In This Episode
Are the Sunbelt’s suburbs key to victory in November? We talk to Romney-Clinton voters in Arizona and follow a candidate who’s trying to flip her changing district.
Jon Favreau conducts a focus group in Phoenix with Romney-Clinton voters.
Christine Marsh: If you can hear me, clap once. You can hear me, clap twice. Come have a seat. So for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Christine Marsh, I’m running for State Senate in LD28. [clapping] I’m running to move the state forward, and we are on the precipice of being able to do that. Everybody thinks we live in this incredibly red right-wing state because of the people who are in power and we don’t. It is far more purple than anybody would actually realize.
Jon Favreau: Christine Marsh, an award winning public school teacher, is running for the Arizona State Senate in Maricopa County. This is Christine’s second run for office. As one of the thousands of first-time candidates in 2018, she lost her race for this same seat by only 267 votes—a margin that’s just one sign of how competitive Arizona has become. Now, Christine is back. Not just because she’s a bad-ass teacher who refuses to give up, but because she’s running in suburban Phoenix, a place that’s experiencing the same kind of political and demographic change as suburbs all across America, change that’s given Democrats quite a bit of hope.
[news clip] The suburbs are in revolt.
[news clip] Around Philadelphia, the party lost county seats they’d held since the Civil War.
[TV clip] Kyrsten Sinema just became the first Democratic senator of Arizona elected— [cheers]
[news clip] Orange County now has more registered Democrats than Republicans.
[news clip] NBC News has declared the apparent winner in the Kentucky governor’s race is Democrat Andy Beshear.
[news clip] Suburbs moving away from the party of Donald Trump towards the Democratic Party. That’s the story in Kentucky as well, and it’s a story right here. These three counties in northern Kentucky.
[voice clip] I’m here to officially declare today, November the 5th, 2019, that Virginia is officially blue. Congratulations. [cheers]
[news clip] You know that the suburbs, you know that the sort of anti-Trump folks in the suburbs are determined to get out there in every single election right now and vote against Republicans . . .
Jon Favreau: The Democrats recent dominance in suburbs that were once Republican strongholds could transform American politics, especially in areas of the country that have been getting younger, more educated and more diverse. Places like the suburbs around Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, and throughout the southwest—the region will be focusing on in this episode. In 2020, Arizona will be a battleground that could decide control of the White House and the Senate. Nevada leans blue, but both sides will still campaign there. And we’ve already heard from strategists who said that even Texas shouldn’t be off the table. At the very least, it’s possible for Democrats to pick up a few more House seats there. But before we get too carried away talking about a blue Texas, Democrats do have challenges in the Southwest. In 2016 we learned a painful lesson, that demographics aren’t necessarily destiny. That groups of voters will sometimes switch parties or even stay home based on who the candidates are, what they believe, and what they say. So if Democrats want to keep winning new voters in the suburbs in the Southwest, they have to understand more than demographics. They have to know what kind of policies these voters want and what kind of country they believe in. I’m Jon Favreau. Welcome to The Wilderness.
Clare Malone: When you’re talking about the ideological shifts in America, they kind of happen in super boring places that, you know, a lot of people grew up. The cul de sac culture of America is sort of what turns the big cruise ship of 300 million people in some ways.
Jon Favreau: That’s Clare Malone, a senior political writer at FiveThirtyEight, and, like me, a child of cul-de-sac culture. Why are the suburbs so important to our understanding of politics right now?
Clare Malone: The short answer is there’s a huge number of votes in the suburbs. A lot of America is suburbs and it has a lot of persuadable swing voters. So we are talking about a lot of white people and white, college-educated people in particular—which is sort of a stereotypical suburban resident—are a shifting voter demographic. They used to lean much more towards the Republican side of things, and they have in the last couple of elections—sort of been a steady trend, perhaps accelerated by the presence of Donald Trump—those people have become more inclined to vote for Democrats.
Jon Favreau: So there are a few big reasons the suburbs are shifting. The first and most obvious is that a lot of white college educated voters, a lot of former Republicans and independents are moving away from Trump’s Republican Party. But the second reason is that the suburbs are actually getting less white overall. Studies show that since 1970, the percentage of Black Americans in the suburbs has more than doubled. There are 9x as many Latinos and 5x as many Asian-Americans. Sean McElwee of Data for Progress talks about how this increasing diversity isn’t just racial but economic.
Sean McElwee: It’s a mistake that’s made actually both on the left and center, is a really mistaken understanding of what a suburban voter is. I think there’s a really entrenched sense that these suburban voters are very wealthy and white, but increasingly suburban and exurban voters are increasingly working class, are increasingly maybe middle-income people who are still struggling to pay for child care, pay for college.
Jon Favreau: This is a big change. One of the reasons America became suburbanized in the first place is because when a lot of Black Americans moved out of the south and into northern cities during the 1950s and 60s, a lot of white Americans moved out. The suburbs, grew to be whiter, more segregated, and pretty conservative, and the cities became much more diverse and heavily Democratic. Electorally, though, it didn’t always even out.
