Are Republicans Completely Toast in Arizona?

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

When I left Arizona for my third — and longest — stint in California in 1996, the Republican party here was a well-oiled machine. Upon arrival in Los Angeles, I discovered that the California GOP was the messiest of hot messes, and that remained the case for the more than two decades that I lived there.

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I’ve been back in my native Arizona for a little over five years now and, sadly, it looks like whatever was plaguing the California Republican party was contagious. The Arizona GOP that I returned to was so far removed from the one I left that I kept wondering if the good old days really were that good. They were, of course, but I quickly had to adjust to the fact that they were long gone.

Shortly after I moved back, Arizona elected Kyrsten Sinema to the United States Senate. She was the first Democrat to win a Senate election here since Dennis DeConcini — a guy my dad went to high school with — won reelection in 1988. By January 2021, both of our senators were Democrats, a situation that many would have thought impossible just a decade earlier. There were a lot of contributing factors that brought about this change, but I’m comfortable placing the majority of the blame on the state party.

Shifting demographics are the convenient scapegoat for a lot of people, and that is part of the problem. Arizona is one of those states that attract Democrats who flee the blue state hells that they’ve created, only to try and reestablish them here. The Dem flying monkeys in the mainstream media have been writing and saying for a couple of years that Arizona has “flipped” blue. That’s nonsense. It’s definitely gotten more purple, but we’re a long way from being blue.

Six of Arizona’s nine representatives in the House are Republican. Of those six, five are members of the Freedom Caucus. We’re not exactly flirting with becoming California Lite just yet.

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In early 2018, I began asking my conservative friends who were very knowledgeable about Arizona politics what kind of bench the GOP had here. All replied, “None.” It was only a slight exaggeration. Our current Senate situation is a reflection of that problem.

There is a lot to like about Martha McSally. Her skill as a retail politician isn’t one of them. McSally’s weaknesses as a statewide candidate were painfully apparent in her 2018 loss to Sinema. Because they had no one else to turn to, McSally was installed as a placeholder for the other Senate seat, which became open after the passing of John McCain.

Woefully short of options, the Arizona Republican party turned to McSally for the 2020 special election, where she was dispatched by carpetbagger Mark “I’M AN ASTRONAUT!” Kelly.

Fast-forward to 2022, and the disaster that Republicans endured in the gubernatorial and Senate races. I’ve written a lot about the ballot machine problems in Maricopa County, which will always be suspicious. Pinning the GOP failures in the two biggest races on that is off the mark though.

Again, there were no familiar names that the state party could rally behind in the primaries. Kari Lake had the advantage of having been on television for so many years, and she had the support of Donald Trump. I became quite enamored with her run for a while, and it blinded me to her deficiencies as a candidate. Just a few days before the election, Lake spoke at a huge rally and said that the “McCain Republicans” should “get the hell out,” which, as my friend Jon Gabriel pointed out, they did:

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McCain Republicans overlap with those who crossed party lines to support President Joe Biden, turning the state blue in 2020. They tend to be centrist, business-friendly, middle- to upper-middle-class folks who live in the nicer neighborhoods of Phoenix and its close-in suburbs. They want lower taxes, efficient government and absolutely no drama.

They don’t make up the majority of the party – not by a long shot – but they exceed that single percentage point Lake needed to best Hobbs.

Hardcore conservatives long ago soured on McCain, but this state still has a lot of older — even older than I am — Republican voters, and they loved the guy. Lake’s remark was a massive rookie mistake. Again, however, she was still the best option that the barren bench GOP had here.

In a recent op-ed for the Arizona Republic, Mr. Gabriel chronicled some more big problems for the Republicans here in the Grand Canyon State:

The Arizona Republican Party is down on its luck.

They’re still hanging on to one-vote majorities in the state House and Senate, but they’ll have trouble in 2024 if they don’t get their finances in order.

The Arizona GOP had less than $50,000 in cash reserves as of March 31. That’s not much money to fund crucial expenses such as rent, payroll and campaign operations.

Four years earlier, it had close to $770,000.

The cobwebs in the bank vault aren’t as important as all the money wasted.

The party blew $300,000 on “legal consulting,” much of which focused on overturning Trump’s 2020 defeat. All they have to show for it are a Democratic governor and U.S. Senate delegation.

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Any political party or candidate spending a lot of money on consulting is impossible for me to take seriously. One of the biggest grifts in this country is the political consultant game. Local parties and candidates that are flush with donor cash are suddenly overwhelmed by the urge to spend it like a drunken Kennedy cousin at an exotic dancer convention. Consultants begin appearing out of the woodwork to relieve them of the money.

There’s also the fact that the 2022 election was the third in a row where there were “anomalies” in Maricopa County, so they couldn’t exactly claim that they were blindsided. Maybe the state and county parties should focus resources on making sure that doesn’t happen again.

Jon goes onto point out another looming concern here in Arizona:

As of April, 34.6% of voters are registered as Republicans. This compares well to the 30.3% who are Arizona Democrats. But between the two parties is the growing contingent of the unaffiliated.

Independent voters now account for 34.3% of registered voters in the state. By head count, a net gain of just 10,077 new independents would make them the largest “party” in Arizona.

This means that neither Republicans nor Democrats are going to be able to win elections here by merely flinging red meat at the base. I’m saying that as a lifelong and permanent resident of the Republican base, by the way. Fiery rhetoric alone isn’t going to carry any candidate to victory here.

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I haven’t reached a point of existential dread about the GOP’s future fortunes just yet. Again, I take comfort in the fact that most of the Arizona congressional delegation is very conservative. That’s something to build on. Still, bouncing back from years of horrible focus and financial mismanagement isn’t going to be easy.

Because Arizona likes to keep it different, there is a unique opportunity here next year. Kyrsten Sinema is up for reelection and her independent status has blown that race wide open. Unless she decides to not run again, Dems will be splitting votes next year. If the GOP can field the right candidate, the seat could be red again.

The bench problem for the Republicans still exists. Many think that Kari Lake is the obvious choice but I’m not on board with that. There is one prominent name in the Republican arsenal who could be a gamechanger — recently retired Gov. Doug Ducey. Ducey has repeatedly said that he doesn’t want to run for Senate. I’ve heard a few rumors lately though. He’ll also no doubt be heavily recruited by the national GOP to run.

There are a lot of “ifs” involved in getting Ducey to run, but it’s fun to think about until the final “No.”

All is not lost. The party has a new chairman — Jeff DeWit — and hope springs eternal after regime change. He took over from Kelli Ward, whose four-year tenure as chairwoman oversaw a lot of the party’s precipitous decline. Put mildly, I wasn’t a fan.

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One thing is certain: the political landscape in Arizona is very fluid these days, and anyone who thinks he or she can predict what’s going to happen is probably concussed.

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