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Dems squander record turnout, sky-high enthusiasm

Arizona Democrats had lofty ambitions heading into Election Day.

Their wish list included picking up a U.S. Senate seat, ousting Gov. Doug Ducey, picking up other statewide seats and flipping the state Senate.

Despite record turnout, even among groups that don’t typically vote, and unrivaled levels of progressive enthusiasm that was predicted to be a “blue wave” ended up being closer to a pale blue ripple.

Democrats fielded a candidate in nearly every federal, statewide and legislative race — a strategy to boost turnout and propel more Democrats to victory. But the strategy has yet to net Democrats any major victories. As of press time, several key races were undecided because approximately 600,000 votes were still being processed.

Here’s a look at the Democratic wins and losses this election cycle.

Arizona Senate (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona Senate (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Flipping the state Senate

Democrats aimed to take control of the state Senate — a feat that would have required them to flip three seats in the chamber.

For all the talk that 2018 would finally be the year Democrats could move the needle in the Senate, the chamber will remain under GOP control, likely with a 17-13 split.

But Democrats made gains in the House, where the split between the parties was far more lopsided. And their four-seat pickup is just enough to put the squeeze on GOP members of the chamber.

The House went from a 35-25 split that could end up 31-29 depending on the outcome of one race that was too close to call as of late November 8. That’s significant because the House requires 31 votes to pass legislation, meaning Republican leadership will have to whip the caucus into shape in order to ensure all its members vote in lockstep.

(Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

A crowd of red-clad teachers, students and Red for Ed supporters could be seen from the top of a parking garage near Chase Field as they gathered there on April 26 before marching to the Arizona Capitol. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Red for Ed

Possibly the biggest political movement in Arizona this year – Red for Ed – didn’t have much luck in making gains at the ballot box.

Teachers can count defeating Proposition 305, a measure that would have dramatically expanded school vouchers, as their biggest success this election cycle.

But some of their other election priorities didn’t pan out.

Red for Ed supporters’ attempt to oust Ducey and elect Democrat David Garcia, who they viewed as their education champion, failed. Ducey easily defeated Garcia.

And after the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the Invest in Ed ballot initiative that would have raised taxes on the rich to boost K-12 education spending, Red for Ed supporters targeted the two Supreme Court judges up for retention this year who voted against the initiative.

But voters overwhelmingly decided to retain Justices Clint Bolick and John Pelander, with each of them earning more than 70 percent of the vote.

Red for Ed supporters have likely made a difference in the close race for superintendent of public instruction, where Democrat Kathy Hoffman has gotten closer to winning than Democrats in any other statewide race.

When it comes to the Legislature, some Red for Ed candidates flipped seats, but many either lost or appear poised to lose.

Former teacher of the year Christine Marsh, a Democrat who became the face of the teacher-turned-candidate movement in Arizona, appears likely to lose to Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee. Numerous other first-time candidates spurred by the Red for Ed movement also lost their legislative bids.

Chandler Democrat Jennifer Jermaine, likely flipped a Legislative District 18 House seat, based on election results. She and Jennifer Pawlik, a Democrat who leads by 500 votes in Legislative District 17, both signed the Invest in Ed candidate pledge.

In this photo taken Wednesday, June 27, 2018, environmental activist & billionaire Tom Steyer poses at his offices in San Francisco. Arizona’s largest utility is fiercely opposing a push to mandate increased use of renewable energy in the sun-drenched state, setting up a political fight over the measure funded by Steyer. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

In this photo taken Wednesday, June 27, 2018, environmental activist & billionaire Tom Steyer poses at his offices in San Francisco. Arizona’s largest utility is fiercely opposing a push to mandate increased use of renewable energy in the sun-drenched state, setting up a political fight over the measure funded by Steyer. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Tom Steyer

The progressive billionaire poured more than $24 million into Arizona elections this year, with most of it directed to promoting Proposition 127, which would have required utilities to generate half their power from renewable energy sources by 2030.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the ballot initiative funded by Steyer’s group NextGen.

The California billionaire also poured millions into furthering Democratic statewide campaigns for governor, attorney general and the Arizona Corporation Commission.

He spent $545,000 on efforts to get Garcia elected and poured $250,000 into electing Democrats to the Corporation Commission, a race that is still too close to call. Democrat Sandra Kennedy trails both Republican candidates by 1 percentage point.

For the most part, Steyer’s spending elicited no tangible results. And in some cases, Steyer’s involvement in Arizona elections further angered Arizona Republicans who constantly stump on keeping California politics out of Arizona.

That anger was probably best demonstrated by Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who in his victory speech on election night, issued a request for the California billionaire.

