As Arizona Votes, RNC Rejects "Swing State" Talk

As Arizona Votes, RNC Rejects "Swing State" Talk

By Erin McPike - February 28, 2012

That Mitt Romney is expected to roll to victory in today's Arizona primary overshadows a potential problem for the GOP this November: The Grand Canyon State is on President Obama's radar. He and Vice President Joe Biden have together made at least five trips to the state since taking office.

So, with the political world still enraptured by the GOP’s ongoing intraparty saga, the Republican National Committee has kept its focus on the president and the electoral map this fall. And one of its goals is clear: Avoid the perception that Arizona is becoming a swing state.

In December, after the Obama campaign laid out potential pathways to victory -- with one if them including a win in Arizona -- the RNC issued a memo titled “Arizona in Play? Really?” And just a week ago, the committee blasted another document to the press with the same subject heading; it included the original memo but was topped with an additional document about the Obama campaign’s “mirage” in the state.

And at the end of January, the RNC pointed reporters to the president’s approval ratings in a number of states, singling out Arizona. “Gallup is out with their 50 state approval rating comparisons for 2011 and 2010,” the committee noted. “Appears the president’s approval rating dropped in every state but Wyoming, Connecticut and Maine -- not exactly battleground states. On the other hand, the president’s approval has gone down in every swing state Obama needs to win in November. Also notable, Arizona’s approval rating is at just 39 percent.”

The December memo, penned by the RNC’s political director in the western region, Rick Wiley, points to a Public Policy Polling (D) survey that showed the president’s approval rating upside down. It also questioned Obama’s ability to appeal to a wide swath of Latino voters, noting that Arizona is bordered by two states with Republican Hispanic governors -- New Mexico’s Susanna Martinez and Nevada’s Brian Sandoval. The memo observes that Republicans increased their majorities in the Arizona legislature in 2010 -- something that happened all over the country during the midterms -- and asserts, “Nothing here screams ‘purple state.’”

Wiley notes that Republicans hold a sizable voter registration advantage in Arizona, and concludes: “If the Obama campaign wants to spend millions in a state he lost in 2008, we welcome that strategy because it means he won’t be spending it in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida where he won in 2008 and is currently under water in the polls.” (The president, who is likely to shatter fundraising records, is unlikely to stop spending money in any state simply to send it to Arizona.)

For all the drama that has taken place in the Republican primary, indications in recent weeks that Rick Santorum was making a charge at Mitt Romney in Arizona appear to have been a false alarm -- which is a break for the GOP. If that had happened, more light may have been shed on the political dynamics there ahead of the fall election, as has been the case in Michigan. And a more tense fight could well have caused more damage to the already weakened Romney. 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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