The statewide Democratic candidates who emerged victorious from primary elections reflect a diverse slate, with people of color and women making up the majority of the nominees. The Republican nominees reflect quite the opposite.
Not only is the GOP slate lacking broad diversity, but two incumbent women lost their re-election bids to male candidates, further homogenizing the Republican contingent.
All but two Democratic statewide candidates – Mark Manoil, who is running for treasurer, and Bill Pierce, candidate for mine inspector – are women, minorities or both.
The statewide GOP ticket is the complete opposite. Republicans have two women – U.S. Sen. candidate Martha McSally and treasurer candidate Kimberly Yee – running statewide.
Republicans are running a more diverse slate of candidates in state congressional races.
Arizona’s 1st Congressional District nominee Wendy Rogers and 2nd Congressional District nominee Lea Marquez Peterson join the GOP federal elections slate along with U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, who is defending her seat in the state’s 8th Congressional District.
The diversity of Arizona’s statewide Democratic ticket reflects a trend across the country wherein liberal voters are increasingly supporting women and minority candidates.
Just two black candidates have clinched governorships in the country’s history. But this year, black Democrats in Florida, Georgia and Maryland won their gubernatorial primaries, paving the way for what could be a historic Election Day.
The Democratic Party is seeing a surge in engagement among people of all ethnicities, said Felecia Rotellini, state party chairwoman. Democrats have always had the upper hand when it comes to diversity, but now women and minorities are fed up with Republican policies and are calling for change, she said.
The state’s Democratic candidates are spreading a message of inclusion and the party’s nominees show that, Rotellini said.
“This year, we have such great reflection of who we are in Arizona,” she said.
A representative for the state Republican Party did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Arizona has a long history of electing women, especially Republicans, to the state’s top offices. In 1998, a quintet of women – known as the Fab Five – clinched the state’s top five offices from governor to superintendent of public instruction. Of the five, Attorney General Janet Napolitano was the lone Democrat. The Republicans were Gov. Jane Dee Hull, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, Treasurer Carol Springer, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham-Keegan.
The sheer surge of women and minorities seeking elected office is to some extent, an unintended side effect of President Donald Trump’s presidency, said Sharmin Dharas, executive director of Emerge Arizona. Emerge Arizona is an offshoot of Emerge America, a nonprofit devoted to preparing more Democratic women to run for office.
Emerge Arizona formed in 2004, but Dharas said the group has seen a groundswell of eager candidates after 2016.
“We’ve always had diversity in our candidates, but it’s showing more now because we’re having more women run for office because of the person that’s currently in the White House,” she said.
Women and minorities have felt increasingly marginalized since Trump took office and running for office is their way of speaking out, she said.
Motivating women to run for office in the earlier years of Emerge Arizona’s existence was tough because, on average, women have to be asked seven times to run for office, she said. Traditionally, women need more cajoling than men when it comes to jumping into elections, but women in the Trump era seem more gung-ho, Dharas said.
Women are also motivated to run when they see other women seeking elected office, she said citing Deedra Abboud jumping into the Democratic U.S. Senate primary against U.S. Rep Kyrsten Sinema.
“Seeing another woman that is capable of running for higher office enlightens other women and even women of color to want to run,” Dharas said. “Now, you’re creating a pipeline for other women to take over.”
State Sen. Katie Hobbs, January Contreras and Kiana Maria Sears – Democratic nominees for secretary of state, attorney general and corporation commission respectively – are among the slew of Emerge Arizona alumnae seeking elected office this election cycle. If elected, Contreras would be the state’s first Latina attorney general.
Women are already breaking barriers this election cycle. Arizona will get its first female U.S. senator this year with McSally and Sinema facing off for Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Garcia could be the state’s second Hispanic governor, following Raul Castro, who was elected more than four decades ago.
Diversity alone will not win Democrats elections, though. Republican and Democratic observers alike say this election is driven by the issues.
Story continues after graphic.
Identity vs. ideology
The contrasting slates may simply come down to a historic difference between the parties.
Identity politics play better with Democratic voters, while Republicans are more likely to stick strictly to the issues, said Republican consultant Paul Bentz.
Democrats have embraced the idea that “it’s somebody’s turn” or time for new voices to lead, he said.
The primary results in the superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state’s races are prime examples.
Incumbent Republican women were unseated in both cases by male candidates.
Superintendent Diane Douglas came in third place as former California Congressman Frank Riggs took the victory, and Secretary of State Michele Reagan lost the nomination to political newcomer Steve Gaynor.
But Bentz said their losses had nothing to do with gender. Douglas and Reagan were simply vulnerable candidates.
They’ve drawn criticism from their own party from the start. Douglas clashed early on with Gov. Doug Ducey and continued to make headlines for all the wrong reasons, and Reagan never escaped a variety of election woes, including her failure to mail out 200,000 ballot pamphlets before voters received early ballots in 2016.
While the Republicans sought to replace troubled officials, Bentz said Democrats focused on pushing back against the establishment with their nominees.
He pointed to the Democratic nominees for superintendent of public instruction and the Arizona Corporation Commission in particular. In both cases, male candidates who were cast as safe bets in the general election fell to women who have no experience in elected office.
David Schapira, a former legislator and Tempe City Council member, lost to educator Kathy Hoffman by nearly 22,000 votes in the Democratic primary for superintendent of public instruction. And former Corporation Commissioner Bill Mundell lost his chance to return to the commission. Kiana Maria Sears edged him out of the running as one of two Democratic nominees, the first of which was won by former Commissioner Sandra Kennedy.
Both Sears and Kennedy are black women who will now face Republicans Justin Olson and Rodney Glassman.
Bentz said Hoffman and Sears’ wins clearly show Democrats wanted someone different. Being female won’t be enough to secure victory, but it certainly won’t hurt in a year where more liberal leaning voters are turning out.
The same may be true in the secretary of state’s race, he said.
What Gaynor lacked in name recognition he made up for in cash flow during the primary. That’ll help in the general election, Bentz said. But it won’t guarantee him a win against Hobbs, who was unchallenged for the Democratic nomination.
Hobbs is a known figure in state politics, having served at the state Legislature since 2010 and as Senate minority leader since 2014. Again, her position as the female candidate versus the male won’t win her the race on its own, Bentz said. But it may offset the traditional Republican advantage when coupled with her experience in office.
But diversity alone is not enough.
More competitive races will come down to the campaigns candidates run and whether their messages can also appeal to independent voters, said Democratic consultant Chad Campbell
Sinema is the best example of that, he said.
She is not relying on the female or LGBT candidate equation to mean victory. Rather, he said, she is trying to reach a wide range of voters from liberals to moderate Republicans fleeing Trump, who Campbell said has played identity politics more than anyone on either side.
“The Republican Party is dominated by the identity politician in chief, and that’s Donald Trump,” Campbell said.
Trump has pandered to white, conservative voters. Diverse Democratic nominees across the country represent a backlash, he said.
They are the product of a trickle-down effect stemming from Republican candidates unwilling to disavow much of what Trump says and does, Campbell said.
“The [Republican] candidates can campaign all they want. We can talk about the issues all they want,” he said. “At the end of the day in a lot of these races, Trump is going to be the deciding factor.”