Democrats are running an experimental campaign to turn a deep red state blue
For the first time in a generation, Democrats are getting serious about competing in one of the most reliably red states: Arizona.
With most polls showing Hillary Clinton within several points of Donald Trump in the Grand Canyon State, Democrats are building out the first serious field operation in the state to compete in 2016 and beyond.
This week, the Clinton campaign announced that it would invest in hiring staff to campaign in the state.
Though the Clinton campaign's concrete investment in Arizona is still unclear, a Democratic source familiar with Clinton's strategy in the state told Business Insider that there are no existing plans to air television ads. The majority of the campaign's resources — likely somewhere in the "six figures" — will likely be dedicated to helping build out the field program in the state, knocking on doors and collecting and updating outdated voter information.
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With Trump's deep unpopularity among the state's Latino and Hispanic population, Democrats recognized an opportunity in 2015 to take a different approach to campaigning in the state.
Party executive director Sheila Healy said that Democrats decided to run an expanded field operation in order to increase voter registration and turnout by making earlier, more frequent contact with potential voters, rather than rely primarily on television advertisements and last-minute voter contact.
Rather than running separate field operations, around 130 campaign staffers are working in tandem for Clinton, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who is challenging Sen. John McCain, and other down-ballot campaigns. That's a major shift from the 2012 elections, when the party had 20% of the field staff they employ currently.
Top Democratic campaign experts contend that field organizing can't win or lose a state on its own, but it can move a few points along the margins, potentially eeking out an upset Clinton victory and helping upgrade the state party's voter-information file in the process.
"We're all really excited here,"Healy said. "We've been building a program for the past year now because we believe and we know that Arizona is on the precipice of something huge and that a statewide win really is possible under these circumstances."
Demographics are rapidly shifting in a manner which favors Democrats in future elections if the party continues to win Latino and Hispanic populations by wide margins, though perhaps not at a pace quick enough to turn the state blue.
The Cook Political Report projected in 2015 that non-college educated white voters are expected to comprise 4% less of the electorate that they did in 2012, while Latino voters are projected to represent at least 1% more than in 2012. Pew notes that Arizona has the fifth largest population of Hispanic voters of any state.
Democrats have a notable advantage: Arizona has been a reliably red state for so long that the state Republican party appears unprepared for a truly competitive race. A Politico article published in May noted that the state party at the time had just one field staffer.
Despite favorable polls, Clinton campaign officials caution that Arizona is still a long shot. Romney handily won the state in 2012 with a 10-point margin over President Barack Obama. Republicans also occupy most top elected offices, and the party has control of both legislative chambers.
Many Republican state officials agree that a Democratic victory in the presidential and senate race in Arizona would be an uphill climb.
Arizona GOP Communications Director Tim Sifert noted that it has a large base of volunteers that are helping man the party's 14 Arizona field offices. According to July Federal Election Commission filings, the state party reported more cash on hand than its Democratic counterpart, and isn't soliciting significant financial help from the Republican National Committee, a sign that party officials say projects confidence in its security.
"To me, it doesn't look like a serious investment. It's just pennies," Sifert told Business Insider of Clinton's investment. "I think they're just trying to go through the motions of making it look like Arizona could potentially be a swing state, and nobody here really sees it happening that way."
Sifert also noted that Democrats touted changing demographics for the past several elections, but lost numerous times.
"They talked about that in '08, they talk about it in 2010, and in 2012, and in 2014, and it just doesn't translate," Sifert said.
Still, many Democrats see the opposition to Trump in the state as an opportunity to build for future races. Some Democratic strategist point out that the state's voter file needs to be updated, and connecting with potential voters in the 2016 race could lay the groundwork to defend against a midterm sweep in 2018 if Clinton wins the White House.
"It's really a long term game,"Healy said. "It's really smart that the Clinton campaign took advantage of this opportunity. We always struggle in midterm years, and this is a way to help prevent that from happening in a way that it did in 2014."
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