President Donald Trump has put Gov. Doug Ducey in a bind.
With reports swirling that Trump will headline an upcoming rally in Phoenix, his likely visit has put Ducey – who is fighting for his political life vying for a second term – in an awkward position as the governor toes the line in embracing the Republican Party’s most bombastic figure.
Ducey has not said if he will appear on stage with Trump at a rally that will be focused on uniting the GOP following a contentious Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake. Details for the rally have not been solidified.
The governor, a calculating and typically scripted politician, could be the parallel opposite of Trump, who tends to shoot from the hip.
Ducey said this week he looks forward to welcoming Trump to Arizona, but would not say if he will participate in a campaign rally with the president.
“I’ve been with the president plenty of times. I’ve had dinner with the president at the White House so we’re going to see what the details are and we’re going to work with him to make it a productive trip,” he said.
The governor’s staff has been in contact with the White House on coordinating Trump’s visit.
Ducey will appear with Trump because he knows he doesn’t have a choice, said Zachary Smith, a regents professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University.
“He can’t afford to ‘dis’ Trump,” he said.
More specifically, Ducey can’t risk losing support from die-hard Trump supporters in November, which could happen if he snubs the president when he comes to Arizona, Smith said.
But Ducey also has to appeal to a broader swath of voters this fall. He needs to pick up a chunk of independent voters in order to lock down a second term, Smith said.
Ducey will be walking on a tightrope, Smith said. He will have to show respect for the president, but he could hurt his standing with moderate voters if he’s overly effusive, he said.
“I’m not sure how he’ll do it, but watch, Ducey will find some way to be there, but not be there,” Smith said. “He’s not going to be cheerleading or anything like that.”
Ducey has visited the White House in recent months. In August, he attended an event honoring U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. He and several other Republican governors discussed border security with the president when they dined with him in May at the White House.
Trump endorsed Ducey just before the primary election, inciting liberal outrage across Arizona. While Ducey said he was grateful for the president’s endorsement, his campaign did not broadcast Trump’s tweet because it happened during a campaign hiatus immediately following Sen. John McCain’s death.
In the midst of a contentious re-election bid, Ducey has kept Trump at arm’s length.
Ducey spoke at a local Trump rally in 2016 just after the state’s primary election. But Ducey did not appear at a 2017 Trump rally in Phoenix, although he did welcome the president on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport beforehand.
Republicans across the country are struggling with how to handle the Trump factor in a year where Democrats are determined to send a message to the commander-in-chief and members of his political party.
But GOP pollster George Khalaf, president of Data Orbital, said Trump’s visit is unlikely to affect Ducey’s re-election campaign.
A Data Orbital poll from September 10 found Trump underwater with his favorable rating at 49 percent and unfavorable at 42 percent. But Trump’s favorability rating in Arizona has remained relatively consistent over time, according to previous polls from Data Orbital.
The same poll found Ducey with an 8-point lead over Democratic gubernatorial nominee David Garcia, with a mere 7.9 percent of those surveyed undecided.
The Trump factor is largely played out this close to the general election, Khalaf said.
Voters were already associating Ducey with Trump or they weren’t, he said.
“Whether Trump comes or doesn’t, whether the governor shows up on stage or doesn’t, Trump endorsed Governor Ducey and so I think if it’s going to sway someone’s mind, that would be enough,” Khalaf said.
Some voters could also already be lumping Ducey in with Trump simply because they’re both Republicans and anti-Trump voters are already so turned off by the Republican Party right now, he said.
But digging deeper into the Data Orbital poll shows that some Democrats do see the difference between Ducey and Trump because the governor is picking up some support from Democrats who view Trump as unfavorable.
Ducey and Republican Rep. Martha McSally, who is facing Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, in the U.S. Senate race, have treated Trump differently this election cycle. McSally eagerly vied for Trump’s endorsement and often sought to connect herself to the president throughout the primary.
Weeks before Trump’s endorsement of Ducey, the governor would not say if he wanted the president’s endorsement, in an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times.
Federal candidates have more interaction with the president than politicians at the state level, Khalaf said. McSally recognizes that if she’s going to get the negative effects of running at the same time that Trump is in the White House, she may as well get the positive effects like having the president do a rally for her, he said.
“She may as well go all in,” he said.
Arizona Democrats are incensed at most everything Trump says and does. As Democrats lobby hard to take the Governor’s Office, they have tried to tie Ducey to the president whenever possible.
A spokeswoman for Garcia’s campaign said it doesn’t matter if Ducey appears with Trump when the president comes to Arizona, because they obviously share a common agenda.
Garcia spokeswoman Sarah Elliott said Ducey and Trump agree on tax cuts for the wealthy, attacks on working people, clean energy, civil rights and women’s reproductive rights.
“He’s clearly lockstep with Trump,” she said.
Smith, the NAU professor, said the Trump rally will likely be a wash in the end. Anti-Trump sentiment among Democrats and some independents is already strong and a local Trump appearance isn’t going to inflame that anger, he said.
“At the end of the day, the people who hate Trump will still hate him and the people who love Trump are still going to love him,” he said.