5 Reasons Why Sinema Won Arizona

 

Outsiders think of Arizona as one of the reddest states. From Barry Goldwater to anti-immigration hawks like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, our most famous politicians tend to be Republicans. But traditionally, Arizona is rather purple and regularly features tight statewide elections.

In the past 45 years, Democrats have held the governorship as often as the Republicans. But in the last decade, the GOP consolidated their hold on power due to the unprecedented organization of the Tea Party and the Left’s hyperbolic anti-Arizona rhetoric in the wake of the illegal immigration debates. (“Vote for us, you dumb racists!” wasn’t the winning message Democrats expected.) Last Tuesday, the pendulum finally swung back to the center.

Many non-Arizonans wonder how decorated fighter pilot Martha McSally could have lost to a progressive-turned-moderate like Kyrsten Sinema. Excuses like “Trump lost the suburbs” and “Democrats cheat” miss the point. Instead, here are five local reasons this race turned out as it did.

McSally’s Prevent Defense

McSally is no stranger to razor-thin votes. She lost the 2012 congressional race by less than 2,500 votes and won the 2014 rematch by just 167. A major reason for this is her campaigning style.

The Pima County Republican is very cautious. Very cautious. Instead of barnstorming the map and mixing it up with all comers, she carefully issues press releases and attends controlled events. She wouldn’t even agree to a debate with Sinema for months and then only participated in one.

Her style is reminiscent of the much-derided “prevent defense” in the NFL. A football team wants to protect a lead, so they stop trying to score and merely attempt to prevent the other team from scoring. It backfires so often, it’s often parodied as the “prevent-you-from-winning defense.” It definitely backfired for McSally.

Negative Ad Burnout

Most Arizonans would agree that the 2018 Senate race was the most negative statewide campaign they had ever seen. Traditionally, candidates buy a mix of positive and negative ads, a proven strategy that Sinema held to. But McSally and the outside groups supporting her were nearly all-negative, all-the-time. Focusing on the Republican’s remarkable achievements in the military and also in politics would have gone a long way to define a woman few in the state knew much about. Sure, there were a few ads like that, but not nearly enough to match Sinema’s seeming optimism.

McSally hails from Pima County, home to Tucson, while Sinema is from Maricopa County, home to Phoenix. More than half the state’s population lives in the latter, so they didn’t know much about the Tucson-based candidate. She needed to spend a lot more time defining herself since Sinema was already defined to a big chunk of Arizonans.

The McCain/Flake Hangover

Arizona conservatives have been frustrated with their Republican senators for many years. Jeff Flake and John McCain campaigned as rock-ribbed right-wingers every six years only to vote with Democrats in DC on crucial issues.

Since McSally had been very friendly with McCain, many conservative Republicans were turned off from the start. Late in the campaign, McSally embraced Trump, so moderate Republicans were turned off. To much of the GOP, a vote for McSally seemed like a requirement but was nothing to get excited about.

The Left Was Motivated — and Organized

The Right in Arizona had been well-organized for the past decade, but the Left finally caught up. What began as a grassroots effort to increase teacher pay in early 2018 was quickly professionalized by the state Democratic party and outside groups. Through social media and text messages, the movement activated hundreds of thousands of Arizonans and resulted in a 20 percent salary increase.

What do you do with all that contact info? Keep promoting Democratic causes of course. Tom Steyer’s NextGen America was notable in this case, flooding info to the young, while other players flooded everyone else.

Sinema Ran a Great Campaign

Whether its genuine or an act, Sinema has focused on cultivating her moderate bona fides for years. In the House and now in the Senate campaign, her mailers and ads are nothing but waving flags and smiling veterans. She barely mentions her party but stresses her “independence” and willingness to work with “literally anyone” on conservative issues.

She is also well liked on both sides, cultivating working relationship and friendships with political opponents for years.

All That Said…

As frustrating as it was to watch McSally’s weak campaign, I thought Arizona remained a bit redder than it actually was. At the start of the year, I predicted she and Sinema would win their respective primaries and McSally would prevail in a squeaker. But instead of the R winning by a point, the D did.

Gov. Doug Ducey defeated his Democratic challenger by double digits, but his appeal wasn’t matched in other statewide races. If the GOP wants to win in the Grand Canyon State, they can’t rest on their party registration advantage and old trends. Instead, great candidates need to run great campaigns and, at the very least, keep up with Democratic GOTV innovations.

