By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
It may not be the signs of a “blue wave,” but a new report from the Secretary of State’s Office suggests that Arizona Democrats appear to be more energized this year than Republicans.
And that may translate to victories in races that in any other year they could not win.
The latest figures show that for every person who registered with the GOP since March, the Democrats registered more than three.
That doesn’t endanger the lead that Republicans have in Arizona. They still make up nearly 35 percent of registered voters, versus less than 31 percent for Democrats.
And independents – those not affiliated with any of the four recognized parties – still make up about a third, though their share of the total is dropping.
The surge in Democrat registration in Arizona comes as recent national elections have shown that races in what should be safe Republican districts have proven closer than expected, as some party faithful stay home amid the controversy over President Trump.
That doesn’t mean they’ll vote for a Democrat. But if they sit out the race in November, it negates the party’s voter registration edge.
Arizona already has a real-live example of this.
In April, Republican Debbie Lesko managed to defeat Democrat Hiral Tipirneni in a special election to fill the congressional seat in northwest Maricopa County that became vacant after the resignation of fellow Republican Steve Montenegro. But Lesko, a state senator who represented the area for years, managed to pick up just 52.1 percent of the votes cast.
That is significant since the Republicans far outnumber Democrats in the district by a margin of close to two-to-one. And that’s a district that went for Trump two years earlier by more than 20 points.
The push to register Democrats is no more pronounced than in the 2nd congressional district, running from midtown Tucson to the state border south and east.
There, Democrats boosted their numbers between March and now by 2,887.
And Republicans? Just 11.
Ayshia Connors, spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, said that disparity is not surprising.
“They have a lot of catching up to do,’’ she said of the Democrats.
In fact, though, they’ve more than caught up in CD 2 and now have a 3,500 registration edge.
But Connors said the party is not worried, what with still having 150,000 more registered adherents statewide than the Democrats.
“We have a very strong ground game,’’ she said.
“Our momentum is strong, our team is strong,’’ Connors continued. “So, we’re very confident we’re going to have success in November.
But not everyone in the GOP reads the new data the same way.
“I think the latest partisan registration numbers are yet the most recent tangible evidence that the energy of the 2018 election is on the center-left of the political spectrum,’’ said Republican consultant Stan Barnes.
Barnes said he has never seen such energy among that group in his 30 years as a Republican.
That’s a really significant concession, given that Barnes, a former state lawmaker, was around when Democrat Janet Napolitano got elected governor in 2002 despite the fact that the GOP had 125,000 more registered voters in the state.
“If the environment is better today, and the Democrats won the governorship when it was less good, what does that mean for Republicans in the 2018 general election?’’ Barnes said. “That’s got Republicans awake at night.’’
Barnes said he still thinks his party can hold its own with “quality candidates.’’ And he said the GOP has built-in advantages, including a large number of incumbents and the fact that the money tends to flow in their direction.
“But Democrats have been so beat down, so long, for what seems like forever in the minority position politically that any blue sky, any oxygen excites them,’’ he said. And that, said Barnes, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“That confidence has led to better candidates and more candidates and more money than anybody running has seen Democrats have before,’’ Barnes said. “And that must translate to victories that would not have been there before save for that optimism.’’
Chuck Couglin, who does consulting for Republicans, said he expects that energized Democrat base will increase voter participation. And that, he said, should translate into at least one, if not more, victories in statewide races, offices now currently occupied entirely by Republicans.
One place the Republicans do not have the benefit of incumbency is CD 2, won in 2014 by Martha McSally, who took the seat away from Democrat Ron Barber.
That year, Republicans had a voter registration edge of about 3,500.
Now, the tables are turned, with the Democrats up by that same margin and McSally in the hunt for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Jeff Flake.
Coughlin said he doubts the Republicans will be able to hang on to that congressional seat.
The other open seat is in CD 9, which encompasses parts of Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa.
Republicans had thought it was a swing district when it was first created for the 2012 election, with GOP registration at the time outnumbering Democrats by more than 10,000. Despite that, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema parlayed her time as a state legislator into a seat in Congress.
Sinema now hopes to become the Democrat nominee for Flake’s seat. That has Republicans thinking that perhaps this is the year they can win CD 9.
Coughlin disagrees. And the numbers are not in the GOP’s favor, with the 10,000 registration edge the party had in 2012 having evaporated into a 13,000 registration deficit.
In CD 1, the picture is a bit different.
Democrat Tom O’Halleran is hoping to hang onto the seat he won two years ago after incumbent Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick made an ill-fated run to oust U.S. Sen. John McCain. Steve Smith, Wendy Rogers and Tiffany Shedd are all vying to be the GOP nominee.
The number of Republican voters in the sprawling district that stretches from the state’s northern border to its eastern edge and down into suburban Tucson is virtually the same now as it was two years ago. But while Democrats still outnumber Republicans in the district, their margin has shrunk by about 7,000 from 2016.