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Long a deep-red state, Arizona flips to Biden for first Democratic win in 24 years

 Joe Biden waves to supporters in Wilmington, Del.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden waves to supporters Tuesday in Wilmington, Del. The former vice president won the state of Arizona.
(Associated Press)

Joe Biden was declared the victor in Arizona on Tuesday, making him just the second Democratic presidential candidate in the last 72 years to win in a state that long embodied the bedrock conservatism of Republicans such as Barry Goldwater.

The former vice president’s triumph over President Trump, called by the Associated Press, reflected a political shift similar to that in other states in the Southwest, as growing numbers of Latinos and college-educated suburban voters are making Democrats ascendant.

The last Democrat to win Arizona was Bill Clinton, in his 1996 reelection race. He was the first since Harry S. Truman in 1948.

In 2016, Trump notched a narrow 91,000-vote advantage in Arizona over Hillary Clinton. But demographics and his broad unpopularity caught up with the party that sent Goldwater and then John McCain to the Senate and helped make both men Republican presidential nominees, in 1964 and 2008, respectively.

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“We forever were this bastion of Goldwater conservatism, and that still lives on in the vast rural stretches of the state,” said Michael O’Neil, a veteran Arizona pollster. “But 83% of the people here now live in urban and suburban areas. And they are trending Democratic. Arizona looks like the next Virginia: once a consistently red state that goes purple for a very short time and then ends up solidly blue.”

Like voters elsewhere, Arizonans turned out in big numbers, logging almost as many votes as the 2.5 million cast in 2016 even before polling places opened Tuesday.

Analysts said Biden’s centrist approach — promising a return to normalcy after four years of disruption under Trump, and a national effort to control the COVID-19 pandemic — appealed in particular to suburban women. That moderate stance also described Democrats’ Senate candidate, Mark Kelly, the former astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords. Kelly beat Republican Sen. Martha McSally, a Trump loyalist appointed to the seat in 2019.

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Democrats maintained a solid lead in the mail-in ballots returned ahead of election day. Republicans normally would have been able to make up that deficit with election day voting in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and accounts for more than 60% of the state vote. But the county has steadily gained more Democratic-leaning voters.

Statewide, “Republicans were turning out significantly below Democrats with new voters, and it really made a significant difference this time,” said Chuck Coughlin, who helps run a Republican-leaning political consulting firm. Many Arizonans seemed to be looking for non-ideological, pragmatic candidates, he said, “and people want to believe that about Biden, along with Kelly.”

Kelly’s victory gives Democrats both of Arizona’s Senate seats for the first time since 1953.


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