Previously, we reviewed the turnout from the 2020 election and discussed the questions it raises for 2022. We posed three big questions
- Can Democrats maintain their enthusiasm?
- What becomes of the Republican Party?
- How will Independents react?
It will take some time to find these answers and certainly there will be some missteps along the way. The Biden Administration is having its moment in the sun, but soon they will have to discover what it takes to govern. Trump may be suspiciously quiet for a little bit, but he is more than likely to pop up before too long. If people wait too long to start to find the answers, they might find themselves playing from behind. Here are some initial answers to these big questions:
Define an Arizona Democrat
On the national level, now that Democrats are in the majority, they will have to lead. As we have learned with Sinema and Kelly, candidates matter – particularly in a non-presidential cycle. As we have said many times, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer do not win in Arizona. If Democrats want to maintain their enthusiasm, they must define what an Arizona Democrat looks like. Senator Sinema’s statement that she is “against eliminating the filibuster, and she is not open to changing her mind” is the first step in setting that definition.
Time will tell how the definitinon will come into focus. As Robb pointed out recently, it is easy to be “bipartisan” when you are in the minority, not so much when you have a one seat majority. Biden’s immigration proposal and his $1.9 trillion dollar relief package will provide a substantive initial test for Arizona’s newly minted junior Senator Mark Kelly who is up for re-election in two years. Do Kelly and Sinema work with Senate Republicans to get the 60 votes necessary to get the legislation passed or do they hold fast with Schumer and the partisan Democrats and be a part of the blame game empowering the Trump base? Certainly, passing either package with 70+ votes would demonstrate Biden’s commitment to unity and a clear definition of what that “Arizona” Democrat looks like.
In addition to Kelly, it is important to note that the Democratic nominees for statewide office will be critical as well. Democrats must avoid a messy free-for-all or electing far-left progressives who have proven time and again unelectable on a statewide level.
Right the Republican Ship
Currently, with a state party focused on personal vendettas and a former-President looking to form a third party, it may seem like the Republican party is burning to the ground and will not be competitive in 2022. However, there are steps they can take to right the ship. Here are a few:
- Stop suppressing Republican voters: As we saw in Georgia, the ongoing effort to sow doubt about the legitimacy of the previous election runs the risk of further suppressing Republican turnout in future elections. The drive for transparency is a noble cause, but Republicans must begin to rebuild confidence in the system to prevent their voters from staying home.
- Unite the party: In the week following the January 6 violence, more than 3,500 GOP voters left the party and re-registered as unaffiliated. Couple that with Trump’s efforts to create a new “Party”, which is a pseudonym for a “Trump Fundraising” machine – Republicans are a house deeply divided, and we know what Lincoln said about that. It may be up to Pence as former Vice President and Ducey as the Chairman of RGA to take the lead in bringing the party together.
- Embrace early voting: Further efforts to suppress vote by mail will likely only serve to further erode the public’s confidence in the Republican Party. We should never forget that Republicans started early voting in Arizona and perfected it. It is a strategic misstep to give it up.
- Stop trying to game the system: Making it more difficult to vote through efforts like requiring a notary signature will be called out for what they are – a poll tax aimed at suppressing certain kinds of voters. These underhanded tactics could lead to a complete voter revolt. It is bad for democracy and a terrible look for the party that supposedly embraces freedom and competition.
Even with these steps, it may not be enough. The best chance for Republican unification may be if the Biden agenda goes so far left as to create Trump like environment which existed in 2016. Biden’s legislative strategy must consider the midterm electoral consequence of disappointing the left and creating an enthusiasm gap or going too far and handing the Party of Trump a second chance. Remember Biden only won by a collective 60,000 votes in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Georgia. The country is deeply divided, and Trump supporters love that.
Start Courting Independent Voters Right Away
There is a reason that these Independent and unaffiliated voters chose not to be of one of the two major parties. Democrats cannot assume they will lean their way in 2022. Republicans must recognize that pandering to their base may get cheers in a district meeting or adoration on social media, but it destroys their ability to broaden the base. Attacking Cindy McCain, the Governor, and claiming total righteousness significantly handicaps their ability to win statewide elections in Arizona and, in particular, carry Maricopa County.
Independent and unaffiliated voters remain one of the most important and least understood parts of the electorate. They are neither monolithic nor all “moderate.” They can support both increased education funding and increased border enforcement. They will pick and choose their candidates and issues. They are not intellectual hostages to the contempt narrative of the right or the grievance narrative of the left. In the end, candidates understanding their behavior and their values are likely to be the difference between victory and defeat in the next election.
It behooves everyone to start talking to independent and unaffiliated voters early and often. Do not wait until the early voting to start talking to these folks and do not assume they know what you know. They do not receive the same amount of mail or voter contact as other voters and generally are not addicted to the partisan twitter, Facebook cultures of both parties. You cannot talk to them in the same terms or language that you use to appeal to their partisan counterparts. Independent and unaffiliated voters must be a part of a winning coalition. Statewide races cannot be won without them.
Need More Answers?
As we said before, a lot of things will change over the next 93 weeks. More questions will arise. That is where experience and strategy come in. If you need help navigating the road ahead, we are here to talk, analyze, plan, and execute. Remember, we have been doing this for 25 years now. It may be a new rodeo, but it is not our first.