Derek Thompson: Across the country, Democrats dominate in cities and then narrowly lose and all these suburban districts in sparser states. And as a result, you have this tendency to win national votes while losing in the Electoral College.
Jon Favreau: This is Derek Thompson, staff writer at The Atlantic, describing how we arrived in hell. But he thinks that the Democratic Party’s geographic problems might now be helped by the growing number of people who are leaving big, crowded, expensive cities for the suburbs.
Derek Thompson: Liberals in America have this enormous density problem, and it is migration from these dense urban cores that might begin to solve it. The New York City metro area is shrinking by almost 300 people every single day. Other big metros that are losing thousands of domestic movers every single year include: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Chicago, Baltimore. Now, all of those metros have one really important thing in common: they’re all in very blue states. Then you look at the five fastest growing metros in the last few years: Dallas, Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta, Orlando—all in states won by Trump in 2016. The big story is this: the biggest metros in the United States are shrinking, and the Sun Belt is growing. In some, that means that today’s migration patterns should make the Democratic Party extremely happy and should terrify the GOP.
Jon Favreau: Long term, absolutely. But first, we got to get past 2020. By the way, a quick note on two things that Derek just said: a metro area is usually the big city and its surrounding suburbs; and the Sun Belt is basically the lower third of the country, from Florida and Georgia and North Carolina in the southeast to Texas, Arizona and California in the southwest, a region that used to be pretty suburban and pretty red. That’s changing.
Derek Thompson: Typically, when people think about, you know, Florida or Arizona, they think: oh, it’s only retirees who are moving to those states. That is wrong. Americans between the age of 20 and 40 are 3x as likely to move as senior citizens. So if you’re looking at who is doing the moving within the U.S., it tends to be Millennials. They’re moving from the East Village to Austin, or from the East Village to Atlanta, or from Chicago to Phoenix. The Millennial generation is moving out of spaces where they are redundant votes for Democrats, and moving into metros where they might be swing votes.
Jon Favreau: And it’s not just white Millennials who are heading south.
Derek Thompson: One of the most famous migration stories in American history is the Great Migration of the 20th century. And it changed the shape of American politics. Now, what are we seeing today? We’re seeing the opposite, a reverse Great Migration. Young black families are moving from dense, rich, very blue metros on the coasts, to these suburbs in the south. And the political implications of this reverse Great Migration, I think could be equally ground shaking. If Blacks moving south once again redraw the political map, you know, it could mean that Blacks have essentially twice in 100 years changed the shape of the Democratic Party.
Jon Favreau: All right. So you have younger, more diverse, more educated Americans moving from the country’s biggest bluest cities, to the suburbs and smaller cities of the historically red Sun Belt. And this was already going on for the last decade or so when Donald Trump came along and pushed even more suburban voters away from the Republican Party.
Derek Thompson: Let’s look at Texas. Barack Obama won the four biggest cities in Texas: Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin, by about 100,000 votes. Beto O’Rourke in the 2018 election won those four metro areas by 800,000 votes. So in six years, the margin within Texas’s biggest cities grew by 700,000 votes approximately for Democrats. Now, why is 700,000 votes so important? Well, Trump only won Texas in 2016 by 800,000 votes. In Arizona from 2012 to 2016, Democrats narrowed their deficit in Maricopa County—that’s basically Phoenix—by 100,000 votes. In 2018, in the Senate election that elected Senator Sinema, the county swung cleanly. Democratic. Democrats gained another 100,000 votes. Now, Trump only won Arizona by 90,000. So, again, Maricopa County, which is by far the most important county in Arizona, swung by almost 200,000 votes in just six years. That’s double Trump’s margin in 2016. Arizona is turning really, really quickly. And it’s because the Phoenix area is turning very quickly.
Jon Favreau: In 2018, Kyrsten Sinema was the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Arizona since 1988, and the first openly bisexual senator in U.S. history. Two years after Hillary Clinton lost Arizona, Sinema won it by two and a half points. She received 30,000 more votes than Hillary, even though it was a midterm. And she also flipped Maricopa County, a place that was once so conservative that it elected Joe Arpaio, America’s notorious xenophobic sheriff, for two decades. Ron Brownstein, senior editor at The Atlantic, tells us why this matters.
Ron Brownstein: Maricopa was the single largest county in America that Trump won, and Kyrsten Sinema won it. This separation between metro America and non-metro America is happening in every state. Essentially, the trade Trump is offering the Republican Party is: I am going to squeeze growing margins out of places and groups that are shrinking. That’s basically what he’s promising them. Now, that can work for a while, especially because the Electoral College and the Senate and the way it advantages, you know, rural and smaller places. But in the long run, you are banking the party’s future on a shrinking piece of the pie.
Jon Favreau: Again, plenty of hope for Democrats in the long run, but right now we’re still in the middle of this suburban shift for the time being. That means we’ll end up with a lot of really close races like Christine Marsh’s 267 votes squeaker in the Arizona state Senate. Or Beto O’Rourke’s narrow loss to Ted Cruz in Texas. It also means that voters won’t just line up behind any Democratic candidate. In the same statewide race where Kyrsten Sinