Arizona GOP optimism is tempered but optimism nonetheless

Republican students reflect the state of the party after the midterms

Arizona Republicans are cautiously optimistic about the GOP's stature within the Grand Canyon State despite scattered Democratic victories locally and a resounding Democratic victory in the U.S. House of Representatives during Tuesday's midterm elections. 

While the Democrats suffered several losses in statewide elections, they increased their margin in the state's congressional delegation, gained ground in the state legislature and have offered enough support to Senate hopeful Kyrsten Sinema to keep the result of the state's blockbuster election unknowable still two days after the election. 

“Arizona is a red state — no matter what happens tonight, we are a red state,” Judah Waxelbaum, political science sophomore and chairman of the Arizona Federation of College Republicans, said at the state GOP election night viewing party Tuesday night. “Most of our in-state students grew up with the same conservative values I grew up with, so they inherently are going to be Republicans.”

Josh Bernard, a senior studying political science and vice president of College Republicans United, another on-campus Republican club, said at a Phoenix polling place on election day that he believes Arizona is becoming increasingly purple. 

“Arizona is a lot more purple now than it used to be,” he said, crediting the millennial vote — which ticked up significantly in the midterms and tends leftward — for the shift. 

Bernard said that he was more confident going into the 2016 election than he was for the midterms on Tuesday because of Tuesday's several tight races, some of which have still yet to be decided.

This sentiment set the mood at a post-election College Republicans United meeting yesterday. 

"We took a beating nationwide," Johnny Melton, Maricopa County Republicans member at large, said at the meeting. "We lost a few governor mansions. We lost Wisconsin ... but we kept Florida. (I) don't know how, but we did." 

The potential results of the U.S. Senate race between Reps. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema, which has not been called as of Thursday, worried Bernard. He said his concern stemmed from a lack of excitement for McSally as well as Sinema's strong campaigning.

“Sinema did a good job campaigning as a moderate, and the GOP did a bad job disproving that,” he said. “I will give credit where credit is due.”

The Democrats out-campaigned the Republicans on a number of matters, Merissa Hamilton, who sits on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Arizona, said at the CRU meeting.

"The Democrats seemed to focus diligently on grounding, whereas Republicans have relied much more on mailers, phone calls (and) things that are a little bit easier,” Hamilton said.

She said that Republicans may have received more votes had they focused on the same tactics that Democrats did to build enthusiasm and boost registration.

“I wanted to know why we are losing some House seats ... so I (looked) at voter registration numbers. What I saw was that, primarily, there was a demographic shift,” she said. “In every single one of these races, the Democrat voter registrations increased by a few thousand. And either Republican registration stayed the same, increased just a little bit, or decreased.”

Arizona had a historically large turnout for the midterm elections on Tuesday, including among young people, which Waxelbaum credited in part to President Donald Trump. 

“It’s great (to see young people voting), and it’s one of things President Trump has helped with a lot, politics is finally cool among young people,” he said. “I like to say it’s my new favorite sport. Politics is a full contact sport with no participation trophies, and that’s why people love it.”

Read more: ASU Republicans fracture over Trump politics

The Democratic majority in the house will hinder most landmark conservative legislation, Melton said.

“Any ... red meat Republican stuff probably isn’t going to happen. The best thing we could hope for nationally is maybe some kind of infrastructure reform,” he said. “But, if there’s any big surprise in the next two years, I think we could get immigration reform.”

Nonetheless, he said the enthusiasm among young Republican voters was inspiring. 

“The fact that you’re here (at the CRU meeting) — that’s pretty amazing,” Melton said. “You guys break the stereotype of disengaged millennials. The fact that you’re here tells me that you guys care not only about our country but the conservative cause.”

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