Gov. Doug Ducey is vulnerable to a Democratic challenger in the 2018 election as voters find him lukewarm, a new poll shows.
The poll by Democratic-leaning national firm Lake Research Partners, commissioned by ProgressNow Arizona, surveyed 600 likely voters using both landlines and cell phones – 44 percent registered Republicans and 32 percent Democrats – weighted for factors like party registration, geography and gender.
According to the polling memo, 74 percent of the voters sampled participated in the 2014 elections.
The key takeaway, pollsters Joshua Ulibarri and Caroline Bye concluded, is that Ducey is vulnerable to a challenger, if that challenger can make the race competitive.
Lake Research concluded that Ducey “lacks any real definition among voters.” Ducey is up by only 8 percentage points in his favorability ratings, trails by 16 percentage points in his job performance rating, and couldn’t break the 40-percent mark in a head-to-head matchup with a generic Democrat, the poll showed.
The pollsters concluded that if the circumstances are right, and there is a well-funded effort, Ducey can be defeated.
But it remains to be seen if David Garcia or Sen. Steve Farley, who are running for governor in the Democratic primary, can capitalize on Ducey’s vulnerability and mount the type of campaign needed to oust Ducey, a prolific fundraiser who can easily tap into money from the Koch Brothers network.
The Democratic nominee would need a serious influx of support, likely from national Democratic groups, at a time when several other races in the state, like the U.S. Senate and 2nd Congressional District, could be Democratic pickups.
Sixty percent of respondents gave Ducey a favorable review, while 45 percent said he was doing a good or excellent job as governor, the poll shows. Among Republicans, 49 percent said he was doing excellent or good, while only 29 percent of independents and 25 percent of Democrats gave him the excellent/good ratings.
The poll matched Ducey against a generic Democrat and found he got 36 percent of the vote compared to 28 percent for an unnamed Democrat. The publicly released poll didn’t show any matchups between Farley or Garcia and Ducey.
The generic Democrat and Ducey both underperformed their party registration numbers, the pollsters pointed out, meaning there’s room to consolidate the vote.
“But this is particularly risky territory for an incumbent governor,” the firm wrote. “It is rare for a majority of undecided voters to break for the incumbent, and that is what Ducey would need at this point in the cycle to secure a majority.”
Part of Ducey’s problem with voters, the poll projects, is his lack of definition on key issues that matter to voters, like school funding, health care, and having the wealthy pay their fair share.
“The circumstances exist for progressives to make this a competitive race if they keep applying pressure and define the frame for this election,” the poll concludes. “That will take time, effort, and money. If not, partisan habits can set in and Ducey can secure re- election, but the opportunity is real.”
Ducey’s campaign spokesman, J.P. Twist, feigned surprise that a poll commissioned by a Democratic group would reinforce a Democratic narrative and be touted by Democrats.
“I know Democrats may be on cloud nine after a visit from their liberal leader Nancy Pelosi, but the reality is, Gov. Ducey enters 2018 in the strongest possible position. A growing economy, dropping unemployment, wage growth, billions of new dollars invested into our schools…” Twist said in an email to the Arizona Capitol Times.
Garcia’s campaign spokeswoman, Sarah Elliott, said the poll reinforces the idea that Ducey isn’t well-known or popular in Arizona because “he has abandoned regular Arizonans, starved our public schools, and is simply looking out for himself and the interests of the top 1 percent. He’s just another out of touch greedy politician.”
The poll confirms Ducey is weak and hasn’t delivered on his promises since taking office, Farley campaign manager Joe Wolf said.
“Glowing and aspirational State of the State speeches will only get you so far. Eventually you have to deliver on your promises to voters. Ducey hasn’t done that and now he’s in trouble. I bet his staff are scrambling to find out when the next Koch retreat is,” Wolf said in an email.
Incoming Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs is kicking off her term with a celebratory ball, a first for a new governor since Fife Symington had one in the 1990s.
But Hobbs, who touted transparency as part of her leadership, has refused to disclose which people or corporations are paying for the party.
And the lack of full public disclosure continues with her taking the oath of office on Monday. That event, four days before the ceremonial oath, will be closed to the public and media, with the exception of a pool news photographer.
And the costs of that Thursday ceremony are being picked up by special interests, including lobbyists, companies that do business with the state, developers and builders. But the new administration, while listing official “sponsors” for the event, has been unwilling to share how much each is paying for that privilege.
The incoming governor’s unwillingness to share details of the events publicly, how much they will cost, just who is paying and how much stand in contrast to her promise to make her administration “the most ethical and accountable” in history.
