There are few states as politically charged right now as Arizona, which has been a hotbed of progressive organizing since teacher protests rocked the state back in 2018. Now, due to the incompetence of Trump acolyte Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona is one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the country, adding life-or-death stakes to what was already going to be a bruising election year.
While Ducey isn’t up for re-election, the state’s voters have a lot of decisions to make: Arizona will vote for a US Senate seat (things are looking good for Democrat Mark Kelly) as well as on a number of major ballot initiatives that could bring very significant changes to what was once known as solid-red territory. One of the initiatives would legalize recreational marijuana; another would make some big reforms to the state’s archaic criminal justice system.
The legislative elections there are huge, too. After making some big gains in 2018, Democrats need to win just three seats to flip the State Senate and two seats to flip the State House of Representatives. Democratic wins here would be historic — the GOP has controlled the State House every term since 1966, while the State Senate has been in Republican hands for all but eight years since that time.
If Democrats can sweep through Arizona, the path to the White House will be much, much easier for Vice President Joe Biden — forget Texas and Florida, if he can win Arizona and North Carolina, he’ll have the presidency. That makes these races absolutely essential to support.
Below the map, I’m diving into the most hotly contested (and most flippable seats) in the state legislature. One note: Unlike most states, Arizona has one set of legislative districts for both State House and State Senate. Each district elects two State House Representatives and one State Senator.
- State Senate election decided by .3% in 2018 — 167 votes: In 2018, Arizona teachers joined the national #RedforEd national movement, walking out of their underfunded classrooms for over a week to demand that the state drastically increase education investment. Leading the way was Christine Marsh, the 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year, who earned something of a national spotlight with her fierce advocacy on behalf of students and teachers.
Marsh ran for the State Senate that year, too, and came within just 167 votes of unseating Republican Kate Brophy McGee. Now, Marsh is running again to finish the job, while Brophy McGee deals with a bunch of Pizzagate-type conspiracy theorists over on the GOP side.
- State Senate election decided by 1.8% in 2018: We’ve got a really fantastic contrast in this race that makes it even more flippable than the already enticing 2018 vote differential suggests. Democrats are running Felicia French, an Afghanistan War vet and nurse, while Republicans have nominated Wendy Rogers, a perennial right-wing fringe candidate who ousted the incumbent in this district last week. Rogers is one of those child sex trafficking-obsessed conspiracy theorists who is making life miserable for Brophy McGee.
- State House election decided by .3% in 2018: This is another pickup opportunity that’s even better than the 2018 vote differential suggests. Democrats are running well-known Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans. The state’s coronavirus calamity will play heavily into this race, as Evans has taken a leading role in criticizing Gov. Doug Ducey’s terrible job dealing with COVID-19.
Democrats only ran one candidate in the primary, which means that Republicans are guaranteed to win at least one of the two seats in the general election. That’s the case in every single election I’m highlighting, which is sort of a bummer. I suppose it makes sense to concentrate resources in some districts, but it feels like a real missed opportunity in this district, where the GOP is a total mess.
One of the incumbent Republicans is retiring, while the other, Walter Blackman, is a far-right conspiracy-peddler who called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization.” The fact that he’s Black certainly complicates the politics of it, but he barely won in 2018 and seems even more vulnerable now.
- State Senate election decided by 1.8% in 2018: In a state where immigration and education are both massive issues, Democrats nominated Ajlan Kurdoglu, a first-generation American whose wife is a public school teacher. He’s running against JD Mesnard, the former Arizona Speaker of the House.
- State Senate election decided by 3.9% in 2018: This is a rematch between the 2018 candidates. Democrats are again running Douglas Ervin against Paul Boyer, who is only in his first term. Ervin has long been a school volunteer and is focused on education and making the state’s finances more equitable.
- State House election decided by 1.4% in 2018: Democrats have a great candidate in Judy Schwiebert, who spent 27 years as a teacher and is very focused on education funding. In the primary, she received 2500 more votes than either Republican incumbent, one of whom is a real anti-LGBTQ bigot and weirdo who talks a bit too much about porn.
- State House election decided by 3% in 2018: The Democratic Party returns its 2018 nominee, Eric Kurland, who is — get this — a teacher! He got over 8,000 more votes in the primary than the second-place Republican thanks to a heated race between the QAnon-loving incumbent, Jay Lawrence, and the more moderate candidate who ultimately unseated him.
- State House election decided by 5.2% in 2018: Here’s another race where the Democrat in the primary earned more votes (3,000 this time) than the top Republican. Name recognition in this case certainly helped nominee Kathy Knecht, a long-time school board official who ran for State Senate in 2018 as an independent. Now, she’s officially on Team Blue — what else do you expect from someone involved in public schools?
- State House election decided by 6.1% in 2018: We’ve got another Democratic educator in the house! Kristin Dybvig-Pawelko actually works in higher education, having spent the last 20 years at Arizona State University. As such, she’s very concerned with the cost of public college in the state, which is mandated to be as low as possible. Dybvig-Pawelko had a nice showing primary, taking 5,500 more votes than the second and third place Republicans.
- State House election decided by 7.2% in 2018: This should be a super-tight race, far closer than the 2018 margin leads you to believe. Democrats nominated Sharon Girard, a retired physician’s assistant who got more than 4,500 votes than the top Republican vote-getter and 6,000 more votes than the closely paired second and third GOP candidates. The top GOP vote-getter, the incumbent David Cook, is perhaps the most endangered — the guy loves lobbyists and bribing fellow political officials.