Published in Elections
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There are 174 comments.

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  1. Member

    Jon, this was very illuminating for me. Thanks for the rigorous analysis. The only thing I had qualms about was when you wrote that McCain voted like the Democrats. I didn’t see it that way. Otherwise, I learned a lot. I hope Martha will learn from this race, and be back again. She is too good not be in the Senate.

    • #1
    • November 12, 2018 at 7:31 pm
    • 1 like
  2. Member

    You’re ignoring the pretend elephant in the room – 200,000 people pulled the lever for a Republican state officer but would not send Trump another minion on the federal level.

    • #2
    • November 12, 2018 at 7:38 pm
    • 3 likes
  3. Member

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    You’re ignoring the pretend elephant in the room – 200,000 people pulled the lever for a Republican state officer but would not send Trump another minion on the federal level.

    “Minion”?

    • #3
    • November 12, 2018 at 7:49 pm
    • 9 likes
  4. Member

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    You’re ignoring the pretend elephant in the room – 200,000 people pulled the lever for a Republican state officer but would not send Trump another minion on the federal level.

    So they sent an Elizabeth Warren minion instead? Most likely McSally was viewed as a McCain minion rather than a Trump minion, and that may have been a large part of the problem.

    • #4
    • November 12, 2018 at 7:51 pm
    • 16 likes
  5. Member

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    You’re ignoring the pretend elephant in the room – 200,000 people pulled the lever for a Republican state officer but would not send Trump another minion on the federal level.

    By George, you’ve got it . . . since, after all, Republican Senators must be minions. And a Democrat in Washington is so helpful.

    If it’s a “pretend” elephant, does that mean 200,000 people didn’t split their ticket?

    • #5
    • November 12, 2018 at 7:56 pm
    • 7 likes
  6. Member

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    You’re ignoring the pretend elephant in the room – 200,000 people pulled the lever for a Republican state officer but would not send Trump another minion on the federal level.

    Maybe the voters in Arizona actually cast their ballots for the candidates running and it had absolutely nothing to do with Trump. 

    • #6
    • November 12, 2018 at 8:06 pm
    • 9 likes
  7. Member

    McSally is no stranger to razor-thin “votes”; victories?

    Good piece. I did not know much about her campaign, Jon.

    • #7
    • November 12, 2018 at 8:06 pm
    • 2 likes
  8. Member

    Excellent post Jon. I’ll had some of my own observations. McSally did not run a good campaign. I’m a newcomer to Arizona politics, but as I watched her campaign unfold I was hoping that registered Republicans that are greater than registered Democrats in Arizona would carry the day.

    What I’m not seeing from the Republican Party in Arizona is any outreach to Hispanic voters in Arizona. I can only speak for the Tucson area, not Phoenix. Tucson has a history of assimilation that goes back to the late 1600’s. La Raza is a minor player in the Tucson area, unlike California. I’m speaking about a Mexican, and Spanish influence that is well established, in some cases a hundred years earlier than the Mayflower. All politics is local. Intermarriage between Hispanic and Anglo families was not uncommon in the Tucson area for one simple reason. That reason was another gun was welcome due to Apache raiding, and Tucson itself was not immune to that raiding.

    One other thing that helped assimilation in the Tucson area, and the desert border area was its’ distance from Mexico City, and Washington DC.

    Hispanic families make up about 23% of the population in Arizona. Most of these families have strong family values, they own businesses, their children have served in the military, they serve as firefighters, and police officers.

    The Republican Party will have to reach out to not only Hispanic voters, they will have to reach out to new Arizonans to get them to shed their California, and East Coast habits. The difference between Governor Ducey’s campaign was Gov. Ducey emphasized the positive economic success of his leadership, McSally concentrated on the negative.

    • #8
    • November 12, 2018 at 8:36 pm
    • 13 likes
  9. Member

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    You’re ignoring the pretend elephant in the room – 200,000 people pulled the lever for a Republican state officer but would not send Trump another minion on the federal level.

    This is a serious oversimplification. The Democrat running for governor, Garcia, was a very weak and poorly-funded candidate. Ducey is popular and well-funded.

    Sinema was well-funded and was very disciplined in staying on a moderate message.

    Trump was not much of an issue, in my view, at least not directly. Sinema actually came out in favor of Trump’s deployment of troops to the border to counter the caravan.

