During the 2018 election cycle, Arizona got a massive amount of national media attention for the race to replace Jeff Flake in the Senate. Rightfully so, when the dust settled, Arizonans elected then-Representative Kyrsten Sinema to be the first Democrat to be elected to the Senate in Arizona in 30 years. However, Sinema’s win was not the only – or even most impressive — win for Arizona Democrats that night. The party also took control of the Secretary of State’s office for the first time since 1990 and won the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction for the first time since 1986. Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, every statewide office in Arizona (including the two U.S. Senate seats) were held by Republicans. After all the votes were counted, the Secretary of State, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, one of five members of Arizona’s Corporation Commission, and a U.S. Senator were all Democrats. However, while Kyrsten Sinema’s win drew the most attention of the Democrats that won statewide races in Arizona that year, Sinema happened to perform the worst. Sinema earned slightly less than 50% of the vote, whereas Secretary of State Katie Hobbs won with 50.4% and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, the highest-performing Democrat that night, received 51.6% of the vote in her race.
Comparing Kyrsten Sinema’s and Kathy Hoffman’s performances reveals two paths to victory that a Democrat can follow if they want to win in Arizona. Sinema slightly outran Hoffman in the vote-rich Maricopa county and a few other smaller counties in the western part of the state. While Hoffman’s margins were larger in Pima (the state’s second-largest county), the northeastern portions of the state which contain much of the state’s Native American population including most of the Navajo Nation.
The 2018 election also highlighted the importance of Maricopa County and its transformation into a “swing county.” On the presidential level, the county has been so red, it has not voted for a Democrat since 1948. Neither Democrats Bill Clinton in 1996 nor Lynden Johnson in 1964 won the county, even though they carried the state. In fact, the last (and only) time a Democratic presidential candidate beat the Republican in Maricopa County by a larger margin than they got statewide was in 1912. The year Arizona became a state, Woodrow Wilson won Maricopa County by 35 points while only beating President Taft statewide by 31.
Be on the lookout, reader. More than 100 years later, history may repeat itself. In OHPI’s latest Arizona Public Opinion Pulse (AZPOP), Joe Biden was leading President Trump by 9 points statewide but by 13 in Maricopa County.
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