Electoral map shake-up: 3 reasons Donald Trump can't count on winning Arizona in 2020

Nathan Sproul

Arizona has only voted Democrat for president once since 1948. George W. Bush won in 2000 and 2004 by comfortable margins.

Even though Barack Obama won the presidency in a landslide in 2008, Arizona’s electoral votes were never in question because our favorite son, Sen. John McCain, was the Republican nominee.

While Mitt Romney wasn’t a favorite son of Arizona, he was a favorite son to many Mormons throughout the state, and in 2012, Arizona was once again solidly in the GOP camp.

Then something disruptive happened: 2016. Most political pundits observed Arizona’s track record and never seriously considered it a swing state. Neither party spent significant resources here. 

Yet Donald Trump barely won against the least liked Democrat since Michael Dukakis.

Trump is causing political realignment

President Trump officially announces his 2020 reelection bid at a rally at the Amway Center in Orlando.

Whether you like President Trump or not, it is impossible to ignore the fact that a political realignment is occurring because of him.

He recognized the Democrats’ Achilles' heel and took full advantage. They have failed to articulate a message to working-class white voters for decades. Going back to FDR, these voters were the Democrats' base.

In fact, when Ronald Reagan figured out how to win them in 1980 and '84, they got the nickname “Reagan Democrats.” They stuck with George H.W. Bush for 1992 but left the GOP in 1996 for Bill Clinton, after the “blue wall” of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania was created.

That wall crumbled in 2016 and gave the country President Trump.

Even though Trump has clearly increased the GOP’s standing in the Midwest industrial states, it comes with a price. In order to gain points in those states, contemporary American politics dictates that he must lose votes in other places, like Arizona.

Arizona may not be a given for Trump

Trump barely won Arizona, a historically reliable Republican state.

Why?

Trump has a message that causes him to lose 4% to 10% in Arizona but gain votes in the industrial Midwest. That causes political realignment, which makes Arizona very important in 2020.

There are three primary reasons why Trump lost votes here while gaining votes in other states:

1.  Border wall rhetoric doesn't play here

Even though Arizona is a border state, there is compelling evidence to suggest that “build the wall” rhetoric works better in the Midwest than in Arizona. 

Our significant Hispanic population has always had a reason to vote Republican when the candidates were Bush and McCain. They both touted guest worker programs and trade with Mexico.

Hispanics in Arizona may not have liked Arizona’s legislative and statewide leadership over the past two decades, but they had much to like with the GOP's presidential nominees.

2.  LDS voters aren't firmly for Trump

The members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are one of the most significant voting blocs in Arizona. However, it is far too simple to cluster all these people into the GOP vote.

Throughout eastern Arizona, most Latter-day Saints are Democrats. They are the quintessential swing voter. Because of their religious faith, they tend to align more closely with Republicans, but in many cases, like Mo Udall, they are third-, fourth- and fifth-generation Democrats.

For the past several decades, they have voted Republican at the federal level and Democrat at the local level. They are gracious, hardworking people. It’s easy to see how the New York combativeness of Trump doesn’t play well with all of them.

It doesn’t take many to swing Arizona away from Trump. Frankly, Trump’s saving grace with these voters is who the Democrats will likely nominate. If the past two years is any indication, the Democrats are poised to lurch so far left that many of these voters will see Trump as acceptable.

3.  Young, expat voters are changing Arizona

There are many new voters turning 18 or moving to Arizona from other places like California. This is a warning for all Republican candidates in Arizona. The electorate isn’t what it was 20 years ago.

Back then, most political observers assumed it would be the growing Hispanic vote that would make Arizona more competitive. Now, we know it’s a combination of the Hispanic vote and the white progressive vote that is making Arizona more competitive.

Arizona will likely assume the role of one of the four or five most important states in the 2020 presidential election. We will almost certainly join the ranks of Florida, Nevada, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Brace yourself, Arizona. How you vote could determine the direction of our country for the next decade or more.

Nathan Sproul is managing director of Lincoln Strategy Group and former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. This column originally appeared in The Arizona Republic. Twitter: @NathanSproul

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Electoral map shake-up: 3 reasons Donald Trump can't count on winning Arizona in 2020