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  Baja Arizona: Why Hasn't Pima County been more Democratic in the past?
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Author Topic: Baja Arizona: Why Hasn't Pima County been more Democratic in the past?  (Read 397 times)
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« on: January 19, 2019, 10:43:53 pm »
« edited: January 19, 2019, 10:56:46 pm by Jimmie »

Land of counterintuition

Imagine a county that is pushing 40% Hispanic, a large base of urban white liberals, Native American reservations and few conservative suburbs. Imagine that county gave modest margins for Democratic presidential candidates except in in 2016 when Trump could not even 40% of the vote. Still, Hillary Clinton was stuck at 53% and the county elected a Republican Sheriff by a wide margin while its neighbor to the north ousted a highly controversial Republican sheriff. Note that this is the same county that as early as 2008 rejected a gay marriage ban even while the state voted 56 to 44 to ban same sex marriage and California pass proposition 8. The major city of the county was a large portion of a district that elected a Republican Martha McSally to Congress. To be fair, the Latino portion of the city was not in the 2nd congressional but rather the 3rd. However, the portion in the 2nd congressional district can not be described as hard right by any stretch of the imagination.  

This same county is known to be very poor and gets made fun of and is a stigma to the rest of the state and has a cost of living comparable to St. Louis, MO. A rarity out in the west especially in an urban county.

This is Pima County, Arizona.

You would think this county would vote Democrat by 20-point margins. It does not but it could well on its way to doing so. The county came to some demographic predictability in its voting patterns in the 2018 elections when Sinema defeated local congresswoman Martha McSally by double digits here and Democrats smashed most of the GOP candidates running for statewide office by wide margins. Only in the gubernatorial contest was the GOP competitive with Doug Ducey losing Pima County by only three points.

Pima County’s underwhelming Democratic performance has hurt Democrats in Arizona

Consider that in 2010 Attorney General election Tom Horne defeated Democratic candidate Felecia Rotellini by 63,293 votes.  If Rotellini was able to hit the 60% mark in Pima County as the Democrats best candidate, it would not have made the different statewide, but it would have been good for 19,000 additional votes. That would have implied she would have been able to do better in places like Phoenix and Scottsdale in neighbor county to the north. The problem for Democrats in Arizona has been lack of infrastructure. There was no reason other than lack of infrastructure that Tom Horne was able to hit the 46% mark in Pima County in 2010. It would not have changed the outcome statewide if he only obtained 39% but it illustrates the infrastructure point.

The 2014 Superintendent of Public Instruction contest is an election in which Pima County’s Democratic underperformance made the difference. None other than 2018 gubernatorial candidate David Garcia was defeated by 16,034 votes statewide. In Pima County Republican Diane Douglas earned 47% of the vote and Garcia only defeated her by 13,000 votes in the county. Surely Democrats should have been able to find 3,000 to 4,000 more votes in the county to defeat someone who was not really qualified to hold he office. In this election a pathetic performance for Democrats in Pima County is what cost Democrats an office.  Terry Goddard also slightly underperformed in Pima County for his Secretary of State campaign in Pima County, but it would not have made a difference in the statewide result.

We could be heading to a new future in Pima County

We will need to see in the 2020 elections if those trends hold locally and federally. They just may with the increasing polarization of urban vs rural but in theory Pima County should have been voting as strongly Democratic in 2018 in previous election cycles.  This has hurt Democrats greatly in Arizona in building a bench before.

Fortunately, times are a’ changing. Sinema defeated McSally by 55,900 votes statewide. If Pima County was taken out of the state or its own state as Baja Arizona now, McSally would have won by just under 5,000 votes. That is even with Maricopa County voted for the Democrat! It is true that if we took Maricopa County out of the state and left Pima County in that McSally would have won by just under 5,000 votes as well. This is despite rural Arizona having many Native American and Hispanic voters. It just shows how powerful and highly dedicated the rural white votes are to Trump.

Fun Fact: Maricopa and Pima counties have nearly identical raw vote margins for Sinema over McSally in the Senate election but in percentage terms it is apparent that the eastern side of Tucson abandoned McSally big time

The 2018 Secretary of State election is also quite telling. The fact that Democrat Katie Hobbs won the second highest position in the state while Doug Ducey was landsliding statewide was a step in the right direction. Hobbs won by just over 20,000 votes statewide while winning Pima County by 70,533 votes! Yes, I did confirm, if Maricopa County did not exist in the state but Pima County did this contest would have been decided by just 100 votes in favor of the Democrat.

Why the relative GOP strength in the past?

Now even with times and voting patterns changing why has Pima County in the past have produced underwhelming Democratic margins despite favorable demographics and a fairly liberal white population and had a lack of once notoriously Republican sunbelt suburbs?

1)   We can all know this obvious fact. Many of the Hispanic population were in the past and many today are still not citizens and are unable to vote. Also, this population is younger than average and many are unable to vote due to age. But we all knew this.

2)   Suburbs such as Marana and Oro Valley are just large enough in population and have high turn out rates which often cancelled out votes in the city of Tucson. It was enough to make an impact and keep the GOP competitive in Pima County.

3)   Even today I have noticed an element and I am sure this was truer in the past that many in Pima County are concerned about large numbers of illegal immigrants. Not the same intensity as the more conservative Phoenix suburbs but the element is there. Even parts of the long settled Hispanic population were uneasy with the large amount of illegal immigration and drug crisis’s.

4)   To be blunt, Tucson has a far higher crime rate than any city of size in the state of Arizona. As we see in the suburbs of St. Louis it can push people away from the Democratic Party.

5)   Tucsonans seem to be “conservative progressives” so to speak. There is little appetite for more infrastructure building in the city and I may well be wrong on this but if I had to pick a blue county that would reject a large light rail expansion it would be Pima County, Arizona. The element of the population that does not want Tucson to become another Phoenix or Los Angeles is there and vocal. At least these conservatives in Tucson are conservative in all the right ways as well as they do not seem very materialistic and conserve water. Something that their wealthy counterparts in Phoenix and Southern California would never do.

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