that rise has little to do with the president.

Recent polls show Biden consistently trailing Trump in the state, though not by much when you consider margins of error.

The good news for Biden is that in the Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, 110,423 Republicans voted for Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who, until recently, was challenging Trump's stranglehold on the party. Surely, those voters will be potential targets for the Biden campaign.

The bottom line is this race is close as hell.
click to enlarge Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego speaks prior to President Joe Biden's remarks at Intel's Ocotillo Campus in Chandler on Wednesday.
Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

Biden to Arizona Latinos: ‘I desperately need your help’

The Biden campaign is staying away from the gruesome topic of civilian deaths in Gaza and focusing its energy elsewhere: toward courting Latino voters and highlighting the president’s economic policies.

On the day of the primary, Biden made a stop in Phoenix and launched a Latino outreach campaign. He spoke to an audience of about 75 supporters at El Portal, a Mexican restaurant and community mainstay in South Phoenix.

Getting Latino voters to support his reelection campaign is critical for Biden’s chances of winning Arizona in November and, consequently, winning the election.

“You're the reason why in large part I beat Donald Trump,” Biden appealed to Latinos at the event. “I desperately need your help.”

Biden’s remarks focused partly on Trump’s demonization of immigrants. In December, Trump said immigrants were "poisoning the blood" of America.

Biden also hit on his working-class background and his administration's policies that brought the economy back from the dark days of the coronavirus pandemic.

That night, Biden breezed to a primary win. Arizona Democratic Party Chair Yolanda Bejarano released a written statement brimming with confidence about November.

“Four years ago, Arizonans' values for Democracy and unity in the face of Donald Trump’s campaign of divisiveness, retribution and revenge helped secure President Biden’s win, and this year, we’re confident that our state will choose President Biden’s vision of unity and progress again,” Bejarano said.

“If tonight's results are any indication, Arizona will deliver again this November," she added.

The Arizona Republic reported that Bejarano voiced concern after the El Portal event about efforts to make Latino voters aware of what the administration has been doing.

“I think it's that we have not been talking to folks about the issues that President Biden has been delivering on,” Bejarano told the Republic. “Things like jobs, the CHIPS Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, lowering prescription drug prices.”

Republican state lawmakers’ efforts to pass controversial immigration bills also may help mobilize more Latino voters against Trump and other Republicans down the ballot, with Latino groups such as Living United for Change in Arizona planning ambitious voter outreach efforts.

On Wednesday, Biden announced that Intel Corp. will receive up to $8.5 billion in federal grants, making it one of the largest federal investments in U.S. semiconductor chip manufacturing. Semiconductor chips are essential for a wide range of electronic products and historically have been manufactured in countries other than the U.S. The grants come from the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, which Biden signed as part of a strategy to revive domestic manufacturing.

Several Democratic Valley leaders joined Biden for the announcement, including Gov. Katie Hobbs, Rep. Greg Stanton and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego.

Gallego called the investment a “game-changer” for the entire Phoenix metro area in a written statement.

“As we fast become the nation’s leader in semiconductor manufacturing and a hub for the industry’s robust supply chain, we are ushering in thousands of high-wage jobs — many of which do not require a four-year degree,” Gallego said. “I am grateful to the president."
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