Gov. Doug Ducey wants to know why the U.S. Senate is taking so long to vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation.
It’s just before 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6 as he queries his staffers while they ride in a hulking SUV with dark tinted windows toward downtown Coolidge, population: 12,528. The governor is riding shotgun and scrolling through his phone on the brief drive from the Coolidge Municipal Airport to the heart of downtown, where he will walk in the annual Coolidge Days parade.
Ducey supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation despite allegations of sexual assault leveled at the judge.
Support for Kavanaugh could be an issue that tanks a Republican’s re-election bid in this weird and wild post-President Trump political environment. Supporting Kavanaugh can be viewed as more than just support for a Supreme Court nominee, but also affirmation of a controversial president.
And with Democrats across the country fighting back against the president and his agenda, any connection to Trump could be hard for Republicans to overcome this election cycle.
But not for Arizona’s governor.
Love him or hate him, Arizona is likely to see four more years of Ducey.
Democrat David Garcia appeared to ride a wave of galvanized Democrats after the Red for Ed movement this spring, but Ducey now holds a double-digit lead in the polls.
Ducey and his supporters have blanketed the airwaves for months with positive ads touting the governor and negative ads attacking his opponent. In comparison, Garcia’s campaign hasn’t had the money to fight back.
Early voting just started, but the race may already be over.
First stop: Pinal County
Ducey wears a happy-go-lucky smile as he works the parade route in Coolidge.
He’s in a button-down shirt tucked into pressed Wrangler jeans and flanked by Republican Reps. T.J. Shope, David Cook and state Sen. Frank Pratt, who are also seeking re-election.
He shakes hands with nearly everyone along the parade route, mainly adults but also some kids — old boardroom habits die hard. At times he gives kids high-fives, punctuating an especially satisfying smack with “boom!”
Parade goers continually praise him for bringing manufacturing start-up Nikola Motor Co. and its nearly 2,000 projected jobs to Coolidge.
The company that makes semi-trucks initially planned to locate in Buckeye, but pivoted because Coolidge had a shovel-ready site that would allow Nikola to start filling orders sooner.
It’s not clear what, if any, specific role Ducey may have played in helping Nikola switch sites, but economic development has been a central theme of the governor’s re-election campaign.
A former businessman, Ducey brought his corporate experience with him to the state’s executive office and has since prioritized job creation and reducing red tape and government interference in business.
And Arizona’s economy does look drastically different than it did four years ago — when the state was still feeling the lingering effects of the recession. Unemployment is down. Job growth is up, and more people are moving to Arizona every day.
Ducey has promised to take economic development to the next level with a second term.
“Now that we’ve got this momentum, this shine on our reputation, this polish on our state, that gives us the opportunity to make the case for the state of Arizona,” Ducey said in an interview.
Ducey’s recipe for economic excellence includes reforming the state’s tax code and creating a friendlier regulatory environment for businesses. He also thinks it’s just as important to fight “bad ideas” like the Invest in Education Act, which would have boosted taxes on Arizona’s wealthiest residents, and Proposition 127, which would mandate the state meet certain clean energy goals.
But creating a friendlier regulatory environment is not without issues. Uber and Theranos are oft-cited examples of where a lax regulatory environment can be problematic.
Garcia said Ducey built an economy for those at the top through tax breaks for corporations, and that greater K-12 education investment is crucial to driving economic development.
Ducey’s campaign has also emphasized border security throughout his re-election bid, partly as a way to tout creation of the Border Strike Force, but also as a way to tear down his opponent’s opposition to Trump’s border wall and his support for revamping the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
After the parade, the governor is delighted to find two off-duty Border Strike Force agents waiting for their breakfasts to arrive at a local diner in Coolidge.
The men tell the governor a K-9 unit caught someone trafficking 30 pounds of meth that very morning. Ducey’s face brightens and he thanks the men for their service.
But for Ducey, there’s no time for breakfast. Save for the freshmint Tic Tacs he pops throughout the seven-hour campaign barnstorm; he doesn’t eat because he doesn’t want anything slowing him down.
Next stop: Yavapai County
The charter jet — Ducey doesn’t use the state plane for campaign events — touches down at the Prescott Airport where nearby airstrips are crowded with people who came for an airshow.
The governor will be back in Prescott on Election Day eve — a tradition that pays homage to Barry Goldwater and John McCain, who launched their presidential bids from the courthouse steps.
Ducey makes the rounds, chatting with pilots and passersby alike.
In Washington, D.C., the Senate just confirmed Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court by a vote of 50-48.
“I don’t remember a Supreme Court battle like this,” Ducey said. “Hopefully, the temperature comes down a bit in D.C.”
The political heat in the nation’s capital is spreading. The national political climate is reverberating across the country ahead of the congressional midterms.
Ducey’s opponents have tried to tie him to the president whenever possible. It’s a strategy Democrats across the country are employing en masse against their Republican opponents.
At a recent get-out-the-vote rally for Garcia, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego characterized Ducey as Trump’s henchman in Arizona.
“We need to fight Doug now. We need to fight Trump later because they are one in the same,” he said.
Trump is expected to visit Arizona before Election Day, but the president’s visit is unlikely to affect Ducey’s re-election campaign. Trump endorsed Ducey ahead of the primary election.
