PHOENIX — At the start of 2020, optimistic Democrats already thought this might be the year when a presidential election turned Arizona blue again.
Many suburban moderates were fed up with President Trump; in 2018, they sent a Democrat to the Senate from their state for the first time in more than three decades. Young Latino voters — who now make up 24 percent of eligible voters in Arizona — were casting ballots at record rates, angered by the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. And the party was fielding a strong candidate for November’s Senate race.
Now, four months until Election Day, that optimism is hardening into sustained confidence.
Mr. Trump is scheduled to campaign here on Tuesday, in a state whose 11 electoral votes he badly needs to hold to be re-elected, especially if he loses any of the three Midwestern states he flipped in 2016.
Democratic officials believe that frustrations over Mr. Trump’s immigration policies and his handling of the pandemic, as well as polling trends, indicate that Joseph R. Biden Jr. has the best shot of any Democratic presidential candidate to win Arizona since Bill Clinton carried the state in 1996. And the Biden campaign sees winning Arizona as not just a path to victory, but also a confirmation that Latino and immigrant voters are a strong and dependable part of the party.
Mr. Trump will arrive in Phoenix in a moment of acute turmoil in Arizona. The coronavirus pandemic is growing evermore deadly in the state, which is experiencing some of the steepest spikes in the country. Thousands of protesters have filled the streets for weeks, angered not only by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that led to nationwide demonstrations, but also over the case of Dion Johnson, 28, a black man who was shot and killed by state troopers last month after being found asleep in a car on a Phoenix highway.
For frustrated and anxious voters, the dual crises of police brutality and a pandemic point to an opportunity for Democrats.
“There are people coming to protests who have never shown up before, who are seeing the kinds of things we’ve seen for years and that will unquestionably help us,” said Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat who represents Phoenix and is an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Biden, the former vice president and the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Still, Mr. Gallego and other Democrats know what formidable odds they have in Arizona. The state has long been a hotbed of conservative activism; it was here that anti-immigrant politicians rose to power in the early 2000s, using the same kind of rhetoric later embraced by Mr. Trump.
The Republican governor, Doug Ducey, easily captured the state with 56 percent of the vote in 2018 and the legislature is controlled by the G.O.P. Though Hillary Clinton spent considerable money in the state and many in her party were optimistic in 2016, Mr. Trump won with 48 percent of the vote.
As many Arizonans attempt to return to a pre-pandemic life, flocking to indoor bars and restaurants amid triple-digit temperatures, interviews with dozens of voters in the Phoenix area in the last week showed how the government’s impact on everyday life was increasingly on their minds.
“For a long time, it was hard to understand what politics has to do with you, like that’s something over there and you’re over here,” said Bethany Marshall, 31, a math teacher in Phoenix and occasional Democratic voter. “Now, we’re doing, we’re watching, we’re not going away.”
For nearly three weeks, Ms. Marshall and several of her friends have joined marches near the State Capitol, where razor wire and a double-layer chain link fence keep protesters away from the building. A few feet away two monuments face each other: one is for Martin Luther King, the other commemorates the confederacy. All the crowds have been filled with black, brown and white faces, most of them young.
At protests, one speaker after another implores the crowd to vote. Register to vote here, and if you’re already registered, find five friends who are not.
“The only way for enough to actually be enough is to get out there and vote, have people with faces who look like mine, to get police to stop harassing us,” Alexander Sojourney, a recent graduate of Arizona State University and the organizer of a protest earlier this month, told a large crowd marching to the capitol. “Get people in office who can fix that and change that.”
Those crowds, and voters like Mr. Sojourney, are part of the reason that Democratic officials are confident they can win both the presidential and Senate races in the state.
The Biden campaign has repeatedly called Arizona one of its prime targets and Mark Kelly, the Democratic Senate candidate, has a multimillion dollar fund-raising advantage over Senator Martha McSally, his Republican opponent. Polls have shown Mr. Kelly with a double-digit lead and Mr. Biden ahead of Mr. Trump.
Arizona voters are roughly evenly split on party registration, according to the secretary of state, with Republicans making up 34.9 percent of the electorate, Democrats 32.5 percent and unaffiliated voters — the fastest growing group — 31.8 percent. And in a state where voting by mail is already widely embraced, Democrats say their advantage could be even stronger.
