Voters in Kansas and Arizona defy expectations to set course: NPR

Voters in Kansas and Arizona defy expectations to set course: NPR

Abortion rights advocates celebrate the failure of a proposed amendment to the Kansas constitution that would have repealed abortion rights in Overland Park, Kansas, on August 2.

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Kansas City Star/TNS

Abortion rights advocates celebrate the failure of a proposed amendment to the Kansas constitution that would have repealed abortion rights in Overland Park, Kansas, on August 2.

Kansas City Star/TNS

Anyone who knows anything about politics knows something about Kansas and Arizona — or thinks they do.

But what we all know for sure can be wrong.

At the very least, it’s worth taking a second look at Kansas and Arizona, where we know the West and its agricultural and manufacturing economies are some of the most conservative parts of the country steeped in voting trends. Their political history is closely related to the national politics of the Republicans.

By 2020, each of these states had only voted for a Democrat for president once every 70 years. They have also produced four Republican presidential candidates, including three since 1964, a remarkable record considering their population.

But last week showed that surprises can happen where you least expect them.

A special referendum in Kansas to overturn the state constitution and give the legislature the power to enact new abortion restrictions has been rejected. Big time. No option received 58% of votes. Turnout was nearly double that of the last comparable primary election and about the same as the November 2018 midterm election. Unaffiliated voters who had nothing else to vote for in the primary turned out to vote on the abortion measure and turned their fingers down.

In a powerful signal with national implications, the anti-abortion vote outpaced the vote for former President Trump in the state by 15 points. That data point raises the question of how other Trump states, or “red states,” might respond to the Supreme Court’s latest abortion decision when it comes to elections this fall.

The New York Times Nate Kohn developed a formula for polling and polling data to estimate How all 50 states will vote when faced with a similar ballot measure. He found only seven states that would pass an anti-abortion measure and estimated that nationally the popular vote would be 65% against such a measure.

Abortion opponents were shocked this week at what they thought would be a great place to launch a state-by-state fight over abortion rights that the Supreme Court has set in motion.

Apparently they had a lot of guesses about Kansas, too.

Is Arizona zero now?

Arizona primary voters have thrown out a slate of conservative statewide candidates backed by the Republican establishment in favor of four election denialists who have rejected the state’s 2020 presidential election results. From gubernatorial and senatorial candidates to Arizona secretary of state and attorney general, candidates who bowed to Trump on this issue won his support and were nominated.

Arizona Republicans, who still revere the late Sen. John McCain, a frequent Trump foe, are horrified. So were those who honored the memory of the legendary Sen. Barry Goldwater, whose libertarian conservative vision drew Ronald Reagan and others to the GOP.

Republican Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates called the results “a disaster for the Arizona Republican Party,” and I’d argue. [for] our democracy”.

The GOP is famous for swallowing its bitterness after primary battles and rallying around its candidates for the general election. But the difficulty of doing so this year was underscored by state party committee chairman Kelly Ward, who called the primary “John McCain’s exorcism.”

It’s hard to imagine what divides Republicans in Arizona more sharply. The same can be said in other states, where Republican candidates have relied on baseless and caustic claims about the 2020 election to gain Trump’s support.

It’s possible, indeed, based on the polls, that the Republican slate will lose, leaving Arizona Democrats holding statewide positions and more seats in Congress than ever before.

That would certainly be another burst of possibility.

Lessons from Kansas and Arizona

So the first lesson from these extraordinary events is the unreliability of our perceptions of our neighbors. It turns out that the real world of politics is more complicated than we might think, from state to state. Go with the figure.

Kansas, people are suddenly noticing, currently has a Democratic governor named Laura Kelly. It turns out that among the previous 10 governors of Kansas going back 50 years, there were five Democrats.

The state’s most populous county, suburban Johnson (literally across the street from Kansas City), voted 68% last week to protect abortion. She is represented in Congress by Democrat and Native American woman Sharice Davids.

