What Happened: Arizona

In 2020, Joe Biden flipped Arizona blue, becoming the first Democrat to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1996. Mark Kelly’s U.S. Senate victory put both U.S. Senate seats in Arizona in the Democratic column for the first time since the 1950s. As in Georgia where Democrats claimed two Senate seats a few weeks ago, Arizona represents one of the Sun Belt states where Democrats hope to gain over the coming years.  

At the state legislative level, though, the results were more mixed, with Democrats falling short of their goal to flip both chambers despite only needing three seats in the Senate and two seats in the House to do so. Democrats only flipped one seat in the Senate and did not net any seats in the House (flipping one seat and losing one seat).

Despite that disappointment, there are reasons for optimism moving forward. As we wrote in our first state overview about Wisconsin, there are troubling trend lines for Democrats in that and other states despite Biden’s top-of-the-ticket victory. In Arizona, Democrats have seen consistent gains, and Biden’s 2020 win gives Democrats an opportunity to build on that coalition in future elections.

Looking at the 2020 data, we see three recommendations for how Democrats can home in on the geography of power to flip the Arizona legislature in 2022.

Recommendation #1: Focus on Phoenix

In 2020, the battle for control of the Arizona legislature was mostly fought in the Phoenix suburbs with one exception – Legislative District (LD) 6.* Below we show historical presidential margins in that district plus the three Phoenix-area battleground districts: LDs 17, 20, and 28.

District2020 Pres Margin2016 Pres Margin2012 Pres Margin
LD 28+12.0%+5.3%-9.0%
LD 17+3.8%-4.1%-14.2%
LD 20-0.3%-8.0%-12.9%
LD 6-8.4%-10.4%-13.4%

In the Senate, Democrats’ strategy was to flip at least three of these four districts to win the majority. As the below chart shows, despite the more challenging lean of SD 6, it received much more investment thanks to a fantastic candidate who was a prolific fundraiser. 

The 2020 results make clear, though, that even an extraordinarily well-run and well-funded campaign struggled to break through in this challenging district. Looking ahead, Democrats should view SD 6 as a long-term investment, rather than as on the direct path to a majority.

Instead, Democrats should home in on Phoenix, where, despite two great candidates on the Senate side in districts 17 and 20, the fundraising progress was slower. 

District2020 Pres Margin2020 Senate Margin2020 Pres Vote Difference2020 Senate Vote Difference
LD 28+12.0%+0.4%+14,818+497
LD 17+3.8%-5.0%+5,045-6,526
LD 20-0.3%-4.7%-300-4,675
LD 6-8.4%-9.4%-10,397-11,546

Like all states, Arizona will redistrict before 2022 so the lines will look a little different next time around. Arizona has a nominally non-partisan redistricting process, but Republicans have stacked the deck in their favor given their total control of the state. While Republicans will certainly seek to limit the growing Democratic advantage in the Phoenix suburbs, in Arizona, changing demographics will continue to favor Democrats. Continued engagement with voters in the communities that currently comprise SDs 17 and 20, plus surrounding areas that might get added to a newly redrawn district, would put Democrats in contention to flip both of these seats – and the chamber – in 2022. The battle for control of the chamber will continue to be fought on very narrow territory, whatever the new district lines look like.

 Recommendation #2: Abandon the single shot strategy

In 2018, Democrats successfully used the single shot strategy to flip a House seat in GOP-leaning LD 17. They did so again in 2020, using the same strategy to flip a House seat in LD 20, a district that Biden narrowly lost. The single shot strategy is when a party only runs one candidate for a seat in these two-seat multi-member districts. That allows Democratic voters to coalesce around one candidate, and Independent-minded voters can choose to split their vote between the Democratic candidate and one of the Republican candidates. 

LDs 17 and 20 are the only remaining GOP-held districts that Biden lost by less than five points, as we show in the breakdown of 2020 presidential results by Legislative District here and both have one Democratic House member.** If Democrats are going to flip the Arizona House in 2022, it’s time to abandon the single shot strategy and run a second Democrat in both of these districts (whatever their new lines may look like).

Recommendation #3: Don’t take the Hispanic vote for granted

Despite flipping a House seat in LD 20, Democrats didn’t see a net gain because Republicans successfully employed the single shot strategy in LD 4 to oust one of the incumbent Democrats. 

This district wasn’t on our radar as a potential Democratic loss. In 2018, Republicans didn’t contest the district, which made sense given its solid Democratic lean (D+13). Indeed, Biden won it by 13 points in 2020.

EveryDistrict wasn’t involved in this race, so we can’t speak to internal dynamics. We’ll need final voter file data that isn’t available yet to fully understand what happened here. What we do know from the demographics is that this district is over 50% Hispanic. This speaks to what we pointed to in our first look at what happened in state legislative races broadly, where the Hispanic underperformance at the top of the ticket in certain states trickled down to legislative races.

Given the historic lean of the district and Biden’s performance, winning this district back in 2022 should be a top priority. But this is one more reminder that Hispanic voters are not a monolith, and every vote must be earned.

Where do we go next?

If history holds, 2022 is likely to be a generally unfavorable year for Democrats. Only twice since 1900 has the party of the incumbent president not lost the U.S. House in the first midterm after the presidential election (2002 and 1934). But, by building on the Biden coalition and taking advantage of a changing suburban landscape particularly in the Phoenix area, Democrats can have a strong opportunity to flip the Arizona legislature blue in 2022. 

Taking the long view, Democrats should continue to invest in districts that have seen slow but steady growth, like LDs 6, 11, 21, and 23. While district lines will look slightly different, we see an enormous opportunity for Democrats to build toward a commanding majority in the Arizona legislature over the next decade in this rapidly purpling state.

In 2022, EveryDistrict will return to Arizona to make our third cycle of investments. Chip in here to help us get a head start on that work.

*In Arizona, there are 30 Legislative Districts, with one Senator and two at-large House members per district. 

**Credit to @Assemru who calculated these results and shared them publicly here. EveryDistrict has made this data available in a spreadsheet that you can download here.