How Arizona Latinos Could Help Turn It Blue for First Time Since Clinton in '96

With the Arizona primaries complete, attention turns to the general election and a question that has vexed Democrats since Bill Clinton won it in 1996—how to turn Arizona blue?

Experts on the ground say the landscape in the state has changed, with President Donald Trump having to renew his fight for the kinds of suburban, independent voters he relied on in 2016. But with their increasing numbers and growing frustration with Trump's leadership, Latino voters—who make up nearly a quarter of eligible voters in Arizona—could play a central role in tipping the state toward presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Early voting data for the primary suggests that despite obstacles presented by the pandemic, Latino voters are motivated to vote in Arizona, with 21.7 percent of the electorate being Hispanic as of Monday.

"We've never seen this much turnout, it's unprecedented," Eduardo Sainz, state director for grassroots group Mi Familia Vota, told Newsweek.

The group, which has made 1 million calls to Latinos in the state, said "Latina women are playing a key role" in the voting numbers, with 58 percent of the Latino vote on the Democratic side.

Increased Hispanic voter turnout is not new, but it is important to understanding an evolving Arizona. Latino turnout in 2018 was 48.8 percent, much higher than the 31.8 percent during the 2014 midterm, but even higher than the 2016 presidential turnout of 47.4 percent, cycles that traditionally draw larger electorates.

After a drawn-out primary ended against Senator Bernie Sanders, who was very competitive among Latino voters, Biden began with soft support in some states among Latinos. He started his investment later, needing to first raise funds for the programs his campaign wanted to build.

But his Latino support in Arizona has ticked up, with 69 percent of voters saying they would support him in a July CBS News battleground tracking poll. Hillary Clinton received 61 percent of Latino support in Arizona, according to exit polls.

A Democratic source who asked for anonymity to share internal polling, told Newsweek that Mark Kelly's senate campaign has Biden at 66 percent support among Latinos, further evidence that Biden has rebounded from numbers earlier in the cycle.

"The opportunity in Arizona is that Bernie did really well there, especially with younger Latinos, so those are voters that do not like Trump at all," said Biden campaign pollster Matt Barreto, who recently joined the campaign.

He said the campaign is working to activate these younger voters that are more progressive in the state. "Biden is actively working on his connection with those folks," Barreto acknowledged. "A lot of it is a lack of information, there are not strong pockets of resistance in Arizona. The undecided Latino voters, when you look at where they stand on the issues, they're not conservative."

The Trump campaign did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment about reaching Arizona Latinos. The Republican National Committee, which is handling a large part of the ground game in Arizona, also did not respond for comment. But the Trump campaign is looking to reach Latino voters with their messaging about Biden as well. It has told CBS News it is hiring bilingual staffers in Yuma, Phoenix, and Tucson, with "over a dozen" Spanish-speakers on the ground.

Clinton's 1996 win, the only time a Democrat has won Arizona since Harry Truman did in 1948, offers glimmering hope for Biden as well. Clinton's razor-thin win came as he dominated the Latino vote in the state, 83 percent to Bob Dole's anemic 8 percent.

Arizona is also not the state it once was, with new concerns replacing old standbys, which could ultimately hurt the Trump re-election effort. From the hardline, so-called "show me your papers" SB1070 immigration law, to the rise of former sheriff Joe Arpaio, Arizona was a state often animated by immigration fears. Arizona pollsters told Newsweek that has changed, with immigration sliding down the list of priorities for voters in the state. Arpaio, who was pardoned later pardoned by Trump, lost for the first time in 24 years in 2016.

Concerns around the coronavirus pandemic have vaulted to the top in state surveys, and Latino sentiment is no different. A July Voter Participation Center/Voto Latino battleground poll, which included Arizona voters, found that 69 percent say Trump ignored the early warning signs of the outbreak and because of his delays thousands of Americans are now sick and dying.

The pandemic has meant that groups like Mi Familia Vota, which has registered 11,547 Latino voters this year, do a whole new brand of outreach within the community to get to that point. First they offer resources—a food bank near their home to get a box of food, the contact for an organization helping people apply for unemployment—and only then does the hard sell come.

"First we want to understand how they're doing and what they need to get through the pandemic, then we invite them to participate in this election," Sainz said.

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A man wears an American flag as he protests Arizona's immigration law. Justin Sullivan/Getty