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If Bruce Babbitt Can Win There …

» National Journal: A Desert Mirage

Stop me if you've heard this one before ...

Arizona’s seismic demographic transformation is slowly turning a once deep-red state if not blue, then at least purple. In the past decade alone, Arizona added 600,000 Latinos to its population, according to the Census Bureau. The 46 percent growth rate in the Latino population accounted for half the state’s overall increase. In 2010, Hispanics were 30 percent of Arizona’s total population—an ominous trend for Republicans, because Hispanics vote nearly 2-to-1 nationally for Democrats. President Obama’s allies brag, in fact, that they could have won the state in 2008 if Arizona’s favorite son, Sen. John McCain, hadn’t been his opponent. As it was, Democrats kept McCain’s margin to single digits.

That helps explain why the Obama reelection campaign boasts about its hopes for the state.

Team Obama has obviously labelled Arizona as a target for expanding the map and the 2010 Census findings aren't discouraging. Unfortunately, the Census findings were more-or-less reflected in the very same demographics that led to Obama getting 44.9% in 2008. Yes, John McCain - the popular Senator from Arizona - was also on the ballot. But its still not proven to be a state on the verge of swinging.

Furthermore, roughly 60% of the state's vote comes from one county: Maricopa. The Presidential votes aren't entirely suggestive that Obama can swing the big county ...

1996 - Clinton: 44.5%
2000 - Gore: 42.8%
2004 - Kerry: 42.3%
2008 - Obama: 43.91%

For the other 40% of the state, Obama carried only 46.6% of the vote. Again, not entirely supportive. It would be easy to write Arizona off if that were all there were to the story. But there is more.

If there's a model to find votes, it might be in another election held in 2008. The vote for the state's Corporation Commissioner saw a field of six candidates in an open field vying for three open seats. The top three vote-getters took office. Two of them were Democrats - the first sent to the board in a decade. But the cumulative vote for all candidates saw the three Democratic candidates win 52.4% of the statewide vote - winning both Maricopa (55%) and the combined vote of the remaining counties (51%). It's a different animal, but the surge of 2008 vote that might have gone for Obama in Arizona had McCain not been the nominee is a bit telling.

I was a pessimist when Team Obama publicly committed $40M to winning Florida. And I'm skeptical that Obama shows gains over 2008 anywhere this cycle. But Obama could definitely stand to gain some votes in Arizona since his 2008 support may have been held down by the favorite son opponent. Whether its enough to win, I'm still skeptical. But we'll see how close he can make it if there's money behind the promise of competing there.

A point to make about the corollary to Texas: the fact that Arizon's population is so concentrated highlights a key difference about why a state that Obama polled about 1 point behind Arizona is harder to swing. Texas has 20 media markets. Arizona, four. Two are in-state and the two that aren't are generally areas where Obama is likely to already be advertising: Las Vegas and Albequerque. That's a lot more manageable than playing in three very expensive major media markets like DFW, Houston, and San Antonio while hoping that there's enough money to play in some of the smaller, more affordable ones like Austin, Waco, or Dem-friendly ones such as Harlingen, Laredo, Corpus Christi, and El Paso. That's enough to bleed any campaign dry.

So while a competitive race in Arizona may give Texas Dems a bit more heart for the future, there's still a big competitive hurdle that comes with a state nearly four times larger than Arizona.

And while we're on the topic of Bruce Babbitt (we were talking about Bruce Babbitt, right?), here's the best video I could find that included his 1987 stint on Saturday Night Live. I wonder what ever happened to the guy who grilled him on that show?

Bruce Babbitt ('88 Democrat Presidential... by weatherguru76

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