The Daily Agenda: Lessons learned, or not
A single shot doubles your chances of winning half ... The last ballot is the best ballot ... And even merry Christmas, Turning Point.
We’re getting a jump on the holiday weekend. We’ll have a special note for you Friday, but otherwise we won’t be in your inboxes again until Monday, just in time for the deadline for counties to certify the election.
Let’s just hope the politicians can stay out of trouble for a few days.
Democrats pulled off some big victories this month, securing the top three offices in the state and keeping a U.S. Senate seat, but didn’t gain any spots in the statehouse, hindering their ability to pass Dem priorities into law.
In the two weeks since the election, the key lingering question has been whether Democrats won or Republicans simply lost. Both are true, and both offer lessons for 2024.
Extremist candidates like Kari Lake and Blake Masters helped Democrats make their cases to moderate Republicans and independents, key voting blocs that help decide Arizona elections. Democrats repeatedly spoke about how far outside the mainstream these GOP candidates were, particularly on election issues and abortion.
Lake, in particular, told voters just as early voting started that she wouldn’t commit to accepting the results of the elections, a poorly timed reminder for voters, now with ballots in their hands, of her consistent election denialism.
With a more moderate Republican on the ticket, like Karrin Taylor Robson, the GOP may have kept the governorship. Take Treasurer Kimberly Yee’s race as an example: She avoided the MAGA spectacle and won by the widest margin of the competitive statewide races.
In some races, like U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly’s quest for his first full term, Democratic groups plastered the airwaves early, defining the positive work Kelly has done and making clear the danger they believed Masters posed.
Democrats’ ground game in Arizona has matured over the past decade, with robust phone and text banking, mail campaigns and door-knocking. Outside groups also put their teams into action to help Democrats on the ground, canvassing homes and reaching out to voters.
The party has come a long way since we started covering it, when Republicans had deeper benches of potential candidates and a more active campaign apparatus. The state’s purple status means more outside investment, enthusiasm and effort now exists in Arizona for Democrats.
Abortion also emerged as a top issue for Democratic and center- and left-leaning voters (and some Libertarians), who feared losing their rights in a state where access to abortion is in limbo. While voters often said inflation and economic issues were critical, they balanced those with abortion, deciding that Democrats could protect their access.
Still, we see some key lessons that Democrats could learn before the next election cycle, which unfortunately will probably start soon.
Democrats had a chance to tie the Arizona Legislature. While the strategy of running just one Dem candidate in a competitive House district works in close races, many Democrats are questioning whether the Dems are applying the practice too broadly. For Keith Seaman, who eked out a narrow second place in right-leaning competitive Legislative District 16, the single shot makes sense. It also probably makes sense in LD4, where Democrat Laura Terech took second.
But seeing Judy Schwiebert win the top spot by a couple thousand in LD2 or Jennifer Pawlik win by more than 3,000 votes on LD13 signals that two Democrats should probably be running for those districts’ two House seats. Those two seats alone would have allowed Dems to pick up the House, giving them a strong voice in state politics.
In Yuma’s LD23, where Democrats should be winning according to the makeup of voters, a Republican, Michele Pena, snagged a House seat after running a low-key race following her primary write-in campaign. The seat wasn’t exactly flipped, as Republican Joel John had already flipped the seat in the district’s previous iteration. But that loss should have been an easy win for Democrats, and it would have tied the state House.
At the federal level, Congressional District 1 could have been a Democratic pickup for Jevin Hodge, who narrowly lost to longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. David Schweikert in a race that got little notice or outside investment from Dems. For all the attention on the CD6 race between Democrat Kirsten Engel and Republican Juan Ciscomani, CD1 actually ended with a closer margin.
We don’t know whether the AZGOP will learn that its candidates don’t appeal to the kinds of voters they need to win in Arizona anymore. All signs point to no. Democrats had a great year. But to cement those gains and officially turn Arizona blue, they’ll need to invest more wisely in some legislative and congressional races and reconsider some strategies before 2024, especially if they’ll face more moderate Republicans after the MAGA midterm rejection.
Two weeks is fine: Maricopa County has counted its last ballot, which was the final ballot in the state. Democrat Kris Mayes’ final lead over Republican Abe Hamadeh in the attorney general’s race is 510 — enough to trigger a recount, but not close enough that a recount could change the results.