    • #9
    • November 12, 2018 at 8:45 pm
    • 7 likes
  10. Reagan

    I agree with almost everything you said. You said,

    ”The McCain/Flake Hangover

    ”Arizona conservatives have been frustrated with their Republican senators for many years. Jeff Flake and John McCain campaigned as rock-ribbed right-wingers every six years only to vote with Democrats in DC on critical issues.”

    I don’t see or remember that. McCain and Flake were both part of the Group of Eight, and McCain voted against repealing Obamacare without taking it back to the committee. But that’s it. I am not aware of McCain or Flake committing any other heresy. I will grant you that immigration is a huge issue for many. But you used the plural “issues” and I see only one “issue” where Flake deviated from Republican orthodoxy, and only two issues for McCain differed. (Sorry for being a word cop, the rest of the Post was right on.)

    • #10
    • November 12, 2018 at 8:58 pm
    • 1 like
  11. Member

    Looks as though everyone has an opinion on this: 

     

    • #11
    • November 12, 2018 at 9:16 pm
    • 5 likes
  12. Member

    I think most of us thought that McSally would win as it seemed almost inconceivable that she would not.

    Military veterans don’t appeal as much to the general population as most conservatives like to think…

    Obama beat John McCain

    George W. Bush defeated John Kerry

    George W. Bush defeated Al Gore

    Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole

    Bill Clinton beat George H. W. Bush

    In 2012, in Arizona, Vice Admiral Richard Carmona was defeated by Jeff Flake by 3% of the vote.

    In 2016, Jim Webb withdrew before the Democrat presidential primaries even started.

    In 2004, Wesley Clark won 3.4% of the primary vote and one state, conservative Oklahoma.

    I’m sure there are other examples too.

    Perhaps being in the military makes one a bit stiff and distant from the general population. (That didn’t seem to be problem for Navy SEAL Jesse Ventura, running in liberal Minnesota.)

    P.S. Happy Veterans Day

    • #12
    • November 12, 2018 at 9:26 pm
    • 2 likes
  13. Member

    The Cloaked Gaijin (View Comment):

    Military veterans don’t appeal as much to the general population as most conservatives like to think…

    Obama beat John McCain

    George W. Bush defeated John Kerry

    George W. Bush defeated Al Gore

    Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole

    Bill Clinton beat George H. W. Bush

    In 2012, in Arizona, Vice Admiral Richard Carmona was defeated by Jeff Flake by 3% of the vote.

    In 2016, Jim Webb withdrew before the Democrat presidential primaries even started.

    In 2004, Wesley Clark won 3.4% of the primary vote and one state, conservative Oklahoma.

    I’m sure there are other examples too.

    Perhaps being in the military makes one a bit distant from the general population. (That didn’t seem to be problem for Navy SEAL Jesse Ventura, running in liberal Minnesota.)

    P.S. Happy Veterans Day

    Fifty years ago, there was a draft and Vietnam. If one didn’t have a IIS or a high lottery number, he’d likely end up as a veteran. It made a difference. 

    • #13
    • November 12, 2018 at 9:29 pm
    • 1 like
  14. Member

    Django (View Comment):

    Looks as though everyone has an opinion on this:

    Ron DeSantis went on Rush Limaugh’s show while trailing in almost every poll, and he shockingly won … we think, waiting the approval of corrupt Broward County.

    • #14
    • November 12, 2018 at 9:33 pm
    • 2 likes
  15. Member

    Django (View Comment):

    Fifty years ago, there was a draft and Vietnam. If one didn’t have a IIS or a high lottery number, he’d likely end up as a veteran. It made a difference.

    After the American Civil War or World War II, an American politician almost had to be a veteran to gain any respect from the voters. I think the Baby Boomer generation and the 1960s changed that.

    • #15
    • November 12, 2018 at 9:35 pm
    • 3 likes
  16. Contributor

    From the perspective of someone who loves the Great State of Arizona and but pays little attention its particular politics, it seems that half the people voted for someone who held the place in amused contempt. 

    • #16
    • November 12, 2018 at 9:42 pm
    • 14 likes
  17. Member

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):
    McCain voted against repealing Obamacare without taking it back to the committee.

    So what? It was passed with a parliamentary trick and it’s obviously destructive. Cloward and Piven. Its sole purpose was to force single-payer.

    Does anyone think we weren’t going to get an intelligent version of universal multi payer after we wiped out the ACA? Of course not.

