November 13, 2018
 
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Dem Flips Arizona Senate Seat          11/13 06:10

   (AP) -- In a year of liberal challenges to President Donald Trump, an avowed 
centrist scored the Democratic Party's biggest coup -- flipping a red state's 
U.S. Senate seat.

   Rep. Kyrsten Sinema won the Arizona Senate seat being vacated by Republican 
Jeff Flake to become the first woman to win a U.S. Senate seat in the state. 
The race against Republican Rep. Martha McSally was tight enough that a winner 
wasn't decided until Monday, after a slow count of mail-in ballots gave her an 
insurmountable lead.

   Sinema's win achieves a longtime Democratic goal of making Arizona, with its 
growing Latino population, a competitive state. And she did it by pointedly not 
running against the president, or even critiquing his hardline immigration 
stance.

   "She didn't put the progressive bit in her mouth and run with it," said 
Chuck Coughlin, a GOP strategist in Phoenix. "She spit it out and did something 
else."

   Sinema targeted moderate Republican and independent women by painting 
herself as a nonpartisan problem-solver who voted to support Trump's agenda 60 
percent of the time. Her nearly single-issue campaign talked about the 
importance of health care and protections for people with pre-existing 
conditions.

   She knew McSally was vulnerable there because she backed the Republicans' 
failed attempt to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law.

   Sinema tailored her campaign for conservative-leaning Arizona rather than 
the national environment, but it may be a guide for Democrats who hope to 
expand the electoral map in 2020. While some liberals won important races in 
California, Colorado and Kansas, the left's highest-profile champions 
disappointed on Election Day.

   Rep. Beto O'Rourke fell short in his challenge to Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas. 
Stacey Abrams trails her Republican opponent in the still undecided bitter 
Georgia gubernatorial race, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who once led 
in the polls in the race for Florida governor, is now awaiting the results of a 
recount.

   Sinema prevailed while the Democratic candidate for governor, David Garcia, 
ran as an avowed progressive and got trounced by Republican incumbent Doug 
Ducey.

   "Kyrsten was the perfect candidate for this race," said Democratic 
strategist Chad Campbell, who previously served with Sinema in Arizona's state 
legislature. "We saw that with Garcia."

   Sinema first came to prominence as an openly bisexual Green Party activist 
in Phoenix, and McSally raked the Democrat over her protests against the Iraq 
and Afghanistan wars. Sinema was elected as a Democrat to the state legislature 
in 2004 and carved out a reputation as a liberal who could work with her 
conservative colleagues.

   By the time she was elected to Congress representing a suburban Phoenix 
swing district in 2012, Sinema had completely remade herself into a centrist. 
She voted against Nancy Pelosi as the Democratic leader, supported relaxed 
regulations on banks and a law to increase penalties on people illegally 
re-entering the country. She supported a bill making it easier to deport 
immigrants identified by police as gang members.

   During the Senate campaign, Sinema stuck to her centrist message, almost 
robotically at times. She faced only a nominal primary challenge from her left 
and was free to burnish her nonpartisan credentials, unlike McSally, who faced 
two primary challengers from the right and tied herself to Trump.

   On Election Day, Sinema swung by Arizona State University's downtown Phoenix 
campus to hand out doughnuts and gleefully posed for photos. She has four 
degrees from the school and teaches two classes there.

   "What are you going to do for people who are a little more on the left?" 
voter Petra Morrison asked. The candidate said she wasn't focused on party 
labels or ideology. Morrison later told a reporter she was going to vote for 
Sinema, even though "she seems to come across as a Democrat in sheep's 
clothing."

   Though Sinema wooed moderates, she needed liberals like Morrison in her 
corner for her win. She benefited from a longtime organizing push by activists 
who especially targeted the state's young, growing and Democratic-leaning 
Latino electorate. "It's been 10 years and even more, this mobilization and 
galvanizing," said Lisa Magana, a professor in ASU's School of Transborder 
Studies.

   And though Trump's rhetoric on immigration seemed pitched to Arizona voters' 
anxieties about the border, both Democratic and Republican polls throughout the 
race showed the president had more people disapproving of him.

   Trump visited only once on McSally's behalf in mid-October. The following 
week, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego said there was a notable spike in Latinos 
returning their early ballots; most Arizona residents vote by mail.

   "It was like they spent the weekend at the kitchen table" filling out the 
ballots in anger, Gallego said.

   Annette Villelas was one of those angry voters. She registered for the first 
time so she could vote for Democrats and against Trump. It wasn't just the way 
the president deals with immigrants, she said after shaking Sinema's hand at a 
Phoenix taco shop.

   "The way he talks just to the public, it's not right," Villelas said. "I 
want to vote and get him out and get someone in for the people."

   Ron Horsford, a 50-year-old Republican, was at the same event and said he 
was excited to vote for Sinema. He liked her message of "I'm going to work with 
the other side."

   The question for Democrats in Arizona is whether they can attract voters 
like Horsford and Villelas in 2020. Not only does the party hope it can put the 
state in play in the presidential race, voters will get to choose the John 
McCain's permanent successor. Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, who was appointed after 
McCain's death, has pledged not to run.

   Despite its image as a staunch Republican bastion, Arizona is attracting 
younger, educated voters from elsewhere in the United States. In this election, 
Democrats expanded their share in the state Legislature, though they're still 
the minority. They took a 5-4 majority in the state's congressional seats and 
remain competitive in two down-ballot and uncalled statewide races.


(KA)

 
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