by J. Charles 'Chuck' Coughlin | November 21, 2018

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On the eve of a Presidential visit in August of 2017, HighGround commissioned a poll that showed President’s Trump approval rating in Arizona at 41.8%, and his Republican support at 74% and I wrote the following observation (see the post here):


“If the President and the GOP fail to expand public support beyond the GOP base, the party may face historic electoral failures in 2018.  A President cannot govern with the support of a single party; the 2010 mid-term cycle should inform everyone where this current ship is headed…While I am sure he will receive a hero’s welcome inside the Convention hall tomorrow, there should be little doubt given this research, which shows that he enjoys single digit support amongst Democrats and less than a third of Independent and unaffiliated voters, that this is not a sustainable general election coalition.”


Clearly, given the results of the 2018 midterms, the current Republican electoral coalition is not sufficient to win a General Election contest in 2020.  We saw a massive surge of Independent and unaffiliated voters at the end of the election and it’s clear by the final voting trends, they tended to side with the Democrats.  So, as we look ahead to 2020, here are some things on the national stage to ponder:

  • Candidates matter:  Remember when poll numbers showed Governor Ducey losing to an unnamed Democratic challenger?  Then, David Garcia won the Democratic nomination by fully embracing the progressive agenda and permitted the Governor’s campaign to compare and contrast. Result: double digit Ducey victory.
  • Trump vs. unnamed: Similarly, we should expect to see the same thing as the Democrats struggle to nominate a credible challenger to face President Trump. Trump may struggle against an unnamed challenger, but what happens when one is actually named?  That process will get into full gear this spring and dominate our political news cycle through the Super Tuesday elections in March 2020. There is no doubt that the spectacle will give the Trump White House ample opportunity to compare and contrast – setting the stage for the 2020 cycle. 
  • Can Dems define what they are “for:” Candidates in Arizona; Sinema, Hobbs, and (to a slightly lesser extent) Hoffman all gave Democrats a demonstrable path to victory.  But that path will be more difficult in two years as the Democratic Party will have to more clearly define itself and what it stands for.  The Arizona team didn’t have to be burdened with a National Democratic ticket.  Two years from now candidates may be saddled with a ticket that has fully embraced progressive politics while still bereft of answers on how to willingly secure our Southern Border and articulate meaningful immigration reform that benefits the American economy.
  • Real Discussion about Latin America:  And while those issues are being discussed, perhaps we would all benefit if the debate focused on Central America and Latin America as a critical foreign policy issues, rather than just settings for Netflix shows or verses out of a Jimmy Buffett song. 
  • Effect of bruising primaries:  It is also important to remember that, for the most part, the winning Democratic ticket in Arizona didn’t have to endure a difficult primary season. David Garcia did and he lost.  Hoffman did, but benefitted from the Republican incumbent being knocked off on the other side.  There is a lesson there for the National Democratic ticket. Can the Democratic National Committee conduct a disciplined primary without the progressive hatred of the President spoiling their opportunity in 2020?

Arizona 2019 and beyond

Here at home we have some things to ponder as well.  The Arizona House of Representatives now sits at 31-29 – closer than at any point in my adult life.  Those of us old enough to  recall when the Senate was in Democratic hands (many reminisce fondly on Pete Rios and his still awesome hair).  The closeness of the House and the Senate at 17-13 will create caucus shopping opportunities for Legislative leadership. Speaker Bowers commitment to caucus driven leadership will be acutely tested in this session.

Arizona has its own version of the Freedom Caucus, the Liberty Caucus. When ideological obstinacy makes counting to 31 votes difficult (the number needed for a bill or a budget to pass the House), the Democratic caucus would be wise to remember that former Legislative leaders often went shopping on the Navajo reservation for a few Democratic votes to make the wheels of government work. 

Thoughtful minority caucus leadership should recognize that and take advantage of opportunities to make a difference, but not too costly of a difference. Aaron Lieberman’s (D-28) editorial in Tuesday’s Republic is a good start, but the proof will be in the doing. (read it here).

Education Policy & Funding:  We saw what happened in the last legislative session when the Arizona Education Association took the momentum of the Save Our Schools movement over the cliff in voting against the Governor’s pay hike proposal, and adopting an income tax initiative that didn’t even make the ballot.  By the close of the election, the failed AEA was trying to take credit for the defeat of 305, which they never led on in the first place (and initially didn’t even support the citizen referendum). 

Democrats would be wise to remember how failed that organization is at leading and remember the lessons of squandered momentum.  Republicans would do well to strongly augment the financial oversight regulations of Charter School operators to ensure that this popular policy option continues to be the model of educational excellence in Arizona.

Water:  As of this writing, the pieces of the water puzzle necessary to adopt the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) are being worked out by the Bureau of Reclamation, The Central Arizona Project, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Gila River Indian Community.  There are many more interested parties at the table but it will be up to this group to provide a basic policy structure that is capable of getting a majority vote in the Arizona Legislature and the signature of Governor Ducey.  For the sake of our water future, that hopefully will come together at the beginning of the session and get everyone off to a productive start.  Prayers and patience are needed though.

Senate Appointment:  It’s a commonly held belief that we should expect the Governor to announce the replacement for Senator Kyl soon. Giving the Republican the benefit of getting their feet wet in the orientation process and time to assemble  a staff  is a lot to ask of anyone.  Hopefully, that appointment can work with the White House on a border security plan that creates an environment that promotes legal trade and commerce and develops an immigration reform plan which reflects our nation’s values and gives people the opportunity to work in an economy that is badly in need of skilled labor.

Ultimately, turnout in Arizona in 2020 will be higher by the simple virtue that Presidential elections are always higher.  The question is: will we see turnout that rivals the Obama excitement (77.1% in 2008) or could it be even higher?  It will come down to the items pondered above.  Turning out to support or oppose the President will only go so far.  Actions, ideas, and solutions to our real problems are likely to make the biggest difference on who gets to be in charge in 2020 and beyond.



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