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Arizonans Could Help Flip Senate, but Trump-Biden Race Too Close to Call

Democrats in Arizona have a slight edge over Republicans, although the state’s high number of registered independents leaves that edge in doubt. And makes predicting the presidential race tough in the Grand Canyon State.

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — Retired iron worker William Welty has been a Democrat his entire life.

Welty, who remembers his dad always voting a straight blue ticket, cast Democratic ballots in election after election for 50 years — until now. This time, he voted for President Donald Trump. He doesn’t think former Vice President Joe Biden would live through a four-year term, which would leave us with his vice presidential nominee, California Senator Kamala Harris.

“She is going to be president, and she is such a radical,” Welty said after voting in Oro Valley, a conservative suburb of Tucson.

Voting started Oct. 7 in Arizona, where the Secretary of State’s Office shows 4.3 million registered voters — just shy of 700,000 more than 2016.  More than half of those, 2.4 million, have already been returned to the 15 county recorders’ offices, according to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project, run by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald.

Among those, Democrats have a slight edge (924,000) over Republicans (914,000), although the state’s high number of registered independents (634,000) leaves that edge in doubt. At stake are 11 electoral votes and possibly control of the Senate.

Recent polls show Biden with a slim lead over the president in the Grand Canyon State, where Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 3.5% in 2016. The FiveThirtyEight polling average gives Biden a 2.6% lead over Trump — well within the margin of error for most polls.

The latest survey from Ipsos has the longtime Delaware senator leading 49% to 47% among a mix of people who have already voted and those who planned to.

Former space shuttle commander and Navy pilot Mark Kelly, a Democrat, also leads in Arizona’s Senate race. Incumbent Republican Senator Martha McSally, the nation’s first female combat pilot, trails Kelly 44%-55% according to the poll.

Kelly was also leading McSally in every poll posted by FiveThirtyEight.

Welty was dismayed that the Democratic Party dipped into its past for a presidential candidate, and the thought of relying on Biden to move the nation forward was too much. He thinks Trump’s eye for the bottom line had the economy on the rise when the pandemic hit.

He agrees the president has made mistakes handling Covid-19 — but any president would, he said.

“He didn’t cause it. He just didn’t cure it,” Welty said.

Retired broadcast engineer Thomas Higgins, 68, voted for all Democrats.

“Because Democrats care more about real people, and Republicans care more about Wall Street and corporations,” the Indianapolis native said. “I’m a real person.”

Higgins also voted yes on the state’s cannabis legalization initiative. He is not user, although his husband is, but he voted for the initiative in part because of the list of people and organizations that opposed the law, including Governor Doug Ducey and several Republican leaders in the Arizona Legislature.

Sixty percent of voters back the measure, while just 36% oppose it, according to a poll out last week from OH Predictive Insights, a Phoenix research firm. This is the second recent attempt at legalization in Arizona, where more than 250,000 people are registered to use medical cannabis. A similar adult-use measure failed in 2016.

The law would allow adults to travel with up to an ounce and grow up to six plants for personal use. 

Higgins isn’t stressing over the high-tension election that mas been marked by protests across the nation, though no major clashes have happened in Arizona.

“I’m trying not to focus on it. I don’t want to obsess over it, because it’s much bigger than me,” he said.

Attorney Paul Hofmann, 62, voted a straight Republican ticket. As a lifelong conservative, he hasn’t always been comfortable with the way the president has barreled into the Republican Party. But as a native New Yorker with some brash, outspoken relatives, he thinks maybe sometimes people take Trump’s rhetoric too seriously.

“They really shouldn’t,” Hofmann said. “A lot of New Yorkers are like that.”

Hofmann points to the presidents open-market philosophy, unemployment numbers, and foreign policy — specifically the Middle East — as evidence Trump can get things done. He did not see Middle East peace coming from a Trump administration.

“It looks like we’re on track for that. That was something that I don’t think anyone expected,” he said.

Because a new law allows it, Arizona election officials have been counting ballots for two weeks, though results can’t be released until after polls close Tuesday.

Early ballots get counted first, then Election Day ballots, then early ballots dropped off Tuesday, then provisional ballots from voters who for various reasons did not vote normal ballots. The Secretary of State’s Office will start posting results, beginning with early ballots received before Tuesday, at 8 p.m.

There is no way to predict when results will be available because officials don’t know how many ballots will be dropped on Tuesday, said Secretary of State’s Office spokeswoman Sophia Solis.

“We will not have final results tonight, but we should have a better idea as to how many ballots are left to process. The counties have 20 days to canvass election results,” Solis said.

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