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Looking at Arizona’s 2018 primary election results, it is clear that the races for Governor and US Senate will be competitive. A not-so-deep dive into election data since 1998, focused on Senate and Presidential races, was not at all reassuring. Rather, it revealed a disturbing trend for Senate races, painting a picture that should rouse Republicans and MAGA voters to action.
The following table paints the picture, showing the vote differential between Republican and Democratic candidates, rounded to thousands. An “X” means there was no race for that position that year. In 2000, Senator Jon Kyl ran unopposed by any Democrat. All information is based on the Arizona Secretary of State’s General Election Information 1998-2016.
|Year||President||Senate Seat 1||Senate Seat 2|
|2016||91 Trump||X||328 McCain|
|2012||208 Romney||68 Flake||X|
|2004||211 Bush||X||1,101 McCain|
|2000||96 Bush||1,108 Kyl (No Dem)||X|
As you can see, the Senate races have gotten tighter, regardless of candidate personality. Indeed, Senator McCain’s supposed incumbency advantage was sharply declining. Likewise, Senator Kyl, when facing a Democrat, had less than half McCain’s smallest margin. Jeff Flake barely got elected, while his Democratic opponent, Dr. Richard Carmona, got about 11,000 more votes than President Obama, who was at the top of the ticket.
Looking at the whole table, you can take away the positive news that no Democrat has won Arizona’s vote for US Senator or for President since 1998. However, George W. Bush in 2000 looks a lot like Donald Trump in 2016 and both were resisted for years by Democrats as “illegitimate,” as having stolen the election. Senator McCain, as the state’s favorite son candidate, could not put as much distance between himself and President Obama as Romney did. Nor could he reach President Bush’s reelection margin.
So what of the gubernatorial races? Arizona goes both ways. A governor may only serve two terms, so there are frequent contests for open seats. The following table shows the winner’s last name, party, and the vote margin between the two major parties. All numbers in the table are rounded off and expressed in thousands (so, 10 would be 10,000).
In 1998, Governor Hull won by about half Senator McCain’s margin. In 2002, when the gubernatorial race was the top of the ticket, Republican Matt Salmon, who went on to be a successful congressman, lost a very close race to Janet Napolitano. She, in turn, was reelected by almost three times the margin of Senator Jon Kyl: 416,000 versus 150,000. Governor Brewer won by 175,000 in a year when Senator McCain’s margin was 431,000. Both Ducey and Brewer won the state by less than Republican presidential candidates, except the first George W. Bush and Donald Trump victories.
As a side note relevant to shaping the 2020 Senate race, the 2002 results support Governor Ducey not appointing Matt Salmon as Senator, if Jon Kyl is only going to be a “short relief pitcher.” Yes, Salmon had congressional career success. But, his one statewide race was a close loss, so he is not a safe bet for the 2020 special election to fill out the term until 2022. If Jon Kyl is not willing to serve past the end of this Congress (January 2019), then someone like former Congressman John Shadegg would be the smart call to battle for the vote in 2020.
All in all, Arizona is a very competitive state. Neither party can take the statewide offices for granted. Republican candidates have enjoyed a slight edge, but that edge is uncertain in the Senate and slim in the Governorship. While no Democrat has won Arizona’s electoral college votes since President Clinton in 1996, we have seen some very competitive elections. There is no need to panic, but there are also no grounds for slacking off between now and November 6, 2018. Both Governor Doug Ducey and Congresswoman Martha McSally will need all the help they can get.Published in