TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — President-elect Joe Biden’s win in Arizona has been variously attributed to the rural Navajo Nation, where turnout hit 87% with more than 90% voting for Biden; Maricopa County, where no Democratic presidential candidate has won since 1948; and reliably blue Pima County, where the former vice president got 59% of the vote.
But ultimately the biggest reason President Donald Trump lost in Arizona might just be Trump himself.
“A lot of credit has got to go to Donald Trump,” said University of Arizona political science Professor Tom Volgy. “He was such a polarizing figure, an intensely polarizing figure, that I think it’s very clear that he drove the turnout.”
Democrats generally have an edge when turnout is high, and more than 3.2 million of Arizona’s 4.3 million registered voters cast ballots. Turnout reached 79%, and it was up across the board geographically and demographically, Volgy said.
Arizona’s 15 counties had all certified election results by Monday, and the deadline for the state to certify is Nov. 30. The former Delaware senator won Arizona 49.4 to 49.1%, edging out the president by attracting suburban women, new Latino voters, and independents.
In Maricopa County, no Democrat had won a presidential race since President Harry Truman beat Republican Thomas Dewey — a race so close nationally that the Chicago Daily Tribune famously called declared Dewey the winner in a front-page headline held up later by a victorious Truman for a now-iconic photo.
Maricopa County Democratic Party chair Steven Slugocki attributed Biden’s win there to a broad coalition but pointed to Latino activism and high turnout among suburban women as particularly important. Outreach in the Latino community brought in new Maricopa County voters, Slugocki said.
“We out-registered (Republicans) by tens of thousands over the past few years,” he said.
Protests erupted in Maricopa County in the days after Election Day. Hundreds of protesters showed up outside the building where county employees were counting votes, at one point briefly forcing the count to pause but ultimately not significantly disrupting it.
The Arizona Republican Party sued in superior court over the way the county handled a hand-count audit, but that lawsuit was dismissed last week.
“It’s ridiculous that Republicans continue this narrative that there was fraud or any irregularities in the election here,” Slugocki said.
The Arizona GOP did not respond to a request for comment.
Although turnout hit as high as 90% on the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona and nearly as high on the Navajo Nation in the northwest corner, Volgy thinks Biden would have won the state without that because of Arizona’s gradual, decades-long trend leftward.
“This would have been much, much closer without that, but it’s plausible that Biden could have pulled it off without that phenomenal turnout on the Navajo Nation, because of the huge number of votes out of Maricopa County,” Volgy said.
In Arizona’s Senate race to fill the seat left vacant in 2018 by the death in office of Republican Senator John McCain, Arizona also chose a Democrat — former space shuttle commander Mark Kelly, giving Arizona two Democratic senators for the first time since the early 1950s.
Turnout affected that race too, said Arizona State political science professor Kim Fridkin, but McSally herself was also a factor. McSally, the nation’s first female combat pilot and former member of the House was appointed to the seat in 2018 by Governor Doug Ducey. She lost a race for Arizona’s other Senate seat in 2018 to Senator Kyrsten Sinema.
McSally ran a negative campaign in 2018, then became a staunch ally of the president in her two years in the Senate, which Fridkin said hurt her.
“McSally has a tendency to go negative to quickly and too heavily in both the 2018 and 2020 elections,” Fridkin wrote in response to emailed questions. “McSally is not widely known in the state, so she needs to give people a reason to vote FOR her, and I’m not sure she did that.”
Volgy said time will tell if McSally’s negative ads in the 2020 race will stick on Kelly. He will be harder to beat next time.
“It’s one thing to call an incoming candidate with no experience a socialist or a communist or someone who sells out to China,” Volgy said. “It’s another thing to try to make those accusations once the person has a track record, and then people will laugh at it.”
The 2020 election largely follows the long-time Arizona trend toward the left. Fueled by an influx of Latinos and Californians, the state has been creeping left for decades. But although Arizona is blue for now, Volgy isn’t committed to that. Trump may not be running next time for president, and he won’t be in office for Arizona’s 2022 Senate race.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that we are not a blue state,” Volgy said. “We are at best a purple state”
He expects infighting among conservative and moderate Republicans in the coming years, which could detract from the party’s ability to counter the growing Democratic tide. Trump’s influence will linger in the state party in 2022 and 2024, causing strife that could hurt Republicans.
“There is going to be an enormous amount of bloodletting about who supported Trump and who didn’t support Trump,” Volgy said.
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