“If we win this state, we win it all,” U.S. President Donald Trump declared Monday at a political rally in the state of Arizona, which has 11 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
Trump won the state by 4 percentage points in 2016.
“We’re in first place in Arizona,” Trump said at the political rally in Prescott, his first of two during the day in the southwestern state, two weeks before the general election.
An average of major polls that have been released this month shows Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden leading in Arizona by about 3 percentage points — within the margin of error for most surveys, meaning that political observers regard the race as virtually tied.
“It’s not a typical red (Republican) state,” explained Frank Gonzalez, an assistant professor in the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona. “It has sort of its own culture. Arizonans pride themselves on not just following what the other red states are doing.”
Trump’s image as a political outsider and his maverick approach appealed to Arizonans in 2016. Since then, his image is more akin “to the sort of spirit Arizonans reject, which is like this cult mindset of just follow the leader,” Gonzalez told VOA on Monday.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the state’s Latino and Indigenous populations.
“The Trump campaign has not figured out how to get Trump to be winning on that issue, or on education or health care, which are big priorities for Arizonans,” Gonzalez said. “And it's two weeks out, and tons of people have already voted.”
A former attorney general of Arizona, Grant Woods, is critical of Trump holding Monday’s outdoor rallies without social distancing at a time when the number of coronavirus cases in the state is going up.
“What is the point of packing 1,000 people into a confined space without masks? The point is to make him feel better about things. But it's not lost on people that is reckless behavior only to stroke his ego,” Woods, a Republican-turned-Democrat, told VOA.
Trump, at the Prescott rally, criticized the media for continuously focusing on the coronavirus, contending that Americans have tired of cable news coverage of the pandemic and that it is an attempt to suppress voting.
“People aren’t buying it, CNN, you dumb bastards,” the president said.
His second rally of the day, in Tucson, was attended by about 10,000 people, according to campaign and security officials.
Arizona, the last of the contiguous states to enter the union in the 1912, has not selected a Democrat for president in 24 years. Republicans still dominate among registered voters.
There is little likelihood of Trump winning reelection without Arizona, according to Ruth Jones, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies.
“If the tide is going against him in Arizona, it probably is going to trend against him in one or two of the other swing or must-have states,” Jones told VOA. “What state could he pick up to balance out Arizona?”
Arizona was the home of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, who lost the 1964 presidential election to Democratic Party nominee Lyndon Johnson and who was the ideological forebearer to the Republican Party’s Ronald Reagan revolution of the 1980s.
Over the years, the border state’s demographics have changed. It has become increasingly urban, and the electorate is trending toward the college-educated and Latinos — two groups that tend to favor the Democratic Party.
Biden stayed in his home state of Delaware on Monday where he taped a (CBS News "60 Minutes") television interview set to air on Sunday. He is also preparing for his second debate with Trump scheduled for Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee.
Biden’s campaign released a statement criticizing Trump’s visit to Arizona.
“President Trump is spending the final days of his campaign trying to sow division and distract the American people from his failure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. He wants to sell Arizona families more of the same reckless leadership that has devastated the state's economy, shuttered thousands of small businesses, and threatens protections for the 2.8 million Arizonans living with a preexisting condition,” Biden said in the statement. “He’s insulted our heroes like my friend Senator John McCain by calling them ‘losers’ and ‘suckers.’”
McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, has endorsed Biden.
“It (Cindy McCain’s endorsement) kind of gives permission to an awful lot of Arizonans, and in particular Arizona women — who traditionally might have voted for the Republican candidate — that it's OK to vote for the Democratic candidate, because that candidate is Joe Biden,” Woods said.
Regardless of party affiliation, voters in the state have long identified themselves as moderates. Democrats are hoping to use the state’s middle-of-the-road approach and independent streak to help them take control of the U.S. Senate.
Republican Sen. Martha McSally is running behind her general election challenger, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and husband of former Democratic Party Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt near Tucson in 2011.
“Kelly is running essentially as a moderate. He would very easily be a Republican in some other states,” Gonzalez said.
Trump’s appearances in Arizona likely will not give McSally much of a boost, as the president’s focus on his base is not the voting bloc the incumbent senator needs to motivate to overcome Kelly.
“It might help nudge a few more Trump supporters to turn out and provide some down-ticket support, but it will be minimal,” according to Jones. “More likely to have some impact is the avalanche of new money that has been pouring in for more targeted ads and social media messages.”
Trump said the fate of his campaign in Arizona is not tied to that of McSally’s.
“I know I'm doing very well,” the president told reporters in Phoenix before flying to Tucson. “I don’t know what her numbers are – haven’t looked. But I hope she does well. She's a very good person. I know my numbers, as you know, are very good in Arizona.”