Ducey has tried to separate himself from the president. But at the same time, Ducey has praised Trump for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and his Supreme Court picks. He has also made multiple visits to the White House this year.
The governor views it as his job to work with the president — whoever it may be — wherever he can.
“I think this idea of protesting or being a part of the resistance rather than being the governor or the leader and doing what’s necessary for the citizens of Arizona is a real differentiator in this campaign,” Ducey said.
Ducey cited greeting President Barack Obama on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport just days after the governor was inaugurated in 2015. He acknowledged that he and Obama didn’t see eye-to-eye on policy, but said that didn’t stop him from occasionally working with the administration.
The governor said he should be held accountable for his actions, not the president’s.
“I think what the other side would like to do is nationalize the election,” he said. “If people are upset with what’s going on in Washington, D.C., I can’t be in control of that. I can be in charge of the state of Arizona.”
Ducey hit several stumbling blocks this year, most notable of which was when 75,000 teachers marched on the state Capitol demanding higher teacher pay. He granted them pay raises spread over three years, but teachers weren’t satisfied.
The Red for Ed movement flipped Arizona’s political landscape on its head. Teachers filed to run for office, got involved in political campaigns and pushed the Invest in Ed ballot initiative.
The escalating political tension was palpable. But it’s too soon to know what effect teachers will have on Arizona’s elections this year. And early indicators show teachers’ newfound political activism won’t be able to topple Ducey, their No. 1 enemy.
Next stop: Ground game
Ducey rallies about two dozen campaign volunteers in a Prescott Valley park, emphasizing that Republicans need to boost turnout to help their candidates across the board.
The governor is leading in the polls by double digits, but other Republicans — namely U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally — are not as lucky.
“We’re in the homestretch of this campaign, and it’s going to be a dogfight,” Ducey says. “We’re going to need every part of the state to turn out. … And of course, it’s about our race, but it’s about more than that.”
A Real Clear Politics average of five Arizona gubernatorial race polls shows Ducey up by 11.8 points. Ducey beat Democrat Fred DuVal by 12 points in 2014.
Democratic strategist Barry Dill is prepared to throw in the towel on the governor’s race.
“The race is all but over,” he said.
The problem all along for Garcia’s campaign was money. His inability to raise any significant amount of money meant he was unable to define himself as the Republican Governors Association pounded him with negative ads for months, Dill said.
Even before the primary Ducey and his allies started going negative on Garcia. But Garcia’s campaign depleted much of its cash coffers in the primary, giving the governor and his supporters a 50-to-1 spending advantage over Garcia.
“What has happened is that the governor’s campaign has had a free reign on defining David Garcia to the electorate and I don’t think there’s enough time or enough money to fight back,” Dill said.
In an interview, Garcia brushed off the onslaught of ads and recent polling that shows him behind.
“Polls don’t vote, people do,” he said. “Ads don’t vote, people do.”
Winning is possible, it’s just a matter of turnout and getting people to the polls, he said. Garcia cited his campaign’s more than 40,000 small-dollar donors to Ducey’s few thousand high-dollar donors as a sign that Arizonans support his campaign.
Garcia’s path to victory focuses on boosting turnout among new voters. His campaign has courted Hispanic voters — a traditionally hard to motivate group of voters — and young, progressive Democrats.
But as Garcia has embraced the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, he is alienating some independent and moderate voters — a voting bloc other statewide Democrats are working hard to capture.
Primary election data from the Secretary of State’s Office indicates new voters may not be turning out in high enough numbers for a Garcia victory. Arizona saw record-breaking primary turnout in August, but that was not because of new voters, but rather voters who typically vote in general elections, but had not voted in the previous two primary elections.
Ducey is ready to knock on doors and talk to voters face-to-face. He gets an overwhelmingly warm reception as he knocks doors at about a dozen Republican homes a few blocks away from the Prescott Valley park.
At one home, an older woman answers and shrieks when she sees the governor standing outside. Ducey tries to launch into his pitch, but Jenelle Balonon cuts him off.
“I know who you are, I’m voting for you,” she says, joking that that the governor almost gave her a heart attack. She extends her arm out to Ducey to show that she’s literally shaking.
As Ducey heads to the next door, his entourage picks up a cohort of curious children. The elementary school-aged boys were playing basketball at a house when they saw Ducey and his supporters, who are noticeable in the quiet neighborhood.
One boy pulls out at an iPhone and snaps a picture of Ducey upon learning he is the governor.
“I’m going to send this to so many people,” he says. The boy convinces the governor to FaceTime with his father, Scott Mitchell, a pastor at the Church Next Door in Paradise Valley.
His wife, Carolyn Mitchell, keeps a watchful eye on their young boys from the driveway. She thanks Ducey for granting teachers pay raises.
“We voted for you the first time so we’ll vote for you again,” she says.
Last stop: Home
The jet lands back at Phoenix Sky Harbor at about 4:30 p.m. After a quick photo with the pilots, Ducey hops into a waiting vehicle.
Across the country, Kavanaugh was just sworn in as the newest addition to the Supreme Court in a private ceremony at the country’s high court.
Protests rage on outside the Supreme Court. But in Phoenix, it’s just another Saturday as Ducey’s car drives away.