    What McCain did on the ACA was criminal. It’s funneling money to crony capitalists and it’s growing Medicaid like crazy. How do you change the trajectory of it now?

    • #17
    • November 13, 2018 at 2:58 am
    • 7 likes
  18. Coolidge

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: the pendulum finally swung back to the center

    I don’t think Sinema is in the least bit “center.”

    • #18
    • November 13, 2018 at 3:03 am
    • 7 likes
  19. Member

    There is a Twitter feed called rational walk, that tears apart the ACA better than anything I’ve ever seen. Check it out. It is ridiculous. 100% of the Democrats support the ACA and just say they wanted it “improved” or they one single-payer. 100%.

    Rep. Jason Lewis who Just got voted out of office, had a Wall Street Journal opinion piece yesterday blaming McCain for losing the house because of his ACA vote. Of course Megan is unleashing hell on him. She hasn’t even gone on The View about it yet.

    Well guess what he’s right. It’s impossible to discuss at a townhall because it’s complicated and it simply gives way too much free stuff. It’s a perfect Cloward and Piven strategy.

    The flagship podcast should interview Jason Lewis as soon as possible.

     

    • #19
    • November 13, 2018 at 3:07 am
    • 3 likes
  20. Coolidge

    Thanks Mr. Gabriel for the sober analysis that at the necessary minimum allays my fear there was foul play in the election. It is very clear that Ms. McSally needed a campaign manager that understands the state and provided a lot more positive retail politicking. I only hope the Senator elect is remotely as moderate as she has asserted and she’s not being a southwest Gillibrand.

    • #20
    • November 13, 2018 at 3:11 am
    • 3 likes
  21. Member

    Wasn’t McCain one of those liars that voted over and over for full repeal or they promise that’s what they would do? That is my understanding. If that’s true what is the point of sending it back to committee? No Democrat is going to work with them on anything. It has to be wiped out. There is no structure of it or part of it that will do any good for anyone if you actually want to improve things.

    Also, I get why they have to lie about this stuff. My only issue is you have to make some adjustments when the time comes.

    I think too many Republicans don’t get how dysfunctional centralized government is or they actually like it.

    Part of why Trump got elected, was that people get that the centralized government is dysfunctional and they want Trump to steal from it for them too or they want him to fix it. That’s our damn system. If it can’t be fixed, people want their cut.

    • #21
    • November 13, 2018 at 3:33 am
    • 4 likes
  22. Member

    Outsiders … and insiders … think of it as the meth lab of democracy.

    Y’all are crazy. Heatstroke … or meth.

    • #22
    • November 13, 2018 at 4:00 am
    • 1 like
  23. Member

    Columbo (View Comment):

    Outsiders … and insiders … think of it as the meth lab of democracy.

    Y’all are crazy.

     

    • #23
    • November 13, 2018 at 4:07 am
    • 6 likes
  24. Member

    Columbo (View Comment):

    Columbo (View Comment):

    Outsiders … and insiders … think of it as the meth lab of democracy.

    Y’all are crazy.

    Very good points about the McSally ‘campaign’. Uninspired prevent defense indeed. And those here who have spouted nonsense about Trump somehow being the reason that McSally lost are flat out wrong. McSally ran as a neutral non-conservative and avoided any ties to the conservatives in her own state.

    @cliffordbrown … didn’t you say that the GOP Senate primary was really nasty? And that the conservative supporters of Dr. Kelli Ward were greatly pissed at McSally for the way she ran a negative campaign then as well? Left a really bad taste in the mouths of her future voters in the General election. Maybe even 200,000 of them?

    • #24
    • November 13, 2018 at 4:15 am
    • 4 likes
  25. Moderator
    She

    Django (View Comment):

    Looks as though everyone has an opinion on this:

     

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    You’re ignoring the pretend elephant in the room – 200,000 people pulled the lever for a Republican state officer but would not send Trump another minion on the federal level.

    This seems to be the conundrum of Martha McSally. Too Trumpy? Not Trumpy enough? Too conservative? Too moderate? Too much of a “feminist?” Not “feminist” enough? Somehow, she manages to check all the boxes at once. Is it possible she’s just who she is? Nah.

    I found her most impressive in interviews when she was talking about love of country, her military service, and her fight while stationed in Saudi Arabia, to have the US military remove its restrictions on women (no driving, head-to-toe covering, not going anywhere without an accompanying male) while traveling off-base. Her early ads were also good (the “pink-tutu” ad, for sure).

