Ari­zona could step to the fore­front

On road to 270, the state is home for chance to play the role as a spoiler.

The Daily Herald - - NATION & WORLD - By Thomas Beau­mont As­so­ci­ated Press

PHOENIX — If Hillary Clin­ton car­ries Ari­zona in Novem­ber, there’s a good chance it won’t be be­cause Democrats on their own have flipped a re­li­able GOP state they hope to win con­sis­tently some­day.

In­stead, Clin­ton and Democrats may have Gary John­son to thank.

The Lib­er­tar­ian Party nom­i­nee’s best chance to in­flu­ence the pres­i­den­tial race may come in Ari­zona, where the for­mer New Mex­ico gover­nor ap­peals to a group of finicky con­ser­va­tives who make up part of the GOP base.

“It could hap­pen,” said GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. “Don­ald Trump has man­aged to make this an in­ter­est­ing state in terms of pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics, and not in the way that Repub­li­cans have wanted.”

John­son “is an easy out for some peo­ple in our party,” Flake told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

About a dozen of the most con­tested states will help de­ter­mine which can­di­date gets the 270 elec­toral votes to win the pres­i­dency. In Ari­zona, where the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee has car­ried the state in 11 of the past 12 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, John­son could play the spoiler, po­ten­tially putting 11 elec­toral votes in Clin­ton’s col­umn.

The GOP’s re­cent strug­gle with in­de­pen­dent-minded, small-gov­ern­ment Lib­er­tar­i­ans was clear be­fore Trump’s speech Wed­nes­day in Phoenix, when he reaf­firmed a hard line on im­mi­gra­tion. And his stance could alien­ate the roughly onequar­ter of His­panic vot­ers in the state who usu­ally align with Repub­li­cans.

“I think that right now we’re at a tip­ping point, where at any mo­ment we are go­ing to be­gin to see an out­pour­ing of sup­port,” said Latino GOP strate­gist Juan Her­nan­dez, who works for John­son in Ari­zona.

Sens­ing an op­por­tu­nity her­self, Clin­ton be­gan air­ing tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ments in the state Fri­day, and has re­served $500,000 in ad time through mid-Septem­ber.

Demo­cratic strate­gist Andy Barr said His­panic turnout was “the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion.” About one-third of the state’s pop­u­la­tion iden­ti­fies as Latino, but their share of the vote ranges be­tween 12 per­cent and 16 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to pub­lic and pri­vate polling.

“This closer it gets to 20 per­cent, the more our chances of win­ning go up,” Barr said.

John­son will ap­pear on the bal­lot in ev­ery state this fall, while Green Party nom­i­nee Jill Stein is on track to make it in at least half. Nei­ther is re­motely within reach of car­ry­ing a state. Nei­ther seems in a po­si­tion to tip any state to­ward Trump.

But John­son could move a close race to­ward Clin­ton, in much the same way that Ralph Nader pulled enough votes away from Demo­crat Al Gore in 2000 to hand Florida to Repub­li­can Ge­orge W. Bush.

Four years ago, Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­dates in Ari­zona drew enough votes away from Repub­li­cans that Democrats Ann Kirk­patrick and Kyrsten Sinema won elec­tion to the U.S. House.

Flake, who had en­deared him­self to many Lib­er­tar­i­ans while serv­ing in the House, won his Se­nate race that year, too.

“It’s a re­ally sore spot for the party,” Ari­zona Repub­li­can Party spokesman Tim Sifert said of those 2012 re­sults. “You could see peo­ple frus­trated, throw­ing away their vote and go­ing with a third­party can­di­date.”

The views of most Lib­er­tar­i­ans, fo­cused on per­sonal lib­erty and small gov­ern­ment, over­lap more with Repub­li­cans than Democrats. John­son’s call for dra­mat­i­cally lower busi­ness taxes and reg­u­la­tion to un­bur­den en­trepreneurs res­onates with Matthew Sher­man, of Phoenix, who de­scribes him­self as more as a conservative than as a Repub­li­can.

“I’m for who­ever has the best plan on startup com­pa­nies,” said the 31-year-old who’s work­ing on a busi­ness net­work­ing app. “So far, that’s Gary.”

Repub­li­can Dave Richins, a coun­cil­man in Mesa City, said John­son is conservative on spend­ing, but tol­er­ant on so­cial is­sues, which he calls “a prag­matic com­bi­na­tion.”

“For me, a life­long Repub­li­can, I don’t agree with every­thing

John­son pro­poses,” said Richins, a John­son or­ga­nizer. “But I find his prag­ma­tism re­fresh­ing. That’s how we get things done.”

John­son’s hands-off ap­proach to gov­ern­ment also in­cludes de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, and he could ben­e­fit from a Novem­ber bal­lot pro­posal in Ari­zona on that ques­tion.

“That’s an­other rea­son for Lib­er­tar­i­ans to vote in higher num­bers,” said Barr, who is run­ning the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion cam­paign. “We’re in­clined to be­lieve that could in­crease John­son’s per­for­mance.”

At the be­gin­ning of Au­gust, John­son’s cam­paign had $1.2 mil­lion af­ter rais­ing $1.6 mil­lion in July, ac­cord­ing to Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­ports. Since Aug. 1, he’s raised more than $3 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to his cam­paign. That’s a pal­try sum com­pared with Trump and Clin­ton, whose cam­paign said it raised a to­tal of $143 mil­lion last month.

John­son is spend­ing in a few com­pet­i­tive cam­paign states, in­clud­ing Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Wis­con­sin, and less com­pet­i­tive ones such as Ore­gon, New Mex­ico and Utah.

Ari­zona is not on that list, but aides say it likely will be this fall.

“As a New Mex­i­can, he’s fairly well known in Ari­zona,” said John­son’s spokesman, Joe Hunter. “Ari­zona makes sense for us. We have a nat­u­ral base of sup­port there.”

I’m for who­ever has the best plan on startup com­pa­nies. So far, that’s Gary.”

— Matthew Sher­man, a self-de­scribed conservative in Phoenix

RICK BOWMER / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Lib­er­tar­ian pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and for­mer New Mex­ico Gov. Gary John­son speaks with legislators at the Utah state Capi­tol in Salt Lake City on May 18.

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