Last week, as the Padres wrestled their way to an improbable series win over the heretofore indomitable Dodgers, a peculiarly vile anti-immigrant ad was aired halfway through the game. Its narrator informed the audience that President Biden had opened the border to millions of migrants—brown migrants, according to the visuals accompanying the narration—who were stealing the American Dream from real Americans. “This giant flood of illegal immigration is draining your paychecks, wrecking your schools, ruining your hospitals, threatening your families,” the narrator told viewers. “Mixed among the masses are drug dealers, sex traffickers, and violent predators.”
The ad was funded by a group called Citizens for Sanity. When the Los Angeles Times investigated the organization, it turned out to be led by colleagues of Stephen Miller at the America First Legal Foundation, which supports a potpourri of noxious right-wing proposals. Yes, that Stephen Miller, the odious Trump adviser who devised the Muslim travel ban, family separation, and the use of Title 42 to lock down the border. That Stephen Miller, who wanted to reduce to zero the number of refugees admitted into the US each year. That Stephen Miller, who devised the vicious interpretation of the Public Charge rule to basically bar immigrants from accessing even emergency public benefits. That bald little pimple on the Trumpian arse, publicly savaged by his own family for his foul views, who has devoted his entire adult life to reimagining America as a fortress against non-white and non-wealthy immigrants.
A variation on the ad is also running in Arizona, tailored to the state that enacted SB 1070, the country’s harshest state-level anti-undocumented immigrant law, back in 2010. That bill, derided by opponents as the “show me your papers law” essentially deputized local law enforcement, such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies in Maricopa County, to go after anyone they “suspected” of being undocumented. The criteria for suspicion was so vague, it became a dragnet used by police and sheriffs to go after anyone non-white.
Even by GOP attack ad standards, Citizens for Sanity’s ghastly creation is extraordinary. “Anarchy. Chaos. Humanitarian disaster. Hospitals overrun, schools overwhelmed, the safety net shredded, drug dealers and sex traffickers roaming free,” the narrator shouts, while images of brown people fill the screen and menacing music blares. “A Third World country? No, Arizona. Joe Biden and Mark Kelly have thrown open the southern border. Over five million illegal immigrants from over 100 countries have entered since Biden took office, three times the population of Phoenix. Send a message to Biden and Kelly. We don’t want open borders.”
Kelly, who has fashioned a reputation as a strong, pragmatic, likable senator over the past four years, has the wherewithal to withstand these attacks. Despite some tightening of the polls in recent weeks, he still considerably ahead of the Trumpian election denier and Peter Thiel protégé Blake Masters. The pollsters I have spoken to, including several GOP pollsters in the state, think it probable that Kelly will be reelected.
But the other races in Arizona aren’t looking nearly so good. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs, who is currently the secretary of state, seems to have squandered a large summertime lead over über-Trumpian Fox News anchor cum GOP candidate Kari Lake. The latest polling shows a dead heat with Lake, who is slightly ahead in the latest surveys, having erased a seven-point deficit in the polls in the past six weeks. Polling this week by HighGround, albeit for a TV station owned by a pro-Trump businessman and GOP donor, shows that the Republican candidates for secretary of state and attorney general—the conspiracist Mark Finchem and the election-denying Abraham Hamadeh—are also pulling ahead in their races.
In tandem with unease at the persistently high inflation rate, fears about the southern border with Mexico have largely neutralized the Democratic Party’s polling bounce in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Polling shows that roughly the same percentage of Arizonans view immigration as their number-one issue of concern as those who consider abortion access of prime importance.
Should the Lake-Finchem-Hamadeh trifecta take charge, buoyed by both economic unease and a whipped-up hysteria about the border, Arizona will become ground zero for election deniers looking to reshape their state’s political landscape. If they are backed up by an extremist GOP majority in the legislature, they could make it well-nigh impossible for Democrats to take the state’s 11 Electoral College votes at the next presidential election.
None of these races is a shoo-in for Republicans. As with so many marquee races around the country in 2022, each will come down to the wire. But heading into the home stretch, Republicans do have a slight edge. They are marginally ahead not because large majorities of Arizonans like their policies but because, with the electorate so evenly divided, Hobbs hasn’t sparkled and that may be a drag on the other candidates. For entirely unfathomable reasons, she has declined to debate the verbal bomb-throwing Kari Lake, thus giving the Trumpist a free pass to communicate, unchallenged, directly with voters.
There are two and a half weeks left for the Democrats to turn things around. Two and a half weeks to show the Arizona public just how dangerous, just how off the wall, these particular GOP candidates are.