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President Trump takes campaign to borderland, where immigration is top concern

The president made his first campaign visit to Arizona on Friday to endorse Martha McSally, a Republican Senate candidate struggling in polls. Republicans are faring better in a Governor’s race featuring a Latino Democrat, David Garcia.
21 Oct 2018 – 11:23 AM EDT
Two congresswomem, Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema are facing off for Arizona's Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake. Crédito: AP and Getty Images

President Donald Trump arrived in Arizona hoping to fire up support for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally who is struggling in a hotly contested race where early voting is already underway.

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Arizona has not had a Democratic Party senator since 1995, but McSally has barely mentioned Trump in her campaign ads, a reflection of voters’ deeply divided views on immigration in a state which is 31% Hispanic.

A statewide poll this month by the Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research (CLAPR), at Arizona State University found that 54% of Arizonans surveyed disapprove of “the job Donald Trump is doing as President” and 43 percent approve. Among Hispanics, Trump’s disapproval rose to 68%.

Democrats hope Trump’s presence could work in favor of McSally's Democratic challenger, congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, by perhaps swinging unenthusiastic Republicans and independent voters her way.

They are less hopeful about their candidate for Governor David Garcia who is trailing Republican incumbent Doug Ducey by 15 points, according to the website Real Clear Politics which monitors polls.

Sinema is one of the Democrats big hopes to overturn the Republican’s two-seat majority in the Senate in November, with polling showing the race is a virtual tie.

But, while polls show immigration is the top concern of voters, Latinos are sold on Sinema, said Edward D. Vargas, with the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. “There’s a lot of anger and concern among Latinos about Trump, but that doesn’t guarantee Latino turnout,” he said.

Latinos put off

Sinema is strong supporter of the children of undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers. However, some Latinos are put off by her support for greater border security. She opposes Trump’s border wall, arguing that the border can be better secured using modern devices such as drones and night vision technology.

McSally record on immigration has shifted to the right, after she withdrew her initial support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) program that sought to provide temporary protection from deportation for Dreamers. She went as far as to remove from a video on YouTube of her defending DACA.

Trump’s latest attacks on the Central American migrant caravan, could feed into Republican concerns, helping fire up his base. “His visit comes at a particularly sensitive time,” said Vargas.

Immigration is top concern

While immigration is a top issue, the Arizona State University poll found 54% of Republicans listed immigration as a top concern compared to 26% of Democrats, and 30% of Independents.

The Sinema campaign is banking on other issues such as healthcare, as well as her political record as a moderate centrist willing to work across the aisle with Republicans. She supported a bipartisan veterans bill that Trump signed in June.

Sinema is a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, especially the protection for pre-existing conditions. One the other hand, McSally voted to repeal Obamacare and was quoted as profanely urging her Republican colleagues to pass it, saying: “Let’s get this f***ing thing done!”

Arizona’s voter registration gap between the two parties is at its lowest point since 2009, giving Democrats greater hope of a path to victory. Last week her campaign last week announced a GOP breakaway group of Republicans for Sinema.

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The Arizona State University poll also found that Sinema does better among Republicans than McSally does among Democrats, with Sinema having an 8% percent advantage in this cross-party support comparison. According to the results of this poll,

Sinema also does better among women, by 15%, (42% to 27%, with 23% undecided) than McSally.

McSally, a retired military officer served in the United States Air Force from 1988 to 2010 and rose to the rank of colonel. But she has come under fire for failing to acknowledge the legacy of late Arizona Senator John McCain, also a military pilot, who died in August. McSally was criticized for failing to mention McCain during debate in the House of Representatives on the national defense budget this summer, earning a rebuke on Twitter from his daughter.

However, McSally did issue a statement praising McCain after his death, describing him as “truly an American hero and patriot.” She added: “Arizona and the country have a hole bigger than the Grand Canyon that can never be filled with his passing.”

While Sinema cannot match McSally’s military record, she has a younger brother in the U.S. Navy and her older brother is a policeman and former U.S. Marine. She also won the backing of the Arizona State Troopers Association.

A Latino governor?

Democrats initially had high hopes in the Governor’s race for Garcia, an educator and U.S. Army veteran but his campaign failed to take off. After a teachers’ strike that gained national attention, he appeared poised to potentially benefit for a ballot amendment to raise taxes on education. But the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the ballot over its unclear language.

Ducey countered with his own education reform proposals and has helped his cause by largely staying out of the immigration wars. “He is not seen as openly anti-immigrant like some other Republicans in the state,” said Vargas, citing Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa Sheriff and failed U.S. Senate candidate, as well as Russell Pearce, the former Arizona Senator who sponsored a controversial anti-undocumented immigrant measure, SB1070, but was later ousted in an unprecedented recall election.

“In Arizona you don’t want to be the candidate who is openly anti-immigrant,” said Vargas. “You can oppose certain policies, but you can’t be vocal about it.”