If John McCain weren’t on the ballot in 2008, you could make a strong case that his state, Arizona, would have been in play for Democrats, regardless of who they nominated. Hispanics were a huge share of the population, a significant share of the electorate—at 16 percent of all voters in the state—and a solid block of supporters for the Democratic Party—in 2008, they supported Barack Obama with 55 percent of the vote.
The percentage of Hispanics in Arizona has remained steady since then, at around 30 percent, but the voting age population has increased to 845,000, and now constitutes 19 percent of Arizona residents of voting age, up from 17 percent in 2008. What’s more, intense Republican antagonism—through intrusive, draconian laws—have thoroughly alienated Hispanic voters.
All of this is to say that conditions have moved Arizona to the column of states which are “in play,” and recent polls bear that out. For example, in its latest survey of the state, Public Policy Polling found that President Obama is tied with Mitt Romney at 47 percent support, a 5 point improvement since November of last year. PPP’s Tom Jensen doubts that Obama would actually be able to beat Romney, but—all things equal—a lot of that depends on the composition of the electorate. 15 percent of the residents surveyed by PPP identified as Hispanic, and of that number, 64 percent approve of Obama. If the Hispanic share of the Arizona electorate were to match its share of the voting age population, there’s a good chance that Obama would win.
Of course, none of this played into last night’s debate performance, where Republicans continued to praise aggressively anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona and other states. At the moment, 72 percent of Latinos say the GOP either “did not care about their support or was hostile to their community.” If Republicans continue on their current path, that number will only go up.