**Update** Turns out I was dead wrong.
Please note that I said ‘could’ and not will or should or must. Nevertheless, there are number of important factors converging in the state this election that haven’t been thoroughly considered because all of our statewide offices are held by Republicans.
But there have been major shifts in the last four years:
In 2008 Latinos were 9 percent of the voting electorate. The pressure to turn those numbers into political power is only increasing, as the Latino share of the electorate reached 18 percent of all eligible voters in the state in 2010.
Yes, you read that right. John McCain – in his home state – beat President Obama by 8 points. Senator McCain was significantly to the left of Governor Romney on immigration and had better national polling numbers with hispanics than the Governor. In the most recent poll, President Obama has a whopping 37 point (65% – 18%) lead over the former Governor with Arizona latino voters. Senator McCain enjoyed significantly higher latino support in Arizona. The Arizona exit polls showed President Obama bested the Senator by a paltry, by comparison, 15 points (56% – 41%). This should spell trouble for the Governor.
But support for the President will not be the only motivating factor this election for Arizona Hispanic voters. We have a real chance at electing a Democratic Senator who happens to be of Puerto Rican descent. Arizona will soon be a majority minority state with Hispanics being the largest minority group. 42% of the state is non-white and Latinos are 30% of the state’s population. Arizona Republicans face an uphill climb trying to distance themselves from a national party that is hostile to one of the largest voting groups in the state and a state-wide reputation for intolerance and out-right hostility. Unfortunately, many in the national GOP don’t realize that many Arizona Hispanics have been here for generations longer than their fellow Arizonans of European descent. Simply, many didn’t cross the border – the border crossed them.
Then there is the biggest, albeit the most difficult to poll, reason to expect a relatively high Latino turnout in Maricopa County (Arizona’s most populous county): Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Joe was a guest of the GOP at the Republican National Convention and was invited to speak by the Arizona Republican Party at a special event in Tampa. The Arizona GOP said of the Sheriff: “Sheriff Joe is a good friend and a great Republican, a former member of the Electoral College representing Arizona, and he’s wildly popular not just in Maricopa County but throughout the state and the country. He’s done a lot for the Republican Party already and we’re overjoyed that as always he is willing to join us as we visit some of our ‘fellow elephants’ while in Tampa.” But below is a video that represents how ‘popular’ the Sheriff is among Latinos (Caution – Strong Language NSFW):
For those who don’t want to listen to the curse words, here is the money quote:
“And while we’re at it, Sheriff Joe in Arizona – f–k you, you f–king puto. How about that? F–k you. You fat mother f–ker. F–k you. I said I was going to talk some s–t. F–k you, Sheriff Joe, you f–king puto. F–k you. F–k you.”
It is difficult to misinterpret that sentiment – and it is not popular. The crowd roars as George Lopez begins his rant.
That’s right, the not-so-loved sheriff is up for his sixth and hopefully last term as sheriff. His reign has been one plagued by scandal and abuse of both power and other human beings. Rather than cite personal anecdotes it is better to simply state that anybody who even pays a little attention to local politics knows that there is not much love for the sheriff. And few believe that his department is not ripe with corruption and consistent misapplication of the law. Among the Hispanic population specifically, there is tremendous animosity. For example, a popular local radio station regularly plays the song embedded below:
Most important verse:
Magic City Arizona where the sun is king
Everyday we still fighting for that championship ring
Even through the recession
we all want success
DJ’s in nightclubs and hot girls undress
For the money, the fame, to break into the game
Two shots of patron and she’ll give you anything
Even though sheriff Joe is satan in the flesh
My people still make it past the walls and the fence
Im living proof of this American dream
selling ring tones and always raising up AZ
From the lies, to sexy lady pretty brown eyes
Feels good to hear em say AZilla overtime
When i land in the bay, or the 915
When i’m on stage at the gibson in my cocaine white
Nick dolls, BIg D, NastyBoy is in the building
And we bout to make a killin’
Now, I don’t much fancy the song but it shows that among certain parts of the voting public, the negative characterizations of the oppressive sheriff are taken for granted.
The implications of his candidacy are significant. Although I have no evidence, I would be surprised if Latino turnout did not exceed even the most aggressive projections. The desire to end the sheriffs reign of terror in Hispanic communities is very strong. And it is hard to disagree with this desire. He has been the instrument of State abuse and oppression in the Arizona Latino community and has consistently made it his mission to gloat about it on national media. He has made himself a national figure among the far right and seems to revel in his reputation as oppressor of Hispanics and disrespector of the President (remember his fruitless post-birth certificate ‘investigation’?). The animosity towards Sheriff Joe is deserved and profound and I suspect it will be a powerful motivator for Arizona Hispanic voters.
So, in short, Arizona could be a blue state in November because: 1) Sheriff Joe is loathed and on the ballot, 2) Hispanic voters represent twice as much of the voting population as they did in 2008, 3) there is a Latino candidate for Senate in Richard Carmona (and both Democrats and Hispanics are very enthusiastic about his candidacy), 4) the Arizona state GOP has been overtly hostile to Hispanics for the last four years, 5) President Obama enjoys a broader base of support among Hispanic voters nationally and an even wider margin among Arizona Hispanic voters and 6) did I mention Sheriff Joe was on the ballot. Conventional wisdom suggests that the top of the ticket has a more significant impact on the down ballot races. However, in 2012 I think one of the furthest down ballot elections will trickle up and greatly benefit both the President and the prospective Senator.