GOP candidates lean on Trump, Dems avoid Biden

GOP candidates lean on Trump, Dems avoid Biden

From left are President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump’s involvement in Arizona politics was a boon to Republicans in the primaries, but Democrats speculate that it will harm the GOP in the upcoming general election.

In the time leading up to the primary election, Trump-endorsed candidates used the former president as a launchpad for funding and recognition. Democrats are not receiving endorsements from President Joe Biden or Democratic former President Barack Obama, but Democratic consultants say that’s the better strategy.

Trump makes frequent trips to Arizona and is possibly on the campaign trail himself. He makes appearances with his endorsees and rakes in contributions from supporters.

Rodd McLeod, a Democratic consultant, said. “Donald Trump is basically trying to help Donald Trump. Yeah. I mean, he goes out and does these events because he raises a lot of money and the candidates aren’t necessarily getting help.”

The “MAGA” strategy of deifying Trump was a success in the primaries, which put almost all of the Trump slate ahead of the other Republicans. But candidates need to impress a different population to win the general.

Democratic consultant Matt Grodsky said. “Primaries are a different game. You’re appealing to your base, especially as the right’s concerned.”

Grodsky explained that because Republicans have better voter registration they can afford to “play with fire” in the primaries, but Democrats would be alienating necessary votes by playing the same game. “They’re not doing big rallies, because all that’s going to do is fire up the Democratic base that’s already with these candidates. Right now, we’re trying to go get that middle of the road voter.”

McLeod said, “I don’t think a Bernie Sanders endorsement is extremely helpful in a general election in Arizona, right? But that doesn’t mean it would be a bad thing to have in a primary when you’re trying to distinguish yourself and stand out.”

Trump endorsees preached a far-right message before the primaries. One candidate called abortion a “demonic” sacrifice although most Arizonans want abortion rights. Universally, Trump’s candidates spread misinformation about election fraud although most Arizonans also don’t believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

McLeod noted that when Trump himself scared moderates away with extreme rhetoric, he lost Arizona.

Grodsky said, “I prefer the Republicans to continue to make that mistake. Because theoretically, their logic makes sense based on the math, but it doesn’t make sense based on the rhetoric. Their message does not resonate with the middle.”

Wary of that outcome, after winning the primaries, some of Trump’s candidates are trying to pivot to a more moderate and accessible stance, either refusing to address their past comments or claiming their views have changed.

Unlike Trump, Biden, Obama and former Republican President George Bush haven’t endorsed anyone in years. Obama did make some endorsements in 2020, but only Trump is regularly endorsing candidates and paying visits to Arizona. Biden is avoiding that now, which Democrat consultant McLeod said is standard practice during the midterms.

McLeod cautioned that Trump’s appearances do not necessarily indicate widespread support. “Republican members of Congress are not excited about having him come to their district unless it’s like, you know, Andy Biggs,” he said.

McLeod said Biden’s involvement would not be “a great play” with the economy doing poorly. McLeod noted that Obama and Trump were unpopular two years into their terms as well.

McLeod compared Trump’s preferred gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Republican leadership with current Gov. Doug Ducey who was much more successful at collecting moderate votes. “Ducey won four years ago by like 14 points,” McLeod said. “So, you know, I don’t think it’s necessarily a great situation they’ve created for themselves.”

“She’s scared away a lot of voters and there’s a lot of voters who voted for Karrin Taylor Robson and who would not be voting for her,” McLeod said of Lake.

It’s not yet clear whether the Democrat’s old strategy will work. They weren’t successful in the past three gubernatorial elections, and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs, the current secretary of state, is by no means expected to win in a landslide victory.

Democrat consultants say that the party’s national groups are supporting Arizona candidates, but they’re doing it by pouring money into Hobbs’ campaign and against Lake’s; not through rallies and endorsements.

Grodsky said, “I think the general consensus is, you know, we’re not going to win this thing with Democratic surrogates, right, you’re going to win it by going up the middle. To go up the middle and to communicate to the middle you need money for paid communications. So, I think that’s the first and most important strategy I do think in terms of raising more money.”

But Democrats aren’t the only ones spending money.

Both sides are giving their all. The Republican Governors Association alone is spending millions against Hobbs.

Candidates on both sides are enjoying the endorsements of a handful of national players like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who recently endorsed Lake and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. who is supporting Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., in his re-election bid. However, former presidents apart from Trump are staying out of the fray.

Obama hasn’t endorsed anyone since 2020. Biden hasn’t endorsed anyone since Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in 2018.