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Arizona Democrats Mobilize To Turn The State Blue In 2020

A sign points the way to an early voting location in Phoenix, Arizona on Oct. 16, 2020 ahead of the US presidential election. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)
A sign points the way to an early voting location in Phoenix, Arizona on Oct. 16, 2020 ahead of the US presidential election. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

President Trump has less than a week to reverse poll numbers that show Republicans are at risk of losing Arizona for the first time in 24 years.

Trump is campaigning in the Grand Canyon State on Wednesday, as is vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris. Despite the polls, Trump supporters still believe the state can stay red.

“We’re Trump supporters. And we were here in 2016 and the polls looked pretty dim for him then,” Bruce Pastel said outside a recent Trump rally near Phoenix. “I have a feeling that we can count on that happening again.”

But if the polls are right, there will be a few reasons Arizona turns blue in 2020.

The state’s demographics are changing fast. Liberal voters are moving from more expensive states like California, and young immigrants are voting for the first time.

Alejandra Gomez deserves some credit for that. She’s the co-director of a group called LUCHA, which came together a decade ago when Republican state lawmakers passed an anti-immigration law known as SB-1070 that gained worldwide attention.

The bill angered people in Arizona who had never participated in politics before. Gomez says that if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wins Arizona in 2020, it’ll be a result of the work that emerged during that fight back in 2010.

Gomez recalls fasting for seven days with other volunteers when SB-1070 was going to be signed into law. She also attended a prayer vigil outside the state capital with a group of seven others — which turned into hundreds of thousands of people marching, protesting and doing voter registration work to expand the electorate.

“For our communities, this has been a long time of planting seeds, inviting communities that have been victims of voter suppression, not invited to ever cast a ballot,” she says. “All of those years of exclusion and harm, it’s taking community organizations like ours to build trust with communities.”

Community organizations have taken on big-name state politicians like former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former state Sen. Russell Pearce, the architect of SB-1070.

But before Arpaio and Pearce were voted out of office, Gomez says these fights were deemed unwinnable because “the Latino community does not vote.” These victories demonstrate the importance of going to Black, Indigenous and people of color communities and inviting them to register to vote, she says.

“What we’re seeing now 10 years later is all of that work,” she says. “But then the investment of being now a battleground state, we’re seeing our communities take the conversations that are happening at the kitchen table about politics and actually translate those into votes at the polls.”

Now in 2020, the prize is even bigger than ousting Sheriff Arpaio. During this presidential race, Biden has been criticized for taking the Latino vote for granted by only making one visit to Arizona.

The Biden campaign has done more for BIPOC communities than any other presidential candidate, Gomez says. These diverse communities are not a monolith, she says, and campaigns need to adopt “nuanced cultural messaging” earlier.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have been to Arizona several times to campaign. The campaign believes they can convince conservative Latinos to support their candidacy and doing so even at the margins of 1% to 2% could keep Arizona red.

For Gomez, the community organizations on the ground are doing the most for the state’s BIPOC voters. LUCHA is also part of the Mi Az coalition, which is aiming to turn out 1 million BIPOC voters to the polls — “a new American majority,” she says.

“We are the communities registering voters, organizing off cycle. We’re not waiting,” she says. “The way that we never waited during the Arpaio fights, during the Russell Pearce fights, we have delivered for our communities what our communities deserve.”

Many conservative Latinos are motivated by the president’s message on abortion. Others say that Latinos don’t want handouts; they want to pull themselves up just like everybody else to pursue the American dream.

However, Gomez thinks the results of this year’s primary sent a clear message. Conservative state legislative District 27 would traditionally favor an anti-abortion candidate, she says, but this year people voted to advance abortion rights supporter Diego Rodriguez.

Through supporting Rodriguez, the district made clear its support for candidates who fight for justice, equity and women’s rights, Gomez says.

“We are not stopping until we see legislative majorities locally, but also nationally with candidates that represent the interests of our communities,” she says. “Our community is paying attention that the Trump administration is the single biggest threat to our communities.”

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes says a historic 2.6 million people have registered to vote. Democrats are leading by 100,000 in early vote returns, Gomez says.

While knowing the results of the election may take longer this year, the county is doing its due diligence to count every vote, she says. And across the state, Gomez says engaged Arizonans want a fair count.

While out canvassing on Sunday, Gomez knocked on the door of a man who became a U.S. citizen on Aug. 31. Hearing how excited the man was to vote for Biden affirmed to Gomez that these communities are paying attention and want to participate in democracy.

“Panic is not a plan,” she says. “We need to be out there knocking on doors, reminding our families, our cousins, our neighbors, our tías, our tíos to get out and make sure they are casting their ballot.”


Peter O’Dowd produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill RyanAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.