Arizona’s Democratic Majority in Congress

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ASU Political Science Professor Rodolfo Espino comments on Arizona’s election, which produced a Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in decades.

Richard Ruelas: Arizona is one of the reddest of red states in the country. Yet, elected a democratic majority to congress for the second time in decades. Here to talk about the schizophrenic nature of the Arizona electorate is Rudy Espino, a political science professor at ASU. Thanks for joining us this evening. What happened on election night? It seemed like the congressional races were the only saving grace the democrats had?

Rudy Espino: Yeah. Independent redistricting commission was charged, it has been around a couple decades was charged with creating competitive districts, and they did that here in Arizona. We went from eight congressional seats to nine with the 2010 reapportionment. And what we saw in 2012, the general election, was that some of the competitive districts that were created were, and the democrats were able to, right here in Arizona, were able to have the democratic enthusiasm that re-elected Barack Obama.

Richard Ruelas: So, our introduction to you, you talked about the schizophrenic voter. It sounds like it's less than the way the electorate is portioned out?

Rudy Espino: It's more, has to do with, with mid-term versus presidential election years. And what we, we political scientists refer to as during presidential election years, there is the things that we call presidential coat tails, that they hang down, and the winning candidate, his party will typically pull other, lower ticket candidates into office with him. Now, what we see in midterm election is typically the pattern where the president's party loses seats. We saw this in 2010. Democrats took a loss from the mid-term election and is lost control of the House of Representatives. Now, the presidential coat tails were there for the democrats again in 2012, we saw democrats gain seats in the house. And not enough to regain control. You know, I suspect that some other competitive districts that we saw, you know, Kirkpatrick, Barber, that republicans are already vying for that money recruiting candidates to win those seats back.

Richard Ruelas: Did Romney have coat tails in Arizona as far as state candidates or even some of the republican senate races or, or congressional races?

Rudy Espino: Yeah, there was a lot of enthusiasm here for Romney. Certainly with the LDS vote. You know. Certainly benefited Jeff Flake, I would think. But, you would have to keep in mind that republicans hold a voter registration advantage over democrats. So, it's typically the case, when in Arizona, the presidential coat tails would benefit the democratic candidates, than republican candidates.

Richard Ruelas: On a practical level, once congress starts their work with a democratic majority, delegation, what happens once they seat? Is there an Arizona caucus? Does the fact that there is more democrats, will have any practical effect on the state?

Rudy Espino: Not really. Used to in the past. Used to be in the air of John Rhodes, republicans and democrats here in Arizona consider themselves as Arizona politicians first and foremost. They worked together on a lot of land and water issues. Which has led to a lot of economic development we saw since the 1950s to the present here in Arizona because democrats, republicans work together, now congress is polarized, it's unlikely that I expect that democrats and republicans, regardless of whether they are from the same state or not, would be willing to sit down together and working a whole lot of issues.

Richard Ruelas: So, even with Arizona's eccentric issues, I mean, there is going to probably -- it sounds like you are saying there will be few eccentric issues, and those we might not see?

Rudy Espino: The reason being is that the national party in congress much stronger now than it used to be in the 1950s and 1960s. So, the democratic caucus, the republican conference, in congress, really makes their members tow the line.

Richard Ruelas: And incumbents have an advantage in Arizona, and you mentioned the three races that were down to the wire.

Rudy Espino: Right.

Richard Ruelas: However, Cinemas, Barber, Kirkpatrick, which one is the safest do you think going two years from now?

Rudy Espino: Probably Cinemas. I think that barber, you know, barber is a leaning republican district. Always has been. This is the old seat of Jim's, a popular republican down there. Liberal republican. But, so it's either liberal republican or conservative democrat. And I don't think that Kirkpatrick is necessarily safe. She'll have to really ensure that Navajo vote turns out again like it did in 2012.

Richard Ruelas: And so, does this tell us anything about how the commission did its job? I know it was very controversial.

Rudy Espino: It was controversial, but in my opinion, I think that they did the job that they were tasked with. Create a more competitive district. There is certainly valid criticisms that they did not do as good of a job in 2000, but in 2010, I think that it's hard to see that, that the districts they drew were not competitive.

Richard Ruelas: And if competitive is the goal, would we say a time when the state legislative districts are redrawn, I'm not sure when that is. It did not seem to have the same effect as far as of the state legislative lines?

Rudy Espino: Well, the state legislature did, I mean, democrats did gain seats so now, republicans still control both chambers but they don't enjoy the supermajority but they used, that they used to prior so they cannot push for that as easily, some other republican agenda as they did in the past.

Richard Ruelas: So, when, when you look at these races, it seems like one of the most surprising was down south with Ron Barber.

Rudy Espino: Yes.

Richard Ruelas: Did you follow what the messages were or how it was that the race tightened up?

Rudy Espino: To paraphrase, Tip O'neil, all politics is local, and I think both candidates made some mistakes along the way. And both of them sticking their foot in their mouth, and also, Ron Barber and democrats underestimated, you know, the republican candidate that the party couldn't field it. She was a phenomenal candidate.

Richard Ruelas: Does this send any message to, to, again, we have a, a state with, with no democratic statewide office-holders, should republicans look at these results and, and sense any upheaval or was this a novel?

Rudy Espino: I think what they want to pay attention to more of the national trends especially similar to Arizona, take Nevada, Colorado; those are states that are now moving into that so-called battleground status. That president Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were fighting title for, pouring tons of campaign resources. And Arizona, we did not see this in 2008, we did not see it in 2012, but the demographic trends here in Arizona suggest that we are going to be trending into a blue state, especially with the growth of the Latino population here. Now, there are opportunities for republicans to court that Latino vote if they want to, as long as they push away from some of their agenda. A poll that we looked at of Latino voters on Election Day in 2012 showed that if republicans were willing to take a leadership role on immigration, 30% of Latinos that turned at the polls indicated they would be more willing to vote for the republican ticket.

Richard Ruelas: And lastly, which race did the Latino vote have the most effect of the three tight races that is we saw here?

Rudy Espino: Probably, you know, certainly helped barber, and I think helped cinema over the edge, so in both those districts, I think that both those candidates, although Latino electorate, not the majority of districts, but certainly non trivial portions of the electorate in those districts.

Richard Ruelas: And if we do become a swing state, we'll see more ads. I don't know if that's a good thing. But, I appreciate you joining us, professor.

Rudy Espino: Thank you.

Rodolfo Espino:Political Science Professor, ASU;

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