In the final three months of the 2018 campaign, for every two voters that registered as Republicans in the state, three registered as Democrats, which helps explain how several Democrats won statewide office that year.
Nowhere is the liberal optimism more prevalent than in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and the majority of Arizona’s population. In 2016, when Mr. Trump won the state, Maricopa voters also kicked out Joe Arpaio, the longtime Republican sheriff who had championed draconian anti-immigrant policies. The county is widely seen as the most competitive in the country.
“The same people who defeated Arpaio will defeat Trump,” said Mr. Gallego.
Democrats are not only counting on younger new voters — they are also focused on convincing suburban moderates that they should abandon the Republican Party.
Aaron Marquez, a former captain in the Army Reserves, runs VetsForward, a Democratic-aligned group that relies on military veterans to sway voters in swing districts.
He spends time each week in the northwest suburbs of Phoenix, areas that were once entirely retirement communities but increasingly attract families in search of more affordable housing, delivering boxes of food to potential voters in need.
They set down boxes overflowing with milk, tortillas, grapes and sprinkled doughnuts and ask people what they would want Mr. Trump to know about the virus and its impact on their lives.
Mr. Marquez has met plenty of people who are frustrated, but the program also indicates the challenge for Democrats. With each delivery, voters are asked to rank the president’s handling of the pandemic on a scale of zero to 10. Among the roughly 100 deliveries so far, the responses have been about evenly split.
And Republicans are hardly ceding the state. Mr. Trump will land here Tuesday for his third visit in the last five months, speaking at a Phoenix megachurch in an event billed for college students. Last weekend, Ms. McSally held her first in-person fund-raiser in months, with guests sipping on Martha-ritas at an airport hangar.
Ms. McSally said she approved of Mr. Ducey’s handling of the pandemic. “Some other states have been very draconian and dictatorial,” she said, adding that she preferred Arizona’s approach of giving people information and “allowing them to make good decisions for themselves.”
“When Arizona started to open up, I went and got my haircut, was able to safely do that,” she said, describing her desire to support small businesses. “I go out to restaurants. I’m young and healthy. I went and got a pedicure.”
In a state strangely split between lockdown and an embrace of normalcy, there is widespread confusion and distrust of the government. Those who feel invincible or rebellious are heading to bars even as hospitals report that they are close to running out of space in their intensive care units.
Democratic mayors in Phoenix and Tucson clashed for weeks with Mr. Ducey, who until last week had prevented them from requiring face masks in public. (The mayor of Phoenix has said that the city has no plans to issue citations to anyone not wearing masks at the president’s event Tuesday.)
And even among protesters, there is far from universal enthusiasm for Democrats, particularly Mr. Biden and Mr. Kelly. Leighton Mendez, 24, a Phoenix resident at another protest, said that her prior lack of interest in voting had been replaced with an understanding that elected officials decide on policy that affects her.
“I’m not sure why it took this long, but being out here, I’m really connecting the dots,” she said, though she quickly added: “It is not enough to just be not as bad as the other guy.”
Diane Fellows Morazan was also out protesting, wearing a T-shirt with a handwritten message: “Today we march, November we vote.”
“More of us are angry, more of us are eager to do something with whatever power we have, and we know that’s with our ballot,” she said.
There are other signs that even once-loyal Republicans are considering a change this fall. Black Lives Matter protests have taken place in dozens of suburbs once seen as conservative throughout the state.
Jenna Plopper, 31, of Surprise, Ariz., said that after voting for Mr. Trump in 2016, her perspective started to change. In the past month, she has attended several demonstrations against police brutality in the suburbs, along with many other young, white mothers.
Ms. Plopper said that while many of her Republican friends planned to support Mr. Biden, she was leaning toward a third-party candidate. What she is certain of, though, is that this year is different from 2016.
“I kind of just took the outlook from my parents: you’re going to vote, and this is how we vote,” she said, of her support for Mr. Trump. “I saw him as a lesser of two evils. Now, after listening to all he says and his actions, a lot of people like me are saying we don’t want this guy.”
Updated June 23, 2020
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