‘Extremists didn’t make it’: why Republicans flopped in once-red Arizona | US midterm elections 2022

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Arizonans rejected extremists.

As their new governor, voters chose Katie Hobbs, the Democrat who oversaw the 2020 election, over Kari Lake, the extremist Trump-endorsed election denier who campaigned alongside white supremacists. They re-elected the moderate Democrat Mark Kelly to the Senate over the far-right Blake Masters, who equated abortion to “genocide” and espouses the great replacement theory. For secretary of state, voters chose Adrian Fontes, the former election official who vowed to protect voting rights, over Mark Finchem, a self-identified member of the Oath Keepers.

The results defied many polls and political pundits, but were in line with broader political shifts in the formerly deep-red Copper state. Early estimates suggest that the state saw historic turnout among young voters and Latino voters that grassroots organisations in the state have been working for a decade to register and mobilise.

“Our community voted like their survival depended on it,” said Alejandra Gomez, co-director of the progressive group Lucha. “Because it did.”

Lucha canvassers knocked on more than 450,000 doors, including in rural counties. “We were confident that we would see some gains for Democrats,” she said. But she didn’t expect Democrats and progressives would see some of their best results in decades. Voters not only rejected rightwing election deniers, they also rejected a ballot measure – pushed by state Republicans – that would have imposed onerous new voter identification requirements and made it harder for tribal and student voters to cast ballots.

Just over a decade after Arizona passed one of the more stringent anti-immigrant measures, which encouraged police to stop anyone they thought looked undocumented, voters approved a measure allowing undocumented students access to state-funded financial aid for college.

Adrian Fontes, right, gets a hug from Chuck Coughlin after Fontes declared victory in his race on Monday.
Adrian Fontes, right, gets a hug from Chuck Coughlin after Fontes declared victory in his race on Monday. Photograph: Ross D Franklin/AP

“I’m extremely relieved,’’ said Carla Roberts, 56, who worked with grassroots groups to canvass and register voters ahead of the election. “I’m just so relieved that these extreme candidates didn’t make it.”

Roberts, a mother to a trans daughter who used to vote Republican, turned away from the party as state Republicans began increasingly pushing anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation. Like many moderate Republican and independent voters in the state, she voted for candidates from both parties in the past. The party’s far-right shift in recent years prompted her to change her registration.

Her daughter, Evelyn Roberts, 18, who voted for the first time this year, said she hoped the newly re-elected Democrats would double down on protecting voting rights, trans rights and civil rights overall.

Evelyn, who didn’t yet have a driver’s licence or state ID, and was in the process of changing her name on various government forms, was only able to vote for federal offices due to Arizona’s longstanding voter ID requirements to vote in state elections. This year, the legislature passed a law attempting to expand such requirements to presidential elections.

“We need to remove the fear being created around voting,” she said.

More than a third of voters in Arizona are registered Republicans, nearly a third are Democrats and a third are independent. But until recently, Republican presidential nominees tended to win the popular vote in Arizona. Donald Trump got about 49% of the state’s support in 2016, but four years later he was the first Republican presidential candidate to lose the state in 24 years, allowing Joe Biden to win the presidency.

This year, Trump’s endorsed candidates proved too extreme to win over voters in a state where maverick independence has long been valued over party loyalty. “Arizonans chose solving our problems over conspiracy theories,” Hobbs said at a victory rally.

A man wearing Trump 2020 buttons on his hat listens to Kari Lake, who lost her bid for the governorship, in Phoenix.
A man wearing Trump 2020 buttons on his hat listens to Kari Lake, who lost her bid for the governorship, in Phoenix. Photograph: Olivier Touron/AFP/Getty Images

Extremism and hardline anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric may have ultimately alienated conservative and independent Latino voters who have played increasingly decisive roles in recent elections.

“I think it would be very premature and even a little bit reckless for Democrats to think that they have a mandate now just because they won some very key races statewide against very extreme candidates,” said Joseph Garcia, the executive director of Chicanos Por La Causa Action Fund, a non-partisan group that invested $10m in voter outreach before the primaries and midterms this year. “Had there been more moderate Republicans running in these races, it might have been a different outcome.”

Many Latino voters in the state – including immigrant voters as well as young second-, third- and fourth-generation Mexican Americans – lack strong ties to either big party, according to pre-midterm polling by EquisLabs.

But ultimately Latino voters provided a slim margin of victory for Democrats in Arizona’s Senate race, according to an analysis by UnidosUS, which conducted election day polling in the state.

“Overall, the election was not as good as Republicans expected and not as bad as Democrats had expected,” said Clarissa Martinez, the deputy vice-president of UnidosUS. “But certainly it was a good night for the Hispanic community in the sense that they reaffirmed their critical role in influencing the political landscape.”



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