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Arizona Democrats won't win simply by opposing Trump. They also need to do this


Opinion: Recent public opinion polls show that abortion, guns and threats to democracy are on the ballot. Can Arizona Democrats leverage that energy for a win?

Arizona Democrats need to make a lot of noise if they want to “stay woke” because #NeverTrump #NeverWorks.

There are proxy fights up and down the ballot with Trumpublicans in every race from U.S. Senate and governor to secretary of state and schools superintendent.   

With two months to go before the November ballot, Democrats Mark Kelly, Katie Hobbs, Adrian Fontes and Kathy Hoffman would do well to apply lessons from recent election cycles: Candidates lose if they oppose the Donald without a loud and clear message of their own. 

Trump channeled anger in 2016, Biden in 2020

Consider 2016, when there was a crowded Republican presidential field.

Trump whipped up his base with fear and protectionism. He harnessed the tea party, “don’t tread on me,” the Second Amendment and border security.

Trump crystalized the culture war anger that bubbled among a segment of conservative voters into easy-to-understand marketing slogans: “Make America Great Again”; “when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best;” and “I will build a great, great wall … and Mexico is going to pay for that wall.”

Another view: What if Katie Hobbs is incapable of stopping Kari Lake?

Sensing a bellwether they wouldn’t be able to un-ring, the Republican establishment tried to come together with a #NeverTrump movement, but ask Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Scott Walker and even would-be kingmakers like Paul Ryan how it played.

Liberals had the energy in 2020 behind police reform and the pandemic.

The Black Lives Matter wave gained size with an ill-advised Trump broadside at activist quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then it crashed ashore during the Summer of Protest after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police.

Voters in this bloc were also being ravaged by COVID-19, as they were more likely to live in multigenerational households, use public transportation or to be classified as essential workers who couldn’t do their jobs remotely.

They turned out in droves to back Joe Biden and liberal candidates who supported commonsense police reform and an aggressive vaccination plan.

The side with the most enthusiasm wins

It’s clear that whichever side channels the anger and energy of key issues holds the advantage, a point underscored by a recent Gallup poll measuring national voter enthusiasm:

“Enthusiasm about voting is not so much an indicator of what the turnout rate will be as it is a potential clue to which party is likely to fare better in the election. Gallup analysis has found that the more enthusiastic party … (tends) to correspond with the party that wins the most seats – indicating that partisans have an advanced sense of the direction in which a given election is headed.”

The review released last month suggests that Republicans are slightly more enthusiastic (about 10 points higher) to vote but that there are clear trends that bode well for Democrats:

“Nearly half of U.S. adults say they have given ‘quite a lot of thought’ to this year’s midterm elections” and based on several decades of trend data “America’s attention to the midterm elections this fall could exceed the previous high of 55 percent measured … in 2010.”

It’s a widely held truism in political circles that there are more Democrats than Republicans, but liberals don’t vote nearly as consistently as conservatives.

There’s a pathway to victory for Kelly, Hobbs

Enthusiasm trends are similar to 2018, a year that saw big gains for Democrats, and liberals seem to have the advantage on issues.

Likely congressional voters, according to Gallup, are fired up about the economy, gun policy and abortion, with Democrats being far more likely to say guns and abortion were key issues.

Kelly and Hobbs should be able to capitalize by calling for commonsense gun control and abortion access, casting themselves as safeguards against ultraconservative overreach.

A more recent opinion poll from NBC News shows that Democrats had pulled even with Republicans, in terms of enthusiasm, led by anger over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and “threats to democracy.”

This doubles down on a potential strategy for Kelly and Hobbs, but it also shows a clear path for Fontes in his bid to be the state’s elections chief.

It stands to reason that the same voters who would be eager to limit guns while protecting abortion and voting access could be moved to support Hoffman in opposing efforts to whitewash the nation’s history behind a political boogeyman called “critical race theory.”

None of this would work in a red state, but Arizona has proved time and again to be purple with five Democrats and five Republicans in the governor’s chair since the late ’70s, plus a Democrat-led congressional delegation and support for Biden in 2020.

There are plenty of clear opportunities for Arizona Democrats to harness energy and separate themselves with messages that go far beyond #NeverTrump, which #NeverWorks – as long as they’re loud enough and clear enough to make sure their base “stays woke.”

Reach Moore at gmoore@azcentral.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @SayingMoore.