Stephen Lemons Column

Dems Hope Hillary Clinton Will Turn Arizona Blue, but Reality Argues Otherwise

Delusion is a powerful force. After all, life is often bleak — and obsessively pondering that bleakness can incapacitate one's ability to endure.

Take this idea that rolls around every four years among local Democrats — and, often, folks who don't have to live here — that this political cycle will be different in the Land That Time Forgot, that Arizona will turn blue, or at least a reasonable shade of purple. Sounds great, but it never seems to happen, or at least hasn't since 1996, when Bill Clinton took the state during those halcyon, pre-9/11 days.

In this year's presidential election, the theory goes, the Democratic base in Arizona will be energized as never before by the fear of that giant black hole of xenophobia and bigotry named Donald Trump. Many polls show the Republican standard bearer leading in Cactus Country, by anywhere from three or four to as many as eight points. Still, at the low end, his lead remains within the margin of error.

As a result, we hear that Arizona is "in play," and some recent news bolsters that contention. For example, as this column goes to press, Hillary Clinton reportedly has made a six-figure ad buy in Arizona to show her campaign's now-famous commercial of wide-eyed tots watching TV as Trump talks about shooting people in the street, mocks the disabled, and drops F-bombs. In other words, the stuff that earned him the nomination of the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower.

And Jeff Flake, Arizona's junior U.S. Senator, a persistent Republican critic of The Donald, recently told CNN's Jake Tapper that Trump's nasty rhetoric toward Latinos and others had led to Democrats spending money in Sand Land, which is not good for Republicans.

Let's go, Dems, right? Only, there was similar talk in the run-up to the last presidential contest. As early as December 2011, the New York Times informed readers that President Barack Obama's re-election team had opened offices in Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff in a play for Arizona. The impetus, according to the Times: an immigration crackdown here, coupled with a Hispanic population boom, had created "a surprising opportunity to compete in a Republican state."

This narrative persisted in different forms throughout 2012. And there were polls that showed an opening for Obama in the Grand Canyon State. One in October 2012 had Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney in a dead heat. Arizona Democrats fielded a gem of a candidate, former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, to challenge Flake for the open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jon Kyl.

In the end, Carmona lost by about three points, and Romney won the state by nine points — almost the same amount by which U.S. Senator John McCain won it when he and Obama went mano a mano in 2008.

Mean old white people vote, and mean old white people are a mainstay of the Arizona Republican Party.

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So pardon my skepticism, because I assure you, I would love to see Arizona turn blue or purple or even a lovely magenta. However, cruel reality is reflected in recent registration numbers released by the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, which show that for the first time since January 2014, registered Republicans have surged ahead of those active voters with No Party Preference (NPP), leaving AZ D's mired in third place.

Out of 3.4 million active voters statewide, 1,185,023 are Republicans, 1,164,373 are NPP, and 1,019,050 are Dems.

The gap is wider in blood-red Maricopa County. Here, out of more than 2 million active registered voters, Republicans make up 738,269, NPPs account for 722,271, and Democrats — drum roll, please — 575,701.

If that's not enough of a cold shower for you, check out Nate Silver's, which many regard as being as accurate as a Swiss timepiece. The website offers three different forecast methods: a "Now-cast," showing the likelihood of one candidate or another winning if the election were held today, a "Polls-only forecast," and a "Polls-plus forecast," which takes into account historical and economic data.

Currently, all three models see Trump as far more likely than Clinton to win Arizona's 11 electoral votes, with the obnoxious billionaire ranging from a 66 percent to a 75 percent bet to take the state. The polls-plus forecast has always shown such numbers, though the other two forecast methods have fluctuated.

So I don't buy that Arizona is going to go for Hillary in 2016 like it did for Bill in 1996, though I would be quite happy to be wrong. Thing is, Bill was then and is now far more likable than his wife, and more of a natural politician. Whereas Hillary has all the appeal of Nurse Ratched, Lady Macbeth, and Cersei Lannister of Game of Thrones combined.

Republican strategist Nathan Sproul of the Tempe-based Lincoln Strategy Group had this explanation of the so-far-unrealized dream of Dems to flip the state when I talked with him recently.

"National pundits and strategists always view Arizona as being in play, because they say, 'How can a state with that many Hispanics not be more Democrat?'" he said.

The answer? Mean old white people vote, and no insult to Sproul, mean old white people are a mainstay of the Arizona Republican Party. A lot of them love The Donald.

Sproul also points out that HRC's numbers have been slipping of late in places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, seen previously as hers to lose.

If Hillary's polling continues as-is, "she's gonna be out of Arizona in a hurry," Sproul opined, adding, "You don't necessarily go for the landslide when you're struggling to hold on to Wisconsin."

Laurie Roberts at the Arizona Republic, recently penned a column claiming that McCain was in big trouble in his general-election battle with Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, declaring that, "As goes Donald Trump in Arizona, so will go John McCain."

Which is why McCain most likely will win. Moreover, passion is not something Kirkpatrick inspires. Instead, she inspires Democrats to dutifully cast their ballots for her. And, as the registration numbers demonstrate, that will not be sufficient to beat McCain, who just crushed "Chemtrail Kelli" Ward in the primary by 11 points, though months back, some pundits were talking her up as a serious threat to McCain. That she has never been.

True, the far right loathes McCain, but Tea Party types are a minority of the majority and they are not going to be voting for Ann Kirkpatrick. Personally, I wish she had stayed put in the First Congressional District, as she would have had a better chance against Sheriff Paul Babeu, who won the GOP primary last week with about 31 percent of the vote in a five-person field, than Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Tom O'Halleran, who won the Democratic primary in the district.

Babeu carries more baggage than a cruise ship, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already begun its air attack with ads reminding voters of said baggage. I hope it works, because Babeu, despite all of his scandals, oozes charisma like a snail oozes slime. O'Halleran — who would be a fine Congressman, by the way — makes the staid Kirkpatrick resemble Beyoncé by comparison. Democrats do have a slight registration advantage in CD1, which should help O'Halleran.

The final unofficial tally in CD5's GOP primary showed former state senate president Andy Biggs, who is just to the right of Vlad the Impaler, prevailing over ex-GoDaddy executive Christine Jones, by a mere nine votes. State law requires a recount, and Jones, who is loaded, has unleashed her lawyers on the situation.

Still, talk about a disappointment. I had been looking forward to rubbing it in that Biggs — who takes a dim view of women's rights and infamously blocked legislation that would have helped child brides escape Colorado City's polygamous community — got beat by a girl. Now I'll have to await the outcome of the recount to see if I can use that jibe.

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