    In my world, and just looking at McSally and listening to her opponent, that should have been enough. But I think (personal opinion) that McSally had difficulty connecting with voters, and that voters who vote on the basis of warm and fuzzies, probably didn’t take to her much.

    I have not seen a breakdown of the Arizona vote (or an estimated one, anyway) by sex. But I do wonder if such a hard-charging female military veteran turned off many of the fairer sex, and whether the strong-minded “women in combat” aspect of her career actually cost her some votes, perhaps predominantly among women.

    Maybe, if she tries this again, McSally should try a bit more of the “pink tutu” approach herself.

    • #25
    • November 13, 2018 at 4:28 am
    • 3 likes
  26. Member

    I know zip about campaigning, but I always loved McSally’s delivery and she seemed pretty knowledgeable. 

    • #26
    • November 13, 2018 at 4:32 am
    • 1 like
  27. Coolidge

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    I don’t see or remember that. McCain and Flake were both part of the Group of Eight, and McCain voted against repealing Obamacare without taking it back to the committee. But that’s it. I am not aware of McCain or Flake committing any other heresy. I will grant you that immigration is a huge issue for many. But you used the plural “issues” and I see only one “issue” where Flake deviated from Republican orthodoxy, and only two issues for McCain differed. (Sorry for being a word cop, the rest of the Post was right on.)

    The last thing Flake did on his way out was help prolong the Blasey Ford circus during the Kavanaugh hearings. If resolve shown by other Republicans in that fight generally helped, I can see where the not-resolve of Flake might have depressed Arizona’s desire to send another Republican cut from the same cloth to the Senate.

    • #27
    • November 13, 2018 at 4:42 am
    • 1 like
  28. Member

    Josh Kraushaar

    How Kyrsten Sinema won: She picked off 12% of Republican voters in Arizona // more than any other D Senate candidate except Joe Manchin (17%).

    • #28
    • November 13, 2018 at 4:43 am
    • 2 likes
  29. Member

    The Cloaked Gaijin (View Comment):

    Military veterans don’t appeal as much to the general population as most conservatives like to think…

    George W. Bush defeated John Kerry

    George W. Bush defeated Al Gore

    W. was a veteran. He served in the Texas Air National Guard and flew air defense patrol missions over the Gulf of Mexico during the Cold War. (These were intended to protect the Gulf Coast energy industry from potential attacks launched from Cuba.) Lest anyone think that was not dangerous service, Bush was flying the F-106, an underpowered delta-winged fighter with a high accident rate (especially on landing) and on the patrols he flew, his aircraft carried nuclear-tipped air-to-air missiles. He volunteered for service in Vietnam, but was not used because they were not flying F-106s in Vietnam and the Air Force did not want to have him spend time certifying in a type being used there.

    That this service is underappreciated (to say the least) is testimony to the power of the Democrat / MSM (but I repeat myself) propaganda machine.

    • #29
    • November 13, 2018 at 4:56 am
    • 11 likes
  30. Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    The Cloaked Gaijin (View Comment):

    Military veterans don’t appeal as much to the general population as most conservatives like to think…

    George W. Bush defeated John Kerry

    George W. Bush defeated Al Gore

    W. was a veteran. He served in the Texas Air National Guard and flew air defense patrol missions over the Gulf of Mexico during the Cold War. (These were intended to protect the Gulf Coast energy industry from potential attacks launched from Cuba.) Lest anyone think that was not dangerous service, Bush was flying the F-106, an underpowered delta-winged fighter with a high accident rate (especially on landing) and the on patrols he flew, his aircraft carried nuclear-tipped air-to-air missions. He volunteered for service in Vietnam, but was not used because they were not flying F-106s in Vietnam and the Air Force did not want to have him spend time certifying in a type being used there.

    That this service is underappreciated (to say the least) is testimony to the power of the Democrat / MSM (but I repeat myself) propaganda machine.

    When I see stuff like this, I wonder how any voter can really understand “the system”. Have you ever heard anything fair and sort of granular like this about his service?

    The MSM is a menace and that is just the start of it. I pay for sort of hedge fund information. It seems to me the more you pay for that type of thing the more you know what’s going on, but it’s tricky two know what to buy. Regular journalists have other kinds of pressures then these guys including supporting communism.

    • #30
    • November 13, 2018 at 5:03 am
    • 1 like
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