Presidential Politics And Election Returns
Last Updated July 8, 2003
Far from the media centers of the East Coast, Arizona has tried to make itself another Iowa or New Hampshire in presidential primary politics, with little success. In 1972 it had an early Democratic primary, the improbable winner of which was Republican-turned-Democrat New York Mayor John Lindsay. But he went nowhere anyplace else. In 1996 Arizona tried again. It attempted to set its primary for the same date as New Hampshire; when that failed it set it one week later. The intended beneficiary was Republican Phil Gramm, running with the support of Arizona's John McCain. But Gramm pulled out of the race a week before New Hampshire, and Arizona became a battleground between Bob Dole, who now had McCain's support; Pat Buchanan, who urged his followers to "mount up and ride" after his narrow victory in New Hampshire; and Steve Forbes, who peppered the state with ads boosting his flat tax and attacking Washington politicians. Buchanan's campaigning in gunslinger costume wearing a black hat was a bit too much, and he finished third, with 27%; it was clear he had no chance to win the nomination. Dole finished second with 30%; Forbes won 33% and all the delegates, after which his campaign, like that of his fellow easterner Lindsay a quarter-century before, went nowhere.
In 2000, Arizona tried other innovations. McCain had irritated local Republicans enough that Governor Jane Hull and other party leaders endorsed George W. Bush. McCain, however, won a solid victory in his home state in the February primary, but it was overshadowed by his misleading triumph in Michigan the same day--misleading since he won that open-primary state because 20% of Republican primary voters were self-identified Democrats, double the percentage in any other contest that year. As for Arizona's Democrats, they ran and paid for their own primary in March, because the state's February date was outside the "window" allowed by national Democratic Party rules. They allowed voting by Internet, and about 35,000 Arizonans typed in their choices; another 20,000 voted by mail; still others voted by computer or paper ballot at the polls. But the Internet voting was not flawless and the primary was trivial since Al Gore had already clinched the nomination. In February 2003 Governor Janet Napolitano signed a proclamation to hold the 2004 primary on the first Tuesday in February, the same day as South Carolina, and the first primary after New Hampshire. That would mean the Democratic nomination might be decided, or taken some distance toward being decided, by states with Democratic electorates far more heavily black and far more heavily Hispanic than the national average--but then Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats are almost all white.
In the 1990s, Arizona suddenly became competitive in presidential general elections. The national trend toward Clinton-Gore Democrats in the very largest metropolitan areas was felt in Phoenix and Maricopa County; once very heavily Republican, it was closely divided in 1996 and 2000. In 1996 Bill Clinton won by a 47%-44% margin--the first Democrat to carry the state since Harry Truman in 1948. The winning issue was not Medicare--Arizona does not have an especially large elderly population, and the air seemed to go out of the Medicare issue in mid-October. Rather, it was the environment. Arizona has a much lower percentage of rural and small town voters than other Rocky Mountain states: Nearly 80% of Arizonans live in metro Phoenix and Tucson, and they want to preserve the environment that is so visibly being transformed by their own success. Clinton's staging of the announcement of a Utah land preserve at the Grand Canyon may have carried Arizona single-handedly (it may also have defeated the only Democratic congressman in Utah at the time). Clinton went on to create new National Monuments in Arizona--four in 2000 alone--over the opposition of local elected officials, and perhaps in the hope of aiding Al Gore. If so, it was in vain. Gore won 45% here, a good showing for a national Democrat, but George W. Bush won 51%, carrying not only Phoenix and Maricopa County, as Republican nominees had in 1992 and 1996, but also the smaller counties outside the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas, which they had not. The non-metropolitan backlash against Clinton-Gore environmental policies worked for Bush in Arizona as it did in Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states.
|2000 Presidential Vote|
|2000 Republican Primary|
|2000 Democratic Primary|
|1996 Presidential Vote|
For 1992 and 1996 presidential results in Arizona, please see the Almanac 2000 online.
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