In less than two weeks, Arizonans who haven’t voted by early ballot will head to the polls. November 8th will prove to be a very interesting and long night. Interesting because reliably red Arizona could very well go blue this presidential election—affecting races down the ballot. Long because there will be several races that are so close that we will have to wait days to know which candidate actually prevailed.
Senator McCain will have no trouble winning reelection and the congressional delegation will likely maintain its make-up of 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats. The one congressional race that will be the most interesting to watch will be in Congressional District 2 between Republican Congresswoman McSally and former Democratic State Representative Matt Heinz.
CD-2 is a true swing district. Republicans have a very slight voter registration advantage, but the district was originally held by Democrat Ron Barber is 2012. Congresswoman McSally is well funded, has been very active in her district and should prevail. However, it is important to note that in 2012—with President Obama at the top of the ticket—Ron Barber won only by a couple of hundred votes. And in 2014—in the midst of a Republican wave election—Congresswoman McSally won by less than 200 votes. This is a finicky district and it is hard to accurately predict what effect the presidential election will have on this race.
At the Legislature, all eyes will be on the State Senate. While Democrats will almost certainly pick up a couple of seats in the State House, it will not be enough to take control. However, depending on the outcome in 4 senate races, we could see a split of 15 Republicans and 15 Democrats. Even though conditions have been improving for Democrats throughout this election cycle, I still think a split Senate is unlikely but a 16-14 GOP controlled Senate is probable. A margin that narrow will have a major impact on the type of policy and legislation considered and passed at the Legislature over the next two years.
The races to watch are:
- LD-18: Two newcomers Republican Frank Schmuck against Democrat Sean Bowie face off. Schmuck defeated incumbent Jeff Dial in the primary. This is probably the Democrats best chance at a pick up.
- LD-28: This race matches up current House seatmates Democrat Eric Meyer and Republican Kate Brophy McGee. Both candidates are well funded and know their district well. In any other year, the edge would go to the Republican. But with Meyer’s name ID coupled with impact of the presidential race, this seat could go Democrat.
- LD-8: Current Democrat State Senator Barb McGuire is facing off against current Republican State Representative Frank Pratt. Senator McGuire is probably the most vulnerable Democratic senator. Democrats are outpacing Republicans in returning their early ballots in this district. However, returns for both are low. Additionally, Republicans tend to favor voting in person on election day. This could be the one Republican pick up in the Senate.
- LD-6: Incumbent GOP Senator Sylvia Allen is facing a challenge from the former Mayor of Jerome, Nikki Bagley. While Democrats are seeing strong returns in their early ballots, they are still trailing Republican ballot returns thus far. LD-6 is an overwhelmingly Republican district. Senator Allen will post strong numbers on election day and ultimately prevail.
There is no doubt that the presidential race is impacting the down-ticket races. Some are pointing to the Democrats strong early ballot returns as evidence that this could be a wave election. While there is no doubt that many Republicans and Independents are struggling to fill out the top of their ballot, this doesn’t represent a wholesale loss of confidence in the GOP like we saw back in 2006. The Arizona Republic/Morrison Institute recently released a poll that showed 35% of Arizonans viewed the Legislature “favorably” or “very favorably”—outpacing those who viewed the Legislature “unfavorably.” (Approximately one-third of Arizonans were undecided.) Thirty-five percent may not seem like a glowing review, but when you consider approval ratings for the U.S. Congress hovers around 10%, it is a downright ringing endorsement for the GOP-controlled Legislature.
The danger facing the GOP is that voters who haven’t made up their mind about president never mail in their ballot or show up at the polls. That could make a lot of these races closer than they normally would be. And in Arizona, if the margin between two candidates is less than 0.1% of total votes cast for that office, an automatic recount is triggered. We already saw one after this year’s primary election where current State Senate President Andy Biggs prevailed over former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones by 16 votes to become the GOP nominee for Congressional District 5. I believe would could see a few more after the general election.
So be prepare for the final outcome of this election to be determined well after Election Day.