When Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission finished redrawing the state’s political districts, it quickly became clear that none would be as watched as the new 9th Congressional District.
Its partisan breakdown and performance models foreshadowed practically even odds for Republican or Democratic candidates.
And yet, while Democratic candidates were able to capture all three of the state’s competitive congressional districts in 2012, none won by as large a margin as Kyrsten Sinema did in CD9, defeating Republican Vernon Parker.
A joint analysis by the Arizona Capitol Times and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting shows that Sinema won by sweeping the most competitive parts of CD9 and doing slightly better in the most Democratic-leaning precincts than her Republican opponent did in the most Republican-leaning ones.
In precincts where Democratic and Republican registration numbers were within 5 percentage points, Sinema won all but one.
And in the precincts she won, Sinema took an average 58 percent of the vote. Parker earned only an average of 55 percent in the precincts he won.
DJ Quinlan, interim executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said Sinema’s victory demonstrates how well her team put two key campaign strategies into action.
First, Sinema mobilized her partisan base. In areas like central Phoenix, central Tempe and central Mesa, her margin of victory outpaced the already strong Democratic registration advantage.
But in a competitive district such as CD9, the more evenly pitted areas also became essential to winning the election. And in competitive areas such as south Scottsdale, south Tempe, Chandler, west Mesa, north Phoenix and parts of Ahwatukee, Sinema came out on top.
Explore the CD9 map
Click on the map for precinct-level vote and demographic details. Precincts are colored by the vote percentage. Precincts outlined in black are the most competitive precincts in the district.
Those results can be attributed to Sinema’s campaigning efforts as well as the political environment she ran in.
Rodd McLeod, Sinema’s campaign manager, said their research showed that Democratic-leaning areas of the district were already primed for a high turnout because of enthusiasm for President Barak Obama. That allowed her campaign to focus more resources on going after independent voters, McLeod said.
And those “persuasion” voters, McLeod said, were receptive to Sinema’s record as a lawmaker. They highlighted bills she worked on that helped veterans and working mothers and it paid off, he said.
Her campaign also hit Parker hard on statements he had made about defunding Planned Parenthood and underscored his work in President George W. Bush’s administration, which McLeod said soured those independent voters.
But Parker’s campaign faced an uphill battle, his campaign manager Brian Murray said.
Among independent women, Sinema came out of the gate with a 4-to-1 advantage, according to polling they did during the campaign.
And Murray suggested that there may have been a racial component to Parker’s loss as well. Surveys done by Parker’s campaign showed that when his biography was tested with voters, noting he is African American resulted in a 7-point drop in favorability.
“It is what it is,” Murray said. “That’s outside a statistical anomaly.”
Murray said he thinks pro-Sinema groups capitalized on Parker’s race, rehashing an allegation made previously that a photo of Parker on an anti-Parker mailer sent by the Arizona Democratic Party had been manipulated to darken his skin. The Arizona Democratic Party denied the charge, however, and the Sinema campaign has pointed out that they had nothing to do with that mailer.
Murray said he thinks the 2014 election will provide a much different setting and that Sinema will not have as easy a path to victory without a Democratic base that’s enthusiastic about a presidential candidate. And the typically lower turnout among independent voters in non-presidential years will leave Sinema with a more challenging electorate, he said.
The 2014 election, Murray said, will be the real determining factor in whether the seat will be a tossup throughout the district’s 10-year lifespan. If Sinema is re-elected, Murray said he thinks she will enjoy a true incumbent’s advantage for future elections. If voters elect a Republican in 2014, Murray said, the seat will be more likely to change hands over and over.