You can’t lose if you don’t certify it: While AZGOP Chair Kelli Ward and her friends are spreading misinformation online to try to convince counties to refuse to certify the results of their elections, so far, most counties that have voted have certified. There are some exceptions, like Cochise County, which voted on Friday to delay its certification until the Monday deadline, and Mohave County, which voted yesterday not to certify its canvass, even as supervisors made clear it was purely a political statement about their discontent with Maricopa County’s election. Mohave supervisors said they’ll certify it on the Nov. 28 deadline.
Vote in runoffs, too: Voter turnout has skyrocketed in Phoenix City Council elections since the city started holding elections in November instead of August, but it still dives back down to about 20% during runoffs, which are necessary when candidates don’t win more than 50% of the vote in November. The runoff, which is held in March, will decide two city council seats this year, the Republic’s Taylor Seely notes. And for some interesting backstory on how Phoenix leaders voluntarily decided to move to November elections — after years of resisting the Legislature’s attempt to force them to do so, check out this piece from Jessica Boehm in the Republic a few years back.
More recounts: Two statewide races and lots of smaller local races will go to a recount this year under the state’s newly expanded automatic recount law, the Republic’s Sasha Hupka writes. The recounts can’t start until after the state (hopefully) certifies election results on December 5. They’ll probably take until the end of the year and likely won’t change the results of any races.
One-party recording state, except: The AZLaw blog notes that the secretly recorded phone call between Maricopa County’s lawyer and a lawyer supporting Kari Lake’s campaign may cause trouble with the State Bar for AZGOP lawyer Tim LaSota or RGA staff attorney Benjamin Mehr, since attorneys aren’t allowed to record each other secretly, even though Arizona law doesn’t require consent or notice to a person being recorded in a conversation.
Losing is hard: The Washington Post’s Philip Bump dives into the old saying that “as goes Maricopa County so goes Arizona,” writing that the fact that MAGA Republican slate lost in Maricopa County, and therefore statewide, explains why “the county is once again a target of widespread Republican backlash primarily because the county, once again, is the reason a particularly aggressive state Republican Party suffered unexpected electoral losses.”
New green shirt guy just dropped: That guy you might have seen screaming at the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors last week in a viral clip going around MAGA Twitter is named Matt Baker. He’s an outrage performance artist who pals around with Proud Boys, Neo Nazis and Alex Jones, and he actually lives in California, anonymous Arizona Twitter deep-diver Arizona Right Wing Watch writes on its new Substack.
Just in time for holiday travel: Some Arizona hospitals are putting in place visitor restrictions as a wave of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19, flu and RSV combine to create high patient numbers here and across the country, the Republic’s Stephanie Innes reports. Meanwhile, a group of Arizona institutions will get $12.5 million over five years from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to study vaccine effectiveness in real-world settings, KJZZ’s Nicholas Gerbis reports.
They could double as tiny houses: As Gov. Doug Ducey continues his battle with the feds over his shipping-containers-as-border-wall project, his lawyer is arguing that federal environmental laws don’t apply because the shipping containers aren’t on federal land. It’s part of Ducey’s effort to keep an environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, from intervening in his ongoing lawsuit against the federal agencies that want him to stop putting shipping containers in the desert, Capitol Media Services’ Howard Fischer writes.
The fine print: Part of the ballot measure that approved recreational marijuana legalization included a “Justice Reinvestment Fund” where millions from pot taxes will go toward grants for nonprofits for a broad range of work in justice, workforce development, health and more. Some nonprofits, including a few in south Phoenix, are looking for ways the funds should be used, the Republic’s Madeleine Parrish reports.
We recommend us: And as long as we’re on the topic of ballot measures, Hank did a recap of what propositions won and lost at the ballot this year on KJZZ’s “The Show” yesterday, and Rachel wrote about the ballot measure-related ballot measures and voter ID measure’s failure for The Guardian.
While Turning Point and its allies have taken over the Arizona Republican Party, gutting it of mainstream and moderate Republicans, none of the statewide candidates the group supported actually won their races.
"These characters could only win at halftime," Republican Kathy Petsas told the Republic’s Richard Ruelas in his post-mortem of the group’s track record. "Turning Point showed its inexperience and inability to win the whole game."