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Feeling Blue? Look West

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“Arizona may have added the latest brick in a new ‘blue wall’ in the Southwest”


One of the most consequential trends in recent election cycles has been the political transformation of the Southwest:

  • In 2004, GWB won big: In his 2004 re-election victory, President George W. Bush won the Latino-heavy battleground states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, receiving an estimated 40% of the Latino vote nationwide. 
  • In 2004, Republicans held a majority of Senate seats: In these four states, and coming out of the 2004 election, Republicans controlled 5 of the 8 Senate seats: Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain in Arizona; Wayne Allard in Colorado; John Ensign in Nevada; and Pete Dominici in New Mexico.
  • In 2020, Biden won all four states: Flash forward, and in this election Democrat Joe Biden flipped Arizona from red to blue, while Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico stayed in the Democratic column. 
  • In 2020, Democrats hold all 8 Senate seats: Democrats will control all eight of the Southwest Senate seats for the first time since 1941 (h/t Ron Brownstein), with newly-elected Mark Kelly in Arizona and John Hickenlooper of Colorado flipping their seats from red to blue, Ben Ray Lujan keeping the New Mexico senate seat he just won in the Democratic column, and the three newly-elected Democrats joining Kirsten Sinema (AZ); Michael Bennet (CO), Martin Heinrich (NM), Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) and Jacky Rosen (NV).

Below are key observations about the 2020 cycle and the ongoing political transformation of the Southwest:

  • In Arizona, Fernanda Echavarri of Mother Jones wrote about the on-the-ground Latino/Latinx organizing work that was “galvanized” by SB1070:  “Arizona’s slow leftward march is a result of a decade of grassroots work by Latinx organizers and activists—not necessarily to support the Democratic Party, but to protect their own community. A generation of Latinos was galvanized when Arizona passed SB 1070 in 2010, the extreme anti-immigration measure that would become known as the ‘show me your papers’ law. Organizations that are working on mobilizing Latinx voters today were formed as a response to SB 1070 and Arpaio’s harsh tactics.”
  • “The latest brick in a new ‘blue wall’? A Univision article by David Adams noted, “Biden’s victory in Arizona may have added the latest brick in a new ‘blue wall’ in the so-called ‘Sun Belt’ in the South-west, following in the footsteps of Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. ‘All across the Sun Belt, Latinos showed up. We won. We saved the day,’ said Kristian Ramos, a Latino consultant.”
  • Colorado and Nevada’s earlier transformation: In 2010, during a Republican wave election, Latino voters helped keep the Senate in Democratic hands, in part due to Republican extremism on immigration. Tom Tancredo in Colorado and Sharron Angle in Nevada ran as radical nativists, and it backfired. As Senator Harry Reid said following the 2010 cycle, “I would not be the majority leader in the United States Senate today, but for the Hispanics in Nevada.” In particular, Nevada Democrats rely on the stellar on-the-ground work by UNITE HERE’s Culinary Union and scores of community organizations that have developed a formidable ground game. 
  • “California-itis is spreading” – the post-Proposition 187 transformation of California may be instructive. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson tweeted out the now blue post-2020 electoral college map of the West Coast and the Southwest, and wrote, “California-itis is spreading,” referring to the political transformation that started in the Golden State following approval of the GOP-backed Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot initiative aimed at driving undocumented immigrants from the state. 

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice; 

There’s a new blue wall in formation. It is composed of Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. Just 16 years ago, all four states voted to re-elect a Republican, George W. Bush and the majority of the Senators were Republican. Today, all four states voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and all eight Senate seats are in the hands of Democrats. 

The threads? In 2004, many Republicans, starting with George W. Bush, spoke of compassionate conservatism, immigration reform and shared values. Today, Republicans play to their base, bow to the most divisive figure in American politics, and stand silent as Donald Trump and Stephen Miller wage war on immigrants and refugees. 

The result? In the Southwest, the radicalism, nativism and divisiveness has backfired on the GOP, and a multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational majority capable of winning tough races is emerging. From our perspective, this is a continuation of what happened in California following the approval of Prop 187, an outgrowth of what has happened in Arizona following the approval of SB1070, the state’s ‘show me your papers’ law, and the marauding raids of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and what is likely to happen in the Southeast as Democrats stand for that region’s diversifying future and Republicans yearn for a white supremacist past.