Independents and impeachment could determine Arizona's electoral future

Independents and impeachment could determine Arizona's electoral future

During President Obama’s eight years in office, Democrats famously lost about 900 elective offices — governorships, seats in state legislatures and in Congress. 

Whether hundreds of Republicans suffer the same fate under President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE remains to be seen. But if Arizona becomes a microcosm of the nation, GOP officeholders may need to start looking for second careers soon.

Case in point is one of the closest and most expensive U.S. Senate races in the country, which features incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySchumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up GOP group launches million ad campaign pressing Kelly on filibuster Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE and retired astronaut Mark KellyMark KellyHarris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor Poll: Two-thirds of AZ Democratic voters back primary challenge to Sinema over filibuster MORE.

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Already, Kelly has amassed a campaign war chest that makes some Democratic presidential candidates salivate. As of the 3rd quarter, Kelly’s campaign had raked in about $14 million. McSally, no laggard in her own right, received about $8.5 million in donations.

No one doubts this race will be close. McSally lost the 2018 Senate race to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema by just 3 points. Polling shows McSally within the margin of error against Kelly.

Republicans are right to be concerned in Arizona. After the 2018 election, Democrats held 29 of the 60 seats in the state House. Republicans have held a tight grip on the House for decades, at times holding veto-proof majorities of 40 seats. But 2018 brought a wave of Democrats to both the House and statewide elected offices. Four Democrats captured statewide seats, including Sinema. The secretary of state is now a Democrat. If Gov. Doug Ducey were to receive an appointment to a Trump administration post, a Democrat would be elevated to the top job for the first time since Janet Napolitano was in office more than a decade ago.

Two of the state’s competitive congressional districts are held by Democrats and no serious Republican has lined up to take them on. And one ruby red district is drawing serious Democratic interest because the member is under House Ethics Committee investigation.

That Arizona has become a battleground state could not have been foreseen just a few years ago. But Trump won the state with less than 50 percent of the vote in 2016.

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No poll shows Trump crossing the 50 percent mark in Arizona. And in fact, voters could put Arizona in the blue column for the first time since 1996 when President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonOvernight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' Biden rolls dice by getting more aggressive on vaccines Amanda Knox blasts 'Stillwater' movie: 'Does my name belong to me? MORE defeated Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas).

Arizona, at least since Trump took office, has become a battleground state. A turning point could be impeachment. Impeachment in the Grand Canyon State is not as popular as it is in some other parts of the country. An OH Predictive Insights poll in November among 900 registered voters showed 47 percent are opposed to impeachment and removal, with 42 percent in support. Arizonans are clearly split.

Will impeachment finally push Trump above the 50 percent job approval mark? Will the Democrats overplay this entirely partisan impeachment push? Recent polling holds some clues.

Polling in November showed that Trump’s job approval is underwater by 4 points (46 percent/50 percent). Both Trump job approval and the impeachment question break down almost evenly on party lines.

Among independent voters, Trump’s job approval is -13 points. But independents also oppose impeachment by 7 points.  The data indicate that Democrats may have jumped the shark on impeachment with Arizona’s all-important independent voters. 

And how will impeachment play down ballot? McSally will almost surely vote no in the Senate trial. Notably, Kelly is virtually silent on impeachment. As is Sinema. Her vote may give Kelly cover when he makes his feelings known.

Polling in February 2019 in a head-to-head matchup between Kelly and McSally showed 46 percent of Arizona likely voters support McSally and 44 percent support Kelly. The latest polling as of December 2019 found that Kelly has a slight edge, although the race is currently a statistical dead heat, with Kelly at 47 percent support and McSally with 44 percent support, with 9 percent still undecided. 

The 2018 U.S. Senate election was the 4th most expensive federal race in the country and the most expensive race in Arizona’s history. The 2020 will likely top those figures. Add to that a presidential race in which the incumbent, impeached but saved from conviction, faces an energized Democratic base.

In the Trump era, Arizona is no longer a reliably red state. But November 3, 2020 could show whether impeachment is a bridge too far for Arizona’s middle-of-the-road voters.

Mike Noble is chief of research and managing partner at OH Predictive Insights in Phoenix, Ariz.