Arizona, long known for its ranches and retirement communities, is increasingly non-Anglo in the mix of its population. The Hispanic population was 19% in 1990, 25% in 2000, and is now 32%. In addition, an influx of newcomers from other states, especially California, swelled the population and changed the politics of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and its suburbs. Maricopa now votes Democratic, and that alone has messed up the math in state elections.

The second issue that should be put to the vote this week is the potential for human nature, which is often seen in American politics, especially in the West and sparsely populated parts of the country.

People squirm and resist when told what they can or cannot do. We knew this about guns, vaccines and masks. We see some on abortion rights, even in red states.

However, the third thing to always remember is that it is dangerous to generalize or predict the outcome of an election, or even their long history. Every race is always local and every candidate is a potential game changer. So, for example, Alabama could elect a Democrat named Doug Jones to the Senate in a special election in 2018 and unseat him two years later during the presidential election cycle. The Democrat was the same, his opponents and electoral conditions were very different.

So it’s too early to draw too many conclusions about what last week’s vote might mean for November in other states. In the general elections in Kansas and Arizona, as elsewhere, the results will reflect national issues and trends. But this input will be filtered by state-specific conditions and then modified by the personalities of the candidates involved.

While it’s clear the abortion issue has galvanized activism and emboldened women (after the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling in Kansas this spring, women accounted for 70% of new registrations), it’s unclear how that will translate beyond the handful of referendum states. Like in Kansas.

While we can see polls showing Trump-backed Republicans are weaker in general election contests against Democrats, it’s too early to see which party will be more motivated three months from now. An irritating person can motivate more voters in support or opposition. For example, Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters was quoted as saying President Biden’s COVID adviser, Anthony Fauci, “will see the inside of a prison cell this decade.”

This is not the first time that these two states have fallen into a historically significant mid-term cycle.

1974 was the year Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency on the eve of impeachment in the Watergate scandal. In Arizona that year, the incumbent Republican Senator Barry Goldwater was on the ballot. In Kansas, it was Bob Dole.

In addition to the Watergate addiction, prominent issues in that fall’s campaign were gas prices, inflation, and abortion. The latter became popular last year with the decision of the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade. Opposition to the decision came immediately from the U.S. Bishops’ Conference and several other powerful religious organizations, but it has only just begun to grow to its final strength.

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole met with former senator Barry Goldwater on September 17, 1996.

David Ake/AFP via Getty Images

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David Ake/AFP via Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole met with former senator Barry Goldwater on September 17, 1996.

David Ake/AFP via Getty Images

One of the places where this power was felt early was Kansas. Dole wanted to run for a second term in the Senate, and as a senator and chairman of the Republican National Committee, he carried a lot of the baggage of Nixon, one of that president’s main defenders. Polls showed him trailing his Democratic challenger, a doctor named William Roy, as Election Day neared. Then an anti-abortion group produced a flyer featuring aborted fetuses. On Sunday morning, flyers appeared on the windshields of cars parked near churches.

Dole trailed Roy by 1.7%, the closest election of his 35-year career. He would become the Senate Majority Leader in 1985 and the GOP presidential candidate in 1996. Dole died late last year.

Goldwater did not make a close call in the 1974 election, one of the few Republican incumbents who did not. He was excluded from the Watergate scandal because he was a Nixon critic. He was also credited with persuading the president to resign when it was clear he would be impeached and tried.

Goldwater, it may surprise some to learn, was a supporter of abortion rights. He remained committed to this idea until the end, serving in the Senate until 1986. Despite the growing influence of social conservatives in the Arizona state party, he did not change his mind and fought for the separation of church and state until his death. In 1998.

Into Roe v. Wade In 1974, Goldwater was still a national celebrity. He ran and won the Republican presidential nomination 10 years ago, defeating the GOP’s Eastern establishment. Although he was crushed by incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson that fall, Goldwater carried five states in the Deep South, paving the way for five more Republican candidates to later go to the White House.

Along the way, she inspired a generation of young politicians, including Hillary Rodham, a teenager from suburban Chicago. A “Golden Water Girl” in 1964, she would later become Hillary Clinton, first lady, senator from New York, secretary of state, and 2016 presidential candidate.

I wonder if he still has the “AuH20in64” button among his memories.

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