Trailing in Ariz., Trump Takes Different Path Than in 2016
Trailing in Ariz., Trump Takes Different Path Than in 2016
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President Trump chose Prescott, Ariz., population 39,843, for the first of his two rallies in the key battleground state Monday, heading to Tucson later in the day. It’s the second time in as many visits that the president skipped a stop in heavily populated metro Phoenix, a decision that has some GOP strategists close to the campaign scratching their heads.

As polls show Joe Biden leading in most swing states, the Trump campaign has touted its voter registration drives as a silver lining that will help hand him victory. But in Arizona, where Republicans have long held a voter registration edge, Democrats have made the most registration gains this cycle, increasing their numbers by 18.4% and shrinking the GOP’s edge to just 50,000 voters. Moreover, more than 31% of the state’s voters aren’t registered with either party, and those independents are growing in number.

The state of play in this purple-trending state is particularly hard to read this year. Progressive groups pushed for a 10-day extension of the voter registration deadline, leading to more than 35,000 new sign-ups in recent weeks. But more Republicans registered than Democrats, 11,000 to 8,300, respectively, while the number of new independents — 15,400 — surpassed both parties’ tally.

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, a Democrat, told reporters Monday that he rejects the idea his state is predominantly red and just recently trending purple. The voter registration breakdown, he points out, is basically a third Republican, a third Democrat and a third independent. With the numbers so evenly dispersed, winning over swing voters and turnout are what matters. Woods believes Democratic voters in the state are more energized to vote this year because of what he describes as Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout the state has faced.

“I think we’re going to have a big turnout in Arizona,” he said. “I think it will be a record turnout. And that’ll be great for democracy, and it will be great for Joe Biden.”

Two weeks ago, Vice President Mike Pence held a rally in a Phoenix suburb, and the Trump campaign has blanketed the area with television ads. On Monday, Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, announced a coordinated ad buy with the Republican National Committee that would increase ad spending in Arizona by more than $1 million this week.

But as the race comes down to the final argument, Phoenix-area polling shows Trump getting trounced in the population center. He took Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, by a slim margin four years ago against Hillary Clinton, helping him put Arizona in the win column and continuing the state’s history of voting Republican in every presidential contest since 1952, with the exception of 1996.

If current polls prove accurate, Trump needs an even bigger boost from rural voters than they provided in 2016 while also cutting into Biden’s lead in the blue bubble of Tucson, home to the University of Arizona.

Trump projected only confidence at his Prescott rally, where thousands of supporters cheered him on a sun-drenched tarmac.

“It’s going to be big. You don’t have events like this and come in second in Arizona,” he told the crowd Monday afternoon. “We are in first place in Arizona.”

He also suggested the state is doing “great with the pandemic,” crediting GOP Gov. Doug Ducey’s leadership, even as COVID cases tick up again. Since Oct. 1, the average daily number of new infections in Arizona has risen by 59%, from 480 cases per day to 764 cases, the state Health Services Department reported Friday.

Later in Tucson, a massive crowd of roughly 10,000 supporters turned out for Trump, according to police estimates.

“I’m thrilled to be in Arizona with thousands of hard-working American patriots,” Trump told the crowd. “Fifteen days from now we’re going to win the state of Arizona. And we’re going to win four more years in this beautiful White House.”

The RealClearPolitics average of polls shows Biden with a 3.1-percentage-point lead in the state. Two weeks before the election in 2016, Clinton held just a 1.3-point edge, and Trump ended up winning by 3.5 points.

In the final push, Democrats are highlighting the importance of the state’s growing Latino vote and younger voters who are backing Biden in much higher numbers than Trump. Gilma Juantia de Leon, an Arizona State University student, told reporters on a conference call Monday that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting Hispanic students like herself, many of whom don’t have optimal health insurance and are attending classes virtually, sometimes without a stable Internet connection.

De Leon also said many of her relatives are small business owners struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic, a problem she blames on Trump for a chaotic re-opening in her state, which locked down again after a summer spike in COVID infections.

Other voters have the exact opposite opinion regarding who is to blame for the state’s 8% unemployment rate after record-low joblessness figures before the pandemic.

After listening to Pence deliver remarks at a rally two weeks ago in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria, Judy Bee, a 74-year-old retiree, said she showed up to demonstrate her support for Trump and how he is fighting for businesses and jobs – even against the Ducey, who has been more cautious about lifting COVID restrictions on businesses after the summer surge in cases.

Bee’s son lost his job amid the spring lockdown and is struggling to find another as he cares for a disabled child. Ducey, she said, partially closed down the businesses while Trump pushed to open them up.

“Why were the bars closed but the casinos can be open? Why are the gyms closed, but rioters can riot?” she asked. “This doesn’t make sense, and Trump is fighting to keep the jobs. I want to let them know we are fighting for them, like they are fighting for us.”

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.

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