How Arizona's 2018 Senate race offers a roadmap for Democrats to turn the state blue


Republicans have controlled the Arizona legislature for decades, but the 2018 elections illuminates the path for Democrats to majorities in each chamber. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeated Republican Martha McSally 50-48 in last year’s U.S. Senate race and carried 16 of the state’s 30 legislative districts, enough for narrow majorities in both chambers if Democrats can capture all of them.

Democrats last took control of the state House after the 1964 elections, even though Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater narrowly beat Democratic President Lyndon Johnson that same year. Team Blue’s last Senate majority was more recent (though still long ago), coming in 1990, though a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans ran the chamber in the early 2000s when each party controlled exactly half the chamber’s seats.

Last year, the GOP emerged with the same 17-13 Senate majority it won 2016, but the Republican edge in the House dropped from 35-25 to just 31-29. Unlike in most states, there is no lieutenant governor who could break a tie, so if Democrats can pick up just one seat in the House and/or two in the Senate, the parties would presumably once again have to develop some sort of power sharing agreement.

Arizona is divided into 30 legislative districts, and each one elects one senator and two state representatives every two years; the districts are exactly the same for both chambers. Each party can nominate up to two candidates for each House district, and voters can vote for their top two choices in the general election. The two candidates with the most votes are elected.

Sinema carried all 14 districts that Hillary Clinton won as she was losing the state to Donald Trump 49-45 in 2016 and also won two districts that went for Trump. This pair of Sinema/Trump district consists of LD-17, which includes a large part of Chandler in the Phoenix area, and LD-20, which includes parts of Phoenix and Glendale. LD-17 moved from 51-43 Trump to 50-47 Sinema, while LD-20 went from 49-45 Trump to 51-47 Sinema.

You can see these results visualized for the House in the map at the top of this post (a larger version can be found here), and for the Senate just below:

We’ll start with a look at LD-17’s legislative delegation. Republican J.D. Mesnard won an open Senate race by a narrow 51-49 margin last year, so he’s an obvious Democratic target for 2020. This district is also the only seat in the state that split its vote and elected one Democrat and one Republican to the House. Democrat Jennifer Pawlik took first place with 34.3 percent, while Jeff Weninger edged out a fellow Republican 34.0-31.7 for the second seat (Team Blue only nominated one candidate here).

LD-20, by contrast, has an all-GOP delegation. In the Senate race, Paul Boyer won an open seat 48-44. Over in the House, Republicans Anthony Kern and Shawnna Bolick took first and second place with 26 percent of the vote each, while a pair of Democrats were close behind with 24 percent apiece.

There’s one final Sinema district that has a Republican in its legislative delegation. LD-28, which is located in Phoenix, moved from 50-45 Clinton to 55-43 Sinema, though Republican state Sen. Kate McGee barely managed to win re-election last year 50.1-49.9, a margin of 265 votes. Democrats fared better on the House side, with Kelli Butler and Aaron Lieberman winning 28 percent and 25 percent, respectively, while the pair of GOP nominees took 24 percent and 23 percent.

If Arizona Democrats were to sweep all of these three Sinema seats in 2020, they’d earn slim majorities in each chamber, but the path is narrow. However, there is one good Trump/McSally seat to target: LD-06, which is located in the Flagstaff area in the northern part of the state. This district moved from 52-42 Trump to just 49-47 McSally, and Republican state Sen. Sylvia Allen hung on to win re-election by a tight 51-49 margin. The House races were also narrow Republican wins. Walt Blackman took first with 26.5 percent, while Bob Thorpe edged out his Democratic rival 25.9-25.6; a second Democrat was further behind with 22 percent.

We also crunched the numbers for the gubernatorial race, where GOP incumbent Doug Ducey beat Democrat David Garcia 56-42. Ducey carried 17 of the 30 seats, taking the 16 Trump seats and one Clinton/Sinema district, the aforementioned LD-28.

Finally, we’ve calculated Arizona’s Senate and gubernatorial results by congressional district as well. Sinema carried the state’s five Democratic-held seats, with Rep. Tom O'Halleran’s 1st District going from 48-47 Trump to 51-46 Sinema. The 2nd District also moved to the left, going from 50-45 Clinton to 53-45 Sinema. (The 2nd District’s congresswoman was none other than Martha McSally.)

Sinema didn’t crack any of the four GOP-held seats, but she lost Rep. David Schweikert’s 6th District by a respectable 51-47 margin four years after it backed Trump 52-42. Schweikert had easily won re-election in the past, but the 2018 midterms yielded his closest-ever race. Democrats are hoping that the seat’s gradual shift to the left, plus an ongoing ethics investigation into the incumbent, will do him in come 2020.

Finally, we’ll take a quick look at the gubernatorial race by congressional district. Ducey carried six seats, winning the 1st District by a wide 54-43 margin and taking the 2nd District 52-46. The 6th District backed the governor 60-38.

The silver lining for Democrats was the once-swingy 9th District, which is held by freshman Democrat Greg Stanton. Sinema, who represented this seat from 2013 until the start of this year, dominated here by a 61-36 margin, and even Garcia carried the 9th 52-46. Garcia’s margin was considerably smaller than Clinton’s 55-38 victory here but was actually a little larger than Barack Obama’s 51-47 performance in 2012. Republicans didn’t make a serious play for the seat last year, and Garcia’s victory, despite his large statewide loss, is a strong sign that it won’t be in play next cycle either.

P.S. You can find our master list of statewide election results by congressional and legislative district here, which we'll be updating as we add new states; you can also find all our data from 2018 and past cycles here.

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