It’s On! Arizona Democrats and Republicans are running hard with October deadlines coming fast

Posted at 6:57 PM, Aug 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-30 02:03:53-04

With the major parties' political conventions over, campaign organizers in Maricopa County are now fully focused on the so-called "ground game." It's the essential and unglamorous work of getting people registered, getting ballots in their hands, and getting them to vote.

"We have a little more than a month to get people to vote, I mean it's crunch time right now," said Executive Director Joseph Garcia of the non-profit Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC).

Garcia and his competitors are hyper-aware of two October dates critical to winning the November 3 general election. October 5 is the last day to register to vote, and early voting opens October 7. The dates are evidence of a significant change in modern campaigns, especially with ongoing concerns about potential malfunctions in casting and counting ballots. It's not only getting out the vote on November 3, it's putting in the work in August's 100-degree heat that could be the difference between success and failure.

"This November all signs are pointing to possible record turnout in Arizona," explained ABC15 data analyst Garrett Archer, a former analyst with the Arizona Secretary of State's office. "We will have an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots cast in this election, possibly as high as 2.7 million ballots, which is more people than had voted in 2016 in total."

Energizing their ground game is what both parties say is the "clear choice" of what is right for the country and Arizona that's been defined by their candidates, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Both parties are using that clarity to mobilize voters immediately.

"It's been so interesting to me in my professional and personal life, how many people were not interested in politics," explained Greg Safsten, Executive Director of the Arizona Republican Party. "They are doing a couple of things. A lot of them are buying guns. And, they are gonna vote."

Guns and fear have proven to be powerful motivators for the Republican base in elections dating back over 50 years. Republicans say that's a winning message and not hard to sell. In his nomination acceptance speech Thursday night, President Trump charged Democrats are a threat to the Second Amendment. Wednesday night, Vice President Mike Pence accepted his nomination telling party loyalists, "You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America".

The Republicans' so-called "law and order" approach has been criticized as inciting fear and encouraging violence in response to Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, a charge they deny. On Thursday, a BLM demonstration in Gilbert brought out heavily-armed counter protestors. Gilbert police kept the groups apart, likely preventing the kind of brawl that disrupted a similar protest one week prior.

While Arizona Republicans see street protests as a major issue, Arizona Democrats identify the long COVID 19 testing lines and outsized infections in Hispanic neighborhoods as an important marker. They believe the pandemic boosted their position. That is, a winning strategy will address the class and racial inequality dividing the state in education, healthcare and housing.

"We learned in this pandemic that our system is broken in terms of healthcare, It's not equal. We have some really good (schools) districts and some really poor districts," says CPLC's Garcia.

Both sides are also claiming momentum in the October race for registrations and early voting. Republican organizers are motivated by a surge in registrations this past quarter, 3,000 more Republicans than Democrats. Democrats counter that year-to-date they've registered 38,000 more voters than Republicans, though those include independents who declared as Democrats in order to vote in the Presidential Preference Race.

Democratic leaders also say that their voters are more engaged. Maricopa County Democratic Party Executive Director Maritza Saenz said they've doubled the number of volunteers working their phones instead of canvassing in person. She said they're finding willing listeners on the calls.

"They (Democratic voters) are answering their phones at almost triple the rate than we've ever had before," Saenz told ABC15. "They are also having deeper, longer conversations asking us questions about the candidates."

In-play for both sides are a surge in potential Latino voters. According to CPLC's Garcia, Maricopa County alone had 100,000 Latinos reaching the voting age since the 2018 mid-term election. Garcia acknowledges that those newcomers aren't actual voters yet, and getting Latinos to participate is difficult.

"The Latino vote is important only if there is an actual Latino vote," Garcia told ABC15.

Though challenging to motivate, Republicans see Latino voter potential too, and canvassed Saturday morning in Hispanic neighborhoods in south Phoenix.

"We are seeing a lot of good things happening, and we let them know that promises were made and promises were kept," says Sergio Arellano with Latinos for Trump.

Still, both sides know that recruiting new voters and switching loyalty is a tough road. Their strategy now is focused on getting their loyalists to act in October. So, even with record temperatures, they're turning up the heat on their ground games.