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Arizona an Unlikely Pickup for Obama, Experts Say

By Alexis Simendinger - June 13, 2012

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“The reason the administration thinks it can go after Arizona is part factual and part campaign hype,” said Antonio Gonzalez, president of William C. Velasquez Institute, a nonpartisan Latino public policy research organization with offices in California and Texas. “This is the factual part: the Latino vote is surging . . . and that’s their card [in the campaign]. The hype is about campaign tactics and strategy. The incumbent, with plenty of money and staff, decides to say he can play in his opponent’s back yard – ‘I’m going to come and get you on your turf.’ . . . In Arizona, this is more a misdirected play.”

To capture the Grand Canyon State, Obama would need to spend heavily to advertise, make appearances, register voters, and organize in key counties to turn out his supporters. He is fully engaged in that effort in traditional battleground states, but even his recent Spanish-language ads have not aired in Arizona.

“I suspect the state is safe for Romney,” said Zachary Smith, regents’ professor at Northern Arizona University, who teaches state and local politics and public policy, including environmental policy. “With the large Hispanic population in Arizona, I think Arizona could be in play, but it would take a great deal of grass-roots organizing to get the registration numbers up and to get the voters to the polls,” he said. “I don’t see that happening.”

About a third of Arizona’s registered voters are not affiliated with either major party. About a third of the state’s population is Hispanic. And women are considered an important and influential element in this year’s contest. In 2008, McCain bested Obama in Arizona among women, men, every age bracket except 18-29-year-olds, and among whites, but not Latinos. Among the 61 percent of Arizonans who said the economy was the most important issue in the 2008 election, McCain narrowly outpaced Obama, 50 percent to 49 percent, according to exit polls. Obama nabbed 85 percent of Democrats, and 51 percent of independents, while McCain captured 92 percent of Republicans in the state.

Romney, who is expected to be in Arizona on June 25, has thus far appeared to shrug off worries about defending that turf against an Obama insurgency.

“They’ve got their own internal polls and they can see they’re ahead. I don’t think they’re too worried,” Richard Herrera, associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies, said of the Romney campaign.

“My sense is [the Obama campaign] doesn’t have a legitimate chance of taking the state,” he added. “They think it would be nice to have it, but they are probably focused on other states.”

Luis Heredia, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, agreed. “It would really take a different kind of campaign to get the president elected in Arizona,” he told RCP. Because of what Heredia called “Republican overreach” on immigration, the secretary of state’s ballot inquiries about Obama’s birth certificate, Gov. Jan Brewer’s heated tarmac tete-a-tete with the president, and other public skirmishes, he thinks openings now exist to “build up a really strong ground game where we’re regularly talking to people” who are primed to support Democratic policies over the GOP agenda.

But “Arizona hasn’t seen that type of energy,” Heredia lamented. “Right now the president has an uphill battle.” 

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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