Arizona may not be America’s bell weather, but something strange is afoot. To understand it – and what it means for the nation – consider two facts. Tough races, Olympic mile to US Senate, come down to kick. Second, history shows Arizona hides undecided voters. Together, these facts make Arizona’s Senate race – and our national cycle – tighter than most recognize.
Consider Arizona’s Senate race, between Republican fighter pilot Martha McSally and Democrat Shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly. On September 3, barely a month ago, McSally trailed Kelly by 17 points. The race looked over. See, https://www.salon.com/2020/09/03/martha-mcsally-down-17-points-in-new-fox-news-poll-showing-democrats-surging-in-key-states/. But as Yogi Berra said: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Like runners entering the final turn, or a fighter pilot pulling hard for the bead on a bogie, strange things happen in final moments. As of September 30, McSally was suddenly within six points, posting an 11-point gain over 27 days. One poll put her within margin of error, down by two. See, https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2020/senate/az/arizona_senate_mcsally_vs_kelly-6801.html; https://www.nationaljournal.com/s/709972/mcsally-internal-poll-finds-her-within-margin-of-error?unlock=P6KTFK08NIONE6QJ.
Then, adding lift to McSally’s race on October 4, three former Apollo astronauts – two of whom went to the moon – suddenly endorsed McSally, panning Kelly’s leftist agenda. See, https://www.redstate.com/beccalower/2020/10/03/astronauts-endorse-martha-mcsally-senate-mark-kelly/. That is going to give her a boost. Expect afterburners to light up. If three legendary astronauts are not willing to support another astronaut, the race requires a relook.
Then turn to history, since the old standby sometimes harbors untapped wisdom. What might 2016 polls from Arizona tell us about 2020, if anything? True, history never repeats exactly. That said, hints hide in numbers few bother to review. Let us review them. In the last week of October 2016 – interesting numbers popped in Arizona.
Clinton was ahead of Trump in Arizona as October 29, 43.5 to 42 – roughly the same lead Kelly holds on McSally by internal tracking poll. Then, the strangest turn unfolded. Either Clinton supporters fell away, or Trump supporters emerged from the woodwork. Maybe undecideds decided. Either way, fortunes turned fast. By November 1, Trump was up 45 to 43.5. By election day, he was up 47 to 43. Trump won the state 48.1 to 44.6 – and it was over. See, https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/az/arizona_trump_vs_clinton-5832.html; https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2016/results/arizona-president-clinton-trump.
So, what are the lessons or take-aways for the final stretch in Arizona – and the Nation? First, strange things happen down the stretch. Ask Olympic miler John Landy, who lost “The Miracle Mile” in 1954 to Roger Bannister – in a final turn. Landy led the entire race, by ten yards in the third lap of four. But in a giant burst, Bannister overtook him in the fourth – never looked back. Endorsements and endorphins, the will to win and being sure-footed count in the kick.
Second, Arizona – and by appearances the whole Nation – held a secret in 2016. Democrat support was soft, their candidate weak, and commitment to turnout weaker; or the Republican was stronger than met the eye, private support stronger than public polls; or undecided voters tipped hard Republican – not enamored with a leftist agenda – in the final week. Regardless, polls were wrong – and momentum edged out the early leader. Arizona 2020 looks similar.
Finally, if Arizona is not a bell weather, the state offers insights into the national election cycle. If McSally pulls out a win, other Senate races may end Republican, including Maine, Colorado, North Carolina, Iowa, Montana, Georgia, Alabama, and Michigan. Moreover, swing states where Trump appears to be trailing, may prove reservoirs of soft Democrat support, hidden Republican turnout, or late-breaking undecideds that tip Trump.
Of course, politics is a fickle business – as much room to be wrong as right. Olympic favorites fade as often as win and win as often as fade. History too is a wandering minstrel, offering inspiration and curiously disappearing, seeming to predict the future but not always.
Still, something strange is happening in Arizona – and nationally. Many Republicans are gaining, as we enter the final turn. The test will be who lights the afterburners, wins the kick, stays the course. Less than 30 days and counting now.