“Kiss my ass, Tom Steyer” he said. Steyer’s group, NextGen, spent upwards of $3.6 million on attack ads against Brnovich.

But pro-Prop. 127 group Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona says the benefits of running the initiative campaign are there, but intangible.

The group claims the clean energy campaign attained a higher goal: Damaging the reputation of Arizona Public Service Co. and reducing the company’s influence on state politics.

“I feel like we’ve changed the dynamics against them to the point that being seen as cozy with APS is now a liability,” said Eric Hyers, campaign manager for the clean energy initiative.

Yenni Sanchez, 18, has registered people to vote for three years. She said that she registers as many people as she can because she isn’t eligible to vote. Daniel Flores, 16, is also a volunteer. (Courtney Columbus/News21)

Yenni Sanchez, 18, has registered people to vote for three years. She said that she registers as many people as she can because she isn’t eligible to vote. Daniel Flores, 16, is also a volunteer. (Courtney Columbus/News21)

Youth vote

Another Steyer initiative, NextGen sunk $3.4 million into registering new, young people to vote and getting them to the polls on Election Day.

And on its face, it appeared the efforts worked as many Arizona State University students waited in line for more than two hours to vote at a polling place on campus.

Youth-dense precincts at Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona all showed significantly higher voter turnout than in 2014 — the last midterm election, according to data from NextGen.

But NextGen Arizona’s goal, outside of boosting engagement among voters ages 18 to 35, was to flip Republican-held statewide seats, catapult Democrat Kyrsten Sinema to victory in the U.S. Senate race and spur Democratic victories in three congressional districts.

The Senate race and some other statewide races are too close to call, but it appears that Steyer’s hope of inciting a blue sweep across Arizona may have been overly optimistic.

Granted, Democrats won in the three congressional districts (CD1, CD2 and CD9) NextGen was targeting due the large amount of college-aged voters in the districts that correspond to Arizona’s major colleges and universities. But Democrats were heavily favored to win those three races regardless.

2018 was the first year NextGen conducted its youth voter initiative in Arizona after seeing a mixed bag of results in other states. But those fired-up young voters seemed unable to seriously penetrate Arizona’s red firewall.

U.S. Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally

U.S. Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally

Woman power

Democrats ran a diverse slate of candidates, predominantly women and minorities, this election cycle.

So far, none of them won any statewide seats, but several races were still too close to call.

Women will shatter Arizona’s glass ceiling in the U.S. Senate this year regardless of who wins. Either Republican Martha McSally or Sinema will become the first female senator from Arizona.

Arizona Democrats still have a chance to boost female representation in statewide offices as the Corporation Commission and superintendent of public instruction races are still close.

Democrat Hoffman is locked in a close race for superintendent with Frank Riggs, who leads by less than 8,000 votes.

Political newcomer Steve Gaynor was declared the winner of the secretary of state’s race, but Democrat Katie Hobbs has not conceded because she trails by 2.6 percentage points with about 600,000 ballots uncounted.

On the Republican side, in winning her bid for state treasurer, Kimberly Yee became the first Chinese-American Republican woman in the country to be elected to a major statewide office.


  1. I’m new to Arizona and this publication. Is this supposed to be an unbiased paper? This headline seems quite harsh and divisive. How about, “In Arizona, both Dems and Repubs got a little bit of everything”?

  2. How many seats did Republicans flip from Democrat to Republican? How many seats statewide got flipped to Democrat? This includes school boards, Justice of the Peace, Constable, Clerks of courts etc.

  3. If Arizona is like other states I’ve lived in, the results will be posted on the Secretary of State’s website after the vote tally is certified. Not sure how long that will take though, this is the first time I’ve voted with paper ballots.

  4. Bet this reporter is really wishing she didn’t turn this story in. Political commentary is obviously not what she’s suited for.

  5. What a difference counting all the ballots makes! I have to agree that the Democrats’ showing was less than stellar, but it’s not as bad as this writer makes it out to be. This was a battle of money, more than anything else.

    Prop 127 should have focused on replacing fossil fuels rather than excluding nuclear power as an option. It would have passed.

    Garcia was just another one-issue candidate. The Democratic Party should have learned from the Ducey-DuVal matchup that one-issue candidates don’t win elections in Arizona. The next gubernatorial candidate will have to be well-rounded, have a plan and vision, not consider himself “boring” and be in it to win it. Garcia was not a good candidate. That’s why we see people voted for a Democratic Senator, Superintendent and other positions, but supported the Republican candidate for Governor because he was the better choice.

    Democrats had a very good showing in Executive Branch elections. Better candidates would have produced a different result.

    One thing is certain: Arizona is no longer a “Red State”. I hope the Republican Party has heard the message. They need to figure out who and what they stand for.

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