On her “katiehobbs.org” website, she vows to make state government more transparent, “because the people deserve to know what their leaders are doing with their money.”
That reticence to share information about the source and use of the funds, at least for now, is a change from the three previous administrations, which were open with the costs of the inauguration and related events – and the fundraising efforts needed to throw big bashes without spending too much of the taxpayers’ hard-earned cash.
When Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano took the oath of office in 2001, she collected $150,000 from donors and those attending four inaugural receptions, followed by public disclosures.
But that wasn’t enough to cover all the costs. So the state treasury also coughed up $50,000, mainly for renting and staffing the audio-visual equipment for the large-screen TVs that ensured even those in the back of the Capitol courtyard could see what was happening.
Republican Gov. Jan. Brewer’s 2011 inauguration was cheap by comparison as the state struggled with fallout from the Great Recession and cratered state revenue. The event cost $65,000, and expenses included renting the chairs and other necessities to house a large Capitol crowd and covered $13,000 worth of keepsake coins stamped with her likeness for guests.
Brewer raised $200,000 for the event and no tax dollars were used.
And the leftover cash was used to renovate the governor’s offices on the 9th floor of the executive tower.
Outgoing GOP Gov. Doug Ducey was inaugurated in 2014 and 2018, and both times he tapped special interests like lobbying firms and big businesses to pay for some of the costs.
The 2018 event brought in cash by selling off special seats. Acquiring a pair of VIP seats costs a minimum of $10,000, which also got entrance to a special reception. Bigger checks added a photo with Ducey, and a $25,000 payout netted six seats in the front rows, three parking passes, the reception and photos, inaugural pins for all six and corporate logos on programs and the inauguration website.
This year, however, Hobbs press aide Joe Wolf said no one will have to buy tickets to watch the Thursday ceremonies.
But that doesn’t mean the incoming governor isn’t tapping donors, special interests and firms that do business with the state.
A list of event sponsors on the official state inauguration web page leads with Arizona Public Service Co., suggesting the state’s biggest utility is the single largest donor.
The company may have some fence-mending to do with the new governor.
In 2021 it gave $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association. It hasn’t yet disclosed how much it spent in 2022.
And the RGA, in turn, financed millions of dollars in TV commercials attacking Hobbs, much of that accusing her of being lax on border enforcement.
Neither aides to Hobbs nor APS will disclose how much they are now donating to the ceremony, with the company instead saying only that it is joining with other Arizona businesses in supporting the new governor’s inauguration.
“This support is directed specifically to the 2023 gubernatorial inauguration committee, meaning it can be used in support of all inauguration functions,” the statement said. “This an important event for Arizona and its citizens; and we are pleased to be a participant.”
Others listed on the inaugural committee’s website as opening their checkbooks for the event – but with no amounts – include the insurers who provide state Medicaid services, a public affairs and consulting firm for the mining industry, developers, builders, lobbying firms and Hensley Beverage. Hensley is controlled by Cindy McCain, the widow of Republican Sen. John McCain, who was the target of vitriol by Republican Kari Lake during her losing campaign against Hobbs.
“This is a private event not being paid for with public funds,”’ said Hobbs press aide Murphy Hebert when asked for specifics.
Other officials who take office Monday include Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who is replacing Hobbs as secretary of state, and Kris Mayes, who defeated Republican Abraham Hamadeh for attorney general in what is believed to be the tightest win for a statewide office in Arizona history. Recount results opened in court on Thursday confirmed Mayes won by just 280 votes. She had been ahead by 511 votes out of about 2.5 million cast before a few hundred uncounted ballots were located during the recount.
Two Republicans also won statewide office and begin their terms Monday: Treasurer Kimberly Yee won a second term and Tom Horne defeated incumbent Kathy Hoffman and will become the state’s top K-12 school official as superintendent of public instruction.
While the number of guests expected for Thursday’s official inauguration hasn’t been released, it will be large. The state Department of Administration sent a memo to state workers warning of road closures, heavy traffic and tight parking availability, since many state lots will be cordoned off for those attending Hobbs’ inauguration.
To make room, state employees assigned to buildings in the Capitol complex are being “strongly encouraged” to avoid the office on Thursday and to instead work remotely.
Fourteen of the 15 legislative and county candidates who received endorsements and varying degrees of financial support from activist group LUCHA emerged victorious in last week’s primaries, a figure progressives say is evidence of the organization’s growing influence in Democratic circles.
Living United for Change in Arizona, which formed a decade ago as a small group of activists organizing against Republican immigration hardliners, was active in several of the party’s competitive primaries, including in the closely-watched elections in Legislative Districts 26, 27 and 29, all races that seemed to magnetize political spending.
