There is a poll out today by Anzalone-Liszt showing that the gap between Congressman Flake and former Surgeon General Carmona (under President Bush) in the Arizona Senate race is closing quickly. Earlier in the election cycle, Flake (who is endorsed by current Senator Kyl) was projected to have at most a +16 (Rasmussen) lead on Carmona. Arizona is usually considered a very red state, so I was surprised to find that Carmona (a Democrat) is closing the gap. Because current Senators Kyl and McCain are Republicans and Arizona is generally thought of as a Republican state, I wanted to find out for how many years our Senators have been Republican.
The list of Senators from Arizona was surprising though. Since Arizona was admitted into the Union in 1912, we have had Democratic Senators 20 years longer than Republican Senators. The math: Arizona has been represented by a Senator for 100 years, so with 2 Senators that is 200 years total. We have been represented by a Democrat for 110 of those years, while we have been represented by Republicans for only 90 of those years. This means that for 55% of Arizona’s existence, we’ve had a Democratic Senator.
This is fairly surprising considering Arizona has voted for a Republican President consistently since 1972 (excluding a 1996 vote for Clinton), and Arizonans voted for a Republican presidential candidates by a 6-10% margin in the elections of 2000, 2004, and 2008.
So what is going on here? Why are we electing Democratic Senators the majority of the time while being considered a very Republican state in the Presidential Election? My explanation of this discrepancy is increased voter turnout during presidential elections that not only brings partisan voters to the polls but also Independent and third party voters. Currently among registered voters, there are 161,152 more registered Republicans than Democrats and 1,033,584 independent party or third-party voters. Because of the fairly close number of registered Democrats and Republicans, the Independent vote is very important. Arizona is in fact a red state, but this Republican lead is insignificantly only by 161,152 voters. The elections thus come down to voter turnout and independent/third-party voters.
This is the first time since 1912 that an incumbent in Arizona is not running for the Senate during a presidential election year. Based upon previous Presidential election results and increased turnout, one would expect Congressman Flake to win due to the increased number of voters at the polls voting for the Republican presidential nominee. Does the continually closing gap between Carmona and Flake represent a shift in Independent votes? Or does it alert us to a smaller turnout by Republican voters in the Presidential election year? We will have to wait until the election to see. For Carmona or President Obama to win this year though, they will definitely need to appeal to the independent voters in Arizona and get as many Democratic voters to the polls as possible.