Arizona: Turning Blue for Kerry?
The Republicans, meanwhile, are not about to quietly cede the state to the Democrats. Campaign appearances by both Bush and Cheney have brought out big and enthusiastic crowds, if not quite as large as Kerry's, and the Republicans also benefit from a more mature and better-oiled statewide organization. Republicans not only retain the upper hand in rural and ranching areas but also draw support from some of the newly arrived suburban high-tech transplants. Among the state's large veteran and retired population they can also fight the Democrats mano a mano.
Nor is the GOP ceding the Latino vote. Republicans claim 23,000 volunteers in Arizona. "Fifteen percent of those are Latinos," says GOP campaign consultant Rubén Alvarez. Stressing, as Democrats agree, that Latinos are not a homogeneous voting bloc, Alvarez says he's "confident" that Bush can take the plus-35 percent of the Latino vote he needs to win "because here in Arizona we have a big increase in Latino small businessmen who agree not only with the President's economic policies but also with his stand for traditional family values." Bush will also attract the Latino vote, Alvarez says, because "after eight years of no discussion at all, the President has elevated the debate on immigration."
But if there's one unpredictable wild card in the coming Arizona electoral shootout, it is, precisely, the issue of illegal immigration, as manifested in a Prop 187-like anti-immigrant measure on the November ballot. Ever since 1994, when the Clinton Administration began clamping down on the western and eastern extremes of the southern border, prompting desperate crossings through the brutal Arizona desert, this state has become the epicenter of the illegal immigration crisis. Thousands of undocumented migrants stream into Arizona on a daily basis. While thousands are apprehended, and some die in the crossing, equal numbers get through, swamping health and other state services.
Reaction to the crisis has been mixed. Republican Senator John McCain has joined with Democrats to propose a legalization process--a measure spurned by the GOP Congressional leadership. On the ground level, numerous citizen and church groups run active relief programs, while xenophobic, rancher-based "militias" attempt to stop illegal crossings. The ballot measure, sponsored by a group called Protect Arizona Now (PAN), would require Arizonans to show proof of residence or citizenship when using public agencies. The Arizona Republican Party, fully cognizant that a Latino backlash against California's Prop 187 nearly wiped out that state's GOP, opposes the measure. But the Democrats, aware that some 40 percent of Latinos support it, won't take an official position against it. While he was in Arizona, Kerry punted on the issue, saying it's the sort of decision he would leave to the states. Says one Democratic consultant, "Lots of Mexican-Americans were either born here or say, 'Hey, I earned my stay here. So the next guy who comes along also has to. No free rides.'" No one is willing to guess which segment of the electorate will be most energized by the PAN initiative.
One possible silver lining for Democrats, however, could emerge from the immigration storm: a "spoiler" problem for Bush. Numerous Arizona conservatives were outraged when the President announced earlier this year that he would push for a guest-worker legalization program. Though the White House has, at least for now, scuttled the initiative, nativist resentment still simmers against Bush along the southern border. Some anti-immigration activists have started an Internet campaign, gathering pledges from angry conservatives that instead of voting for Bush in November they will write in the name of Colorado Representative Tommy Tancredo, a border crackdown advocate. As of August, a leading anti-immigration group claimed to have more than 30,000 pledges--most of them from Arizona.
The final uncertain twist in Arizona is the mail-in ballot. With voting allowed as early as September 30, young Democratic canvassers are relentlessly working their precinct lists, trying to sew up pledges to vote for Kerry. Their preferred tool is the voting-by-mail program. "And after what happened in Florida in 2000, people here are really going to use that mail-in ballot," says Mario Diaz, a Kerry consultant who ran the nominee's victorious Arizona primary campaign. The final Bush-Kerry debate is scheduled to take place on October 13 at Arizona State University, in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe. "The debate will coincide with a peak in voting by mail," Diaz says. "And the entire state will be watching every word."