tags: Press Releases

Lessons from Arizona: GOP Ugly and Dangerous Nativism Backfires Outside Hardcore MAGA Base

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Washington, DC – Election results in Arizona underscore a key takeaway: MAGA extremism – including Republicans’ radicalization on immigration – turned an election with conditions that were overwhelmingly tilted in Republicans’ favor into an extremely close race for Congress and multiple wins for Democrats. Once again, Republicans’ politics of fear and grievance and the GOP’s embrace of dangerous conspiracies spoke to their radicalized base, but seemed to alienate the majority of the electorate. Those alienated included a strong majority of Latino voters, who provided crucial margins for Arizona Democrats in key races. 

Among the key races and candidates’ immigration stances in Arizona: 

Meanwhile, incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Kelly epitomized a “both/and” approach on immigration – pro-legalization, pro-border security. For example, in the Arizona Senate debate, Kelly stated re: Dreamers: “We have tens of thousands of Dreamers here in the state of Arizona that are as American as my own two kids … My opponent Blake Masters, on the other hand, he said he would never offer citizenship to Dreamers. I think it’s mean and it’s fundamentally un-American.” And after distancing himself from Biden’s border record and messaging and highlighting his own work on proposed solutions, Kelly noted:  “Republicans just want to talk about it, complain about it, and actually not do anything about it.” 

  • AZ Governor: Republican Kari Lake’s strident extremism defined her campaign from start to finish. Her election denialism and her anti-immigrant extremism were the twin engines driving her message. Lake made the deadly white nationalist conspiracy about a so-called migrant invasion the centerpiece of her campaign, running multiple ads that promised to declare war on migrants as a day one priority

Meanwhile, Democrat Katie Hobbs employed a similar “both/and” approach to immigration as Sen. Kelly. Hobbs’ campaign called out the Republican political stunts and lack of solutions, calling for “Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that addresses both our current crises and our future challenges.” She called for both security and a managed process at the border and the importance of “legislation to give DREAMers the stability and certainty they deserve and a path to citizenship.”

  • AZ Secretary of State: Losing GOP candidate Mark Finchem is a member of the far-right Oath Keepers, whose leader faces seditious conspiracy charges for his role in Jan. 6. Finchem also is a hard-core election denier, shared QAnon content and attended the January 6 rally. On the weekend before the election, Finchem spent his time at a staged press conference at the border with the other statewide Republican candidates, where he falsely asserted that the federal government was encouraging voting by undocumented immigrants in the Arizona election. 

Additionally, Arizona voters passed a pro-immigrant ballot initiative:

  • Prop 308:  This tuition equity proposition will allow Arizona Dreamers who graduate from state public high schools to access in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities. The ballot initiative was placed on the ballot because of the tireless ongoing organizing from the groups on the ground and passed despite the Arizona Republican Party’s opposition and a year of nativist fear-mongering against immigrants from statewide campaigns.     

The margins and turnout of Arizona Latinos was crucial to Democrats’ narrow victories. In the large sample Midterm Voter Election Poll of Arizona Latinos who voted in 2022, Latino voters in the state provided the following critical margins to winning Democratic candidates.

  • 67-32% for Kelly over Masters in AZ Senate
  • 62-36% for Hobbs over Lake in AZ Governor
  • 63-36% for Democrats over Republican candidates in AZ House races 

Summarizing the takeaways, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted, “Now that Mark Kelly has won the Arizona Senate race, we shouldn’t let anyone forget that Blake Masters ran one of the ugliest anti-immigrant campaigns in the country, including truly vile ‘invasion’ and ‘great replacement’ language.” Earlier this week, Sargent wrote, “Invasion language did little for Republicans,” exploring Arizona and other examples where GOP efforts to run on nativism lost at the ballot box.

Fellow Washington Post writer Paul Waldman also noted this week: “Arizona Democrats chalk up their big night to GOP focus on immigration,” writing: 

“Though Republicans wouldn’t use those terms, immigration was clearly the beginning and end of their strategy in Arizona this year. If you went to any GOP campaign event in Arizona lately, you would have heard a litany of horrors about the border as candidates Kari Lake and Blake Masters painted a nightmarish picture of murder and mayhem pouring into American communities, courtesy of a quasi-conspiracy involving the Chinese Communist Party, Mexican drug cartels and President Biden himself seeking to flood the country with fentanyl and criminal aliens 

… In Arizona as elsewhere, through victory and defeat, Republicans’ faith in the electoral power of the immigration issue has been unwavering. And all indications are that whatever else happens between now and 2024, that isn’t going to change.”

According to Vanessa Cárdenas, Executive Director for America’s Voice:

“Arizona voters soundly rejected MAGA extremism, which in Arizona featured a particularly vile focus on nativism and white nationalist conspiracies. Not only that, but thanks to the year-round organizing by groups on the ground, voters also passed in-state tuition for undocumented students. In fact, Prop 308 got more votes than anti-immigrant zealot Blake Masters 

Even in an election cycle with fundamentals that were supposedly hostile to Democrats, Republicans lost due to GOP extremist candidates’ failure to articulate common sense solutions and connect with voters outside their hardcore and radicalized base. On immigration, voters are tired of cheap stunts and dangerous rhetoric and want solutions, not scare tactics.”