In those districts, progressives claimed repeated victories. Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, fended off well-funded challenger Jana Lynn Granillo. Melody Hernandez, who ran on a slate with House Minority co-whip Rep. Athena Salman, edged out Debbie Nez Manuel for LD26’s open House seat. In LD27 in Phoenix, incumbent Reps. Diego Rodriguez and Reginald Bolding successfully defended their seats from former lawmaker Catherine Miranda, and in LD29, Rep. Richard Andrade staved off a challenge from Teddy Castro, a Realtor from Litchfield Park.
Exactly how significant the organization’s role was in winning those races is difficult to quantify. Its independent spending – which totaled $101,000 in a two-week period in mid-July – is just a fraction of the total sum of campaign cash that outside groups spent in this year’s Democratic primaries. Besides, several LUCHA-backed candidates have electoral advantages as incumbents, and LUCHA’s spending occurred after many Arizonans had already voted via early ballots.
Either way, the organization has a growing track record of proximity to political success, from wins in primaries to spoiled Republican legislation, and its supporters say that’s no accident, pointing to the group’s ability to organize and create political consciousness among Latino people in Arizona.
“If you look at where they started compared to where they are now, I think people are going to want to study LUCHA,” said Rodriguez, who received the group’s endorsement in LD27. “The state has always had large Latino communities. Now they’re organized. It’s a model that works.”
LUCHA was not planning on playing in legislative Democratic primaries, according to Randy Perez, who runs the group’s PAC. But private polling showing several LUCHA-backed incumbents losing to their challengers spurred action.
In LD27, that meant spending $32,000 in support of the campaigns of Bolding and Rodriguez.
“(In the past), the money was always one sided,” Rodriguez said. “There wasn’t a counterbalance to APS, the Chamber of Commerce, Greater Phoenix Leadership.”
Catherine Miranda, Rodriguez’s challenger, attracted backers of her own, including Revitalize Arizona, the political arm of Pipe Trades Local 469. In LD26, challenger Debbie Nez Manuel attracted support from Revitalize as well as PACs representing institutional players like Greater Phoenix Leadership, a group of Valley CEOs that advocates for business-friendly policies.
That district’s House race drew more spending than any other Democratic primary this year. Outside groups spent more than $217,000 to support Nez Manuel, and $8,000 against her.
These groups “pay to be able to talk to people who have a vote,” said longtime Arizona Democratic consultant Rodd McLeod. “These are groups where the ideology is … we want to have a seat at the table.”
And they recognize that the table might be growing. Democrats are interested in taking a legislative majority in November, and stakeholders from across the political spectrum are taking note.
“Those people always move toward someone who looks like they might be a winner,” McLeod said.
LUCHA, with its ideological frame and specific policy goals – which currently include a significant COVID-19 relief package it calls the “people’s bailout” – is a different beast. But it has adopted some of the same tactics as traditional outside groups. For example, in this election the organization paid for mailers, texts, radio ads, voter education and so on.
And like those other stakeholders, it expects the candidates that win to further a set of policy goals at the Legislature and to remain responsive to the constituencies that elected them, a concept Perez calls “co-governance.”
But the weight of that influence is still minor relative to the other players involved, said Joe Wolf, a Democratic consultant who helped run a business-backed PAC during the primaries called Arizona Integrity. For example, though LUCHA was certainly involved in efforts last session to defeat a sanctuary city ban, Wolf said that warnings from the business community and fear among Republicans of returning to the SB1070 days probably played more of a role.
“I think they have been more effective in shaping policy debates and pulling the Democratic caucus more to the left,” Wolf said.
Besides, he said, Democrats are a long-suffering minority party, making the kind of vision that LUCHA espouses difficult to realize through the Legislature.
“We’ve been fighting for things that we can pull out of the budget,” Wolf said. “We’re not driving policy.”
Editor’s note: a previous version of this story incorrectly identified Jana Lynn Granillo as running on a slate with Debbie Nez Manuel in LD26. The story has been updated to remove that reference.
Editor’s note: a previous version of this story also incorrectly implied that Granillo’s campaign received outside support from Greater Phoenix Leadership. The story has been updated to remove that reference. We regret the error.
From the moment Gov. Doug Ducey called a state of emergency to combat the spread of COVID-19, political candidates, campaign staffs and election officials began to plan how to tackle elections in the coming months.
