Political analyst George Khalaf says a review of everything from how well some Republicans did in the 2018 and 2020 elections ‘to voter registration patterns suggests that 2022 is going to be a good year for GOP candidates.
How good? Khalaf said it is shaping up to move the congressional delegation from its current 5-4 Democratic edge to 6-3 Republican.
To be fair, Khalaf’s firm, Data Orbital, does work for Republicans. But his opinion is not unique.
Sam Almy does election data analysis at Uplife, which works for candidates across the aisle. And he figures that there are only two truly “safe” Democratic districts now held by Ruben Gallego and Raul Grijalva.
“Taking a look at the maps, specifically with regard to the competitiveness tables, 6-3 may be the case for 2022,” he said, though Almy thinks there are ways for Democrats to hang on to one more.
Both Khalaf and Almy said it’s more than just analyzing voter registration.
On paper, Republicans account for 34.6% of registered voters statewide, giving them a 3-point edge over Democrats. Virtually all the others are political independents with a handful of Libertarians.
So what analysts do is look at other data points. And that includes political history, like how well candidates have done in the past couple of years with the same group of voters.
“The 2018 governor’s race is probably the least predictive just because that race was a blowout,” Khalaf told Capitol Media Services
Indeed. Incumbent Doug Ducey picked up 56% of the vote against less than 42% for Democrat David Garcia, with most of the balance going to Green Party candidate Angel Torres.
Similarly, the 2020 presidential race, where Joe Biden edged then-President Donald Trump by 10,457 votes appears not to be a reliable predictor.
Khalaf said it may be best to go farther down the 2018 ballot to see how people in any given area voted. And that specifically includes the race for attorney general where Mark Brnovich got 80,672 more votes than Democrat January Contreras.
“It’s a race that obviously wasn’t under the radar,” he said.
“Money was spent significantly from both sides,” Khalaf continued. “But the performance was where you would expect a Republican to perform.”
“I always look at the mine inspector myself,” said Almy, where Republican Joe Hart outpolled Democrat Bill Pierce by 78,452. That’s a race which probably reflected more how Arizonans think generically about Republicans and Democrats.
All that plays out in what will now be the 6th Congressional District, the district that runs from midtown Tucson out through parts of Cochise, Graham, Greenlee and Pinal counties. This is an area that has been politically competitive: Democrats won in 2012, 2018 and 2020; Republicans in 2014 and 2016.
Prior election results using even the new district lines would make it appear to be a tossup district, with Democrats Biden and Mark Kelly scoring small victories in the races for president and Senate, respectively. And Khalaf puts Brnovich’s 2018 victory in the AG’s race within the highly competitive range.
But Khalaf then throws into the mix what happens when turnout is high, looking only at those who went to the polls in at least three out of the last four elections. And in CD 6, Republicans have a nearly 5-point advantage over Democrats.
That, he said, is not surprising.
“There’s a school of thought that Democrats have performed better in higher-turnout elections and presidential,” Khalaf said. Conversely, in a non-presidential election year, those affiliated with the party in power in Washington — in this case, the Democrats — likely lag in turnout.
Almy agrees that turnout will be “key” to what happens.
“Turnout always drops in the midterms,” he said, for “Dems more so than GOP.”
And there’s something else.
Almy noted the redistricting commission moved large areas of Democratic strength out of CD 6 and into already heavily Democratic 7th Congressional District, which runs west from midtown Tucson out to parts of Yuma and then up into the Phoenix suburb of Avondale. That not only includes pushing the line between the districts out as far east as possible — to Alvernon Way at some points — but also craft a district that extended an arm of CD 7 into southern Cochise County to remove Bisbee and Douglas from CD 6.
Plus, there’s an open seat, with Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick retiring.
Those same factors go into analyzing what will now be the 4th Congressional District, which runs from Ahwatukee through Tempe into northwest Mesa. This is the area generally reflective of the district currently represented by Democrat Greg Stanton.
The Democratic candidates for mine inspector and attorney general did win the area in 2018, but just barely, in both cases by less than 52% of the vote. That compares with voter registration figures which show Democrats having a 53.5% to 46.5% edge.
Also working for Stanton in what could be a tough year for Democrats is new voter registration, an indicator of voter enthusiasm. More Democrats signed up to vote in the past 18 months than Republicans.
But that trend is not statewide. Khalaf said that in rural areas the GOP signed up more people than the Democrats.
That, he said, makes sense.
“In the post-Trump era, a lot of Republicans tend to be doing better in rural America,” he said. “To me, it’s the best indicator in terms of where districts are going to perform in a climate that is hyper-partisan.”
“I think District 4 is safely competitive,” Khalaf said.
The incumbent who could face the biggest hurdle is Democrat Tom O’Halleran, who will be running in the 2nd Congressional District, a district that sort of mirrors the area he has represented since the 2016 election. That includes northern and eastern Arizona, but even dips all the way down to the edge of Casa Grande.
In 2020, he outpolled Republican Tiffany Shedd by about 12,000 votes out of about 365,000 cast.
But the lines drawn by the redistricting commission for the coming decade aren’t what it used to be.
“Now he’s looking at a district that President Trump won by almost double digits,” Khalaf said.
“Now you add Prescott, an area that he’s never represented,” he continued, saying that the area “behaves like a typical conservative rural county and rural city would.”
All that, Khalaf said “more than balances out Flagstaff. And add to that, Khalaf said, is the “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats and the “sheer high unfavorables for Biden.”
“Adding all of Yavapai County doesn’t do him any favors,” Almy agreed.
But he also pointed out that O’Halleran no longer has Graham County in his district. And Almy said being an incumbent will help.
Still, an analysis of the 2018 race finds that while Democrats won the statewide elections for secretary of state and school superintendent, the voters in what is now CD 2 went the other way.
Almy also said that incumbency may help Republican David Schweikert hang on to his seat in a newly drawn CD 1, which includes Scottsdale and portions of northeast Phoenix. But he, too, is no shoo-in, with just a 2.5-point GOP voter registration edge and a district that went for Biden and Kelly in 2020, though just barely.