Katie Hobbs in 2015.EXPAND
Katie Hobbs in 2015.

Katie Hobbs Hopes to Ride Blue Wave Into Arizona Secretary of State's Office

Is momentum on Katie Hobbs’ side in the race for Arizona Secretary of State? She thinks so.

She and her 20-something campaign manager, Niles Harris, make their case with numbers. First, there's record midterm turnout from voters, especially Democrats. There's also plenty of wiggle room in imprecise polls that don't show Hobbs in the lead, they say, while better-calibrated surveys give Hobbs a fighting chance in this race. And finally, Hobbs has made gains in the past month, turning the secretary of state's race into one of the tighter statewide races in Arizona.

At this point in the game, her campaign says, the TV and radio spots have been bought and paid for. What’s left, really, is for voters to show up.

“The ballot gap has shrunk enough that we’re feeling pretty optimistic,” Hobbs said, sitting at a cafe in central Phoenix the morning before election day with Harris. Internal campaign polling in early September showed that she had “some ground to make up,” but polls in October have put Hobbs and her opponent, Republican Steve Gaynor, neck and neck, she added (we fact-checked, and this is true).

Hobbs sipped from a large, iced almond-milk latte and gathered herself. She has spent the homestretch of her campaign visiting the Navajo Nation, attending weekend campaign events such as one on Saturday at the Arizona Education Association, kicking off canvassers, speaking with phone bankers, and “cheering on the folks doing the work” in the field, “making sure that they’re motivated to keep doing what they’re doing for the next couple of days.” She smiled tiredly and apologized between yawns.

Immediately after the primaries in late August, internal campaign polling showed that 10 percent of those surveyed viewed Hobbs favorably, while 6 percent saw her unfavorably, compared to Gaynor’s 19 percent favorable, 7 percent not. By the time they conducted the survey of 500 voters again, in mid-October, Hobbs’ favorability had surged to 25 percent, while Gaynor’s remained at 19 percent, according to data that Harris shared.

Outside polling in the past month has also showed Hobbs gaining ground, though not necessarily leading, even as Hobbs and others question the precision and accuracy of some models.

At the beginning of October, the firm OH Predictive Insights had Gaynor leading by 14 percent. Three weeks later, his lead had shrunk to 8 percent. In its latest polling, the firm gave Republicans a 9 percent advantage in its “likely voter sample.” Yet the latest data from early ballots, constituting 71 to 74 percent of all received, show Republicans with a 7.4 percent advantage, according to the secretary of state’s office, suggesting that Republican turnout might not exceed Democratic turnout as extensively as polls project.

Another poll, released a week before Election Day by HighGround, Inc., gave Hobbs a 1.2 percentage point lead, well within the poll’s margin of error of 4.9 percent.

Early voting for the 2018 midterms has already exceeded all the votes cast in 2014, according to the secretary of state’s office. Meanwhile, Democrats continue to vote in record numbers. On Friday, early ballot returns gave Republicans a 7.9 point advantage; by Monday, that had dropped to 7.4 points.

The Hobbs campaign sees all of these developments as momentum that could propel her to victory. Meanwhile, shifting polls have helped garner Hobbs additional financial support from Democrats.

The Arizona Democratic Party, for example, poured advertising spending in favor of Hobbs' campaign, without the same level of support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Garcia, who trails incumbent Doug Ducey by double digits.

“People look at the landscape and say, ‘Okay, this race is not the race we should in invest in," Hobbs said, referring to Garcia. "This race is, because it’s the one that’s going to win."

Hobbs, a social worker and Arizona native, first ran for the Arizona Legislature, and won, in 2010. She ran for the State Senate after one term, winning that race too. Now, she's the senate minority leader, in her third term serving the comfortably Democratic LD24, which covers a swath of central Phoenix and edges into south Scottsdale.

She decided to run for secretary of state because of the mismanagement and incompetence she saw, Hobbs said, sounding a bit like someone who could repeat those lines in her sleep. Asked whether she was aiming for governorship, since the secretary of state is effectively the lieutenant governor in Arizona, she rejected the idea.

“That’s absolutely not why I ran for secretary of state,” Hobbs said. “I am a social worker, and I’ve spent my whole career as a social worker working to make the government better for the people.”

She became more animated and sounded less rehearsed as she described her time as a social worker, how she worked with survivors of domestic violence at the Sojourner Center, the domestic violence shelter where she spent 11 years as chief compliance officer. She ran workshops to teach survivors how to protect their identities from former abusers or stalkers when they register to vote.

“It kind of expanded into just, teaching them about voting in general. A lot of women that were there hadn’t voted, or their husband voted for them,” Hobbs said. “The whole process of engaging people in the election process became really something I was just a huge advocate for.”

In contrast to her opponent, Gaynor, who has called for cracking down on illegal voting and restricting access to the ballot in other ways, Hobbs has run on a platform of enhancing voter access. She's focused on Native communities and reservations that lack easy-to-reach postal offices, and on rehabilitated felons who might not even know they are allowed to vote.

Although Hobbs called for repairing relations that were damaged by outgoing Secretary of State Michele Reagan and county recorders — “a strong relationship is critical,” she said, sounding forced again — she hasn’t exactly made headway with that throughout her campaign. “I’ve tried to reach out,” she said. “Certainly there’s a lot on my list I didn’t get to.”

In the run-up to the elections, field workers with the Arizona Democratic Party have been targeting “low-efficiency voters,” campaign-speak for voters who typically stay home during midterm elections, or for new voters, trying to get them to vote for Democrats on Tuesday. Hobbs’ own campaign has been targeting independent and swing voters.

Does she think she can win?

“Yes,” Hobbs said, without skipping a beat. “I think that it’s a very close race, and we probably won’t go to bed knowing that we’re the declared winner, but if you ask any prognosticator in the state, they have me on the top of their list of winners.”

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