As public health officials call for social distancing, candidates and ballot campaigns are still collecting signatures with fast deadlines approaching, county recorders are receiving mail-in ballots for the March 17 Presidential Preference Election, poll workers are taking necessary precautions and campaigners are struggling to figure out how to help their candidates get elected in the early-August primaries and even come the general election in November.
All eyes have been on Arizona for the 2020 election cycle as Democrats push for a political shift in the state, but unforeseen circumstances could get in the way of how those ballots will look – at least on a local level.
State and local candidates have until early-April to submit valid signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot, citizen initiatives have until July, and political consultants think now is time to worry about not getting on the ballot.
Tony Valdovinos, the founder of La Machine Field Operations, said he is prepared to end campaigning all together to protect his employees’ health and safety.
He and his company have made a name as a fierce campaigning effort to get Democrats on the ballot and they personally go door-to-door during the season to increase voter turnout. Under a state of emergency, that makes things difficult especially if things escalate to a point where people can’t leave their homes, Valdovinos said.
He said right now his team is collecting signatures for initiatives and candidates, so the ground game hasn’t taken off yet.
“We’re [already] canceling campaign rallies,” Valdovinos said. “What’s most important is [taking] precaution.”
Valdovinos told Arizona Capitol Times that there’s a lot of uncertainty on what can be done at this point, but he is planning for the worst. He is preparing for a bigger challenge on collecting signatures for ballot initiatives and candidates with events getting canceled left and right.
For those in the business of pressing palms and kissing babies, the Coronavirus is going to throw their lives, and this election season, into disarray.
Joe Wolf, a Democratic political consultant who worked on the Mike Bloomberg campaign and is now running his PAC in Arizona, said the virus will impact every aspect of political life, starting with the ability to gather signatures to qualify for the ballot.
“Who wants to touch a pen right now? God knows how many people touched that pen. Who wants to touch a clipboard? This will be very painful for all involved,” he said.
“Who wants to touch a pen right now? God knows how many people touched that pen. Who wants to touch a clipboard? This will be very painful for all involved.” – Joe Wolf, Democratic political consultant
He said the initiatives will feel the pain worse, considering those efforts need between 238,000 and 357,000 signatures, compared to legislative candidates, who need just a few hundred signatures to qualify for the ballot. (Unlike initiatives, politicians have given themselves the ability to collect all of their signatures online).
While candidates can go door-to-door for their signatures, initiatives rely on big events, including sporting events, St. Patrick’s Day events and the Presidential Preference Election. The same goes for voter registration campaigns, which often hit up large public events to try to get more voters on the rolls. But candidates knocking on doors won’t be immune to the fear of the coronavirus either, he said.
“If someone knocks on your door and says, ‘Hey, here’s a clipboard and a pen, please sign.’ It’s still gonna cause a little bit of hesitation. But it probably won’t be as bad as site-based work,” Wolf said. “Like, there’s no way in hell I’m going to ask one of my organizers to go down to a St. Patty’s Day event and hand out a clipboard and a pen to God knows how many people.”
Dawn Penich-Thacker, the spokeswoman for Save Our Schools Arizona, is working on another grassroots effort to collect signatures for a ballot initiative and said she fully prepares to see the SOS initiative on the ballot come November barring one potential setback.
“Unless we all get locked into our home because of coronavirus or something, that might be a little bit of a damper,” she said.
And if the Coronavirus is still raging when the election is in full swing, Democrats will have a strong message to hammer the GOP candidates with.
The otherwise booming economy President Donald Trump’s policies helped create is tanking, and if it doesn’t rebound by November, the old adage of “it’s the economy, stupid” will once again be on everyone’s minds. Wolf said Democrats will absolutely hammer that message, if the economy doesn’t recover.
“The argument that so many Republicans have made that ‘I voted for Trump because of my 401K’ — whatever gains you had in your 401K since he took office were probably just wiped out today,” Wolf said.
“If people are losing their jobs, losing their homes and their retirements are going up in smoke like it’s 2008 again, how does that not get thrown at Donald Trump’s feet?” he said, noting that Trump originally implied the threat was a hoax. And the virus gives Democrats an opening to talk about the state of American health care, which polls consistently show is a top issue for Arizona voters and the nation at large.
Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin agreed that if the scheduled April and July deadlines happen as planned there will likely be candidates and initiatives that won’t make the ballot. But even attempting to extend those deadlines could cost a lot of money, which Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said won’t happen anyway.
Coughlin said petition gathering at public events will be problematic because that’s where it is generally most successful.
A few candidates are starting to take their own precautions by canceling campaign events or closing their offices.
Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, said she’s going to suspend all “face-to-face” campaigning and Anita Malik a Democrat in a tough primary challenge in Congressional District 6 has already taken the step to shut down her campaign offices, and start working remotely. She could not be reached for comment, but in a press release also shared to her Twitter account said she was canceling all meet and greet events and volunteer events.
“We’ve built a remote, distributed team of volunteers for #AZ06. If you want to work from home, let us know. We’ll be having digital training & digital voter conversations,” she wrote.
That’s not an approach Valdovinos thinks will be effective for him because a big part of his success is being able to speak to voters in both English and Spanish and help educate them on “who and what’s on the ballot.”
“This year is one of those enormous years for a lot of referendums on the ballot. So it is going to reduce our operation and we’re going to have to most likely move into digital and phone banking,” he said, which makes them less effective.
“I think the number one concern is people’s health and safety, including ours and our families. So, if it comes down to it, and we don’t have an election year, so be it. But, ultimately, I think it’s gonna be a very innovative way to reach out to voters this year,” he said.
Coughlin said when it comes to voting in person, whether for city elections, the PPE or looking ahead to the August primary – which is the earliest it has ever been – it’s likely poll workers will be wearing gloves and at a minimum there will be hand sanitizer stations.
To put it simply, Coughlin said things are going to be problematic. “Particularly for older people,” he said, adding that they are the ones who tend to vote in person rather than early by mail. How things are handled for same day voting will come down to the county recorders, he said.
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said that while the situation may be alarming to some, it will be business as usual for his office for now, but Election Day will come with a few key tweaks.
“Verifying votes in the age of COVID-19 was just like we did it before,” Fontes said. “Nothing changes in early voting, but Election Day is different and it’s yet another reason why we should be a vote at home state.”
Fontes said 65 percent of Maricopa County poll workers are over 60 years old; he’s concerned for their safety and the safety of voters and said he asked the state to mail ballots to everyone to minimize unnecessary contact and further control things. But, that’s not happening. So, his staff is training polling workers to wipe down workstations, thoroughly clean polling places before opening and after closing, working on backup staffing for people who don’t want to work, as well as keeping staff updated on what federal and state health experts are saying about the virus.
Elections officials in the county are encouraging people to vote earlier than later if they want to avoid crowds and to use drop-off locations if they do have to come in person.
Regardless of the scare, Fontes doesn’t think this will affect turnout, as more Democrats have voted in this election than in 2016. That turnout is evidence to Fontes that mail-in ballots work and that it’s time to ditch what he called an old model.
“You know, there’s no getting around the fact that everyone who’s already voted has already voted,” Fontes said. “It’s this insistence that we have on polling places where we have logistical issues, personnel issues; now we have health and safety issues. Folks hang on to old models for the wrong reasons when we have perfectly good new models that are more secure or less expensive, and clearly in this circumstance, they’re healthier.”
Maricopa County had 571,045 ballots requested and 251,210, or about 44 percent, have been returned.
Kathren Coleman, Fontes’ deputy county recorder, said as of March 12 the county has already surpassed the 2016 PPE vote totals.
Fontes and his staff are also closing and moving five polling locations out of elder care facilities to minimize any risk of spreading the virus to them. As far as Fontes is concerned, the county is ready for anything.
“What’s going on right now is really a question of, ‘are we prepared for the worst case scenario?’ And I can tell you we’re prepared for everything but Godzilla.” – Adrian Fontes, Maricopa County Recorder
“What’s going on right now is really a question of, ‘are we prepared for the worst case scenario?’ And I can tell you we’re prepared for everything but Godzilla.”
Yavapai County Elections Director Lynn Constabile said while her county has a larger elderly population than most, her county is different.
“The elderly population votes by mail, they don’t go out,” Constabile said, adding that the county expects about 5,000 voters to show up on Election Day.
“Usually, we see working people, around 20 to 55, that are at the polls,” she said.
For those who do show up, Constabile said polling places will encourage people to use drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots instead of going inside. Polling staff is also being told to remember to not touch their faces, eyes or mouths and to wash their hands, as well as cleaning touched surfaces.
Constabile said voters should take precautions but rest easy knowing they are doing everything they can to ensure things run safely and as usual.
“People shouldn’t be afraid to come out and vote,” Constabile said.
Yellow Sheet Report Editor Hank Stephenson and reporter Julia Shumway contributed to this story.
About The Author
Dillon Rosenblatt is the Education and Courts reporter and can be found on Twitter @DillonReedRose or at [email protected]
Andrew Nicla is the Governor’s Office reporter and can be found on Twitter @AndrewNicla or at [email protected]
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