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Arizona has gone Republican in every presidential election since 1952, except for one time when a guy named Bill Clinton narrowly carried the state in 1996. Now, with another Clinton on the ballot, Arizona Republicans have fight on their hands. Polls show Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton virtually tied in the Copper State and both parties are spending big to get out the vote.
Until this year, you wouldn’t find “Arizona” and “battleground state” in the same sentence. Neither party would admit past complacency, but both Democrats and Republicans here have had record fundraising years. That would suggest there’s more money being spent on this federal election cycle in Arizona than ever before. State Democrats have raised more than $1.5 million this year and they’re using the money to reach out to voters.
Enrique Gutierrez is the communications director with the state Democratic party. He’s surveying a room full of busy volunteers at the Phoenix headquarters.
“Yeah, everything is all hands on deck right now,” he said. Democrats have more than 160 paid staffers running 32 statewide offices in Arizona. That’s a bigger presence in the state than ever before. Gutierrez said the national party helped pay for the expansion.
“In other cycles, sometimes our resources are pulled out of Arizona and into states like Nevada or Colorado where it’s very competitive,” he said. “Now what we’re seeing in this cycle, it’s a difference where we’re seeing those come into Arizona.”
The Democrats are investing heavily in their ground game. The main focus? Early voting. Democratic volunteers like Claudia Haworth are phone banking in to make sure voters that requested early ballots are filling them out and sending them in. More than two million Arizonans requested early ballots this year. Haworth says they have lots of questions about the relatively new voting method.
“What is the deadline for mailing? Can I drop it off at my ballot place? What if I drop it off at a ballot place that’s not my ballot place? Will it still count?” Haworth said.
Claudia Haworth, with her dog Bridger, makes calls from the Phoenix State Democratic Party Headquarters to remind early voters to send in their ballots.
Across town at the Republican party headquarters, volunteers are filling plastic bags with voter information that they’ll hang on doorknobs in a neighborhood canvass. Robert Graham is the Chair of the Arizona Republican party. He oversees 21 field offices in the state and just over 100 paid staffers.
“The reason that might be perceived as being light here is because the Republican party has been very self-sufficient and it takes the pressure off other states,” Graham said.
Even though it’s a close race, asking the RNC for money would take away from its efforts in places like Florida and Ohio. Graham says they’ve raised more than $3 million in Arizona and they’re spending the majority of it on direct mail and phone calls to get out the vote.
“Phone calls — you spend two to three cents a call and we’ve done a million or so phone calls. So that gives you a feel for where we are,” Graham said.
They’re spending on digital ads and social media, but there’s money going to traditional messaging as well. At a get-out-the-vote event in September, the campaign handed out more than 30,000 yard signs. Alex John and his sister stuffed a massive 4-foot by 8-foot Trump sign into their parents’ SUV.
“We’re takin’ this big boy home,” John said. “We’re going to hang it up. And we took 10 yard signs and I’m going to spread it out with all of my family members.”
Graham said engaging voters on every level is especially important in a state where voters aren’t used to such a tight race.
“We have to continue to remind them to vote. We have to continue to remind them to engage in the process,” Graham said. “But I don’t think we have to regroup people just because they become complacent. I think right now people know there’s a real fight here in Arizona.”
As the demographics here continue trending younger, more liberal and increasingly Latino, it’s a fight that could bring a hefty price tag for both parties for years to come.
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