“The Obama people and the Democrats obviously think that Arizona is in play largely because of the Hispanic vote,” said Bruce Merrill, a pollster and a senior fellow at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy. “The 1070 is an issue has really driven a wedge in the state and has certainly affected and made clear to Hispanics in Arizona that the Republican Party is not one that is sympathetic to them.”
Nonetheless, most election observers are more dubious about the Democrats’ prospects in Arizona, at least as far as 2012 is concerned.
A thread of libertarianism has always run through the state’s politics, a tea party hot spot, and blue collar whites, who are among the most skeptical of President Obama, are a significant part of the electorate. Lightning-rod figures like conservative Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his hard-line stances against illegal immigration, also loom large.
Moreover, the story of the Democratic Party and Hispanics in Arizona in the past has been one of investing time and resources into registering Latino voters to reap scant rewards. Turnout has been historically spotty.
There’s an outside chance that SB 1070 rising once again to the top of the national psyche might alter that dynamic.
“2012 is completely different,” said Arizona Democratic Party Executive Director Luis Heredia. “The consequences of elections is something being drilled down in the Latino household … and Latino voters are really engaged and talking about politics.”
The Obama campaign has sent out initial feelers. During a fundraiser in Phoenix last week, Vice President Joe Biden said, “We think we have a real shot at winning the presidential race here.” This month, Obama volunteers fanned out across college campuses and Hispanic neighborhoods as part of a three-month effort to register voters and see whether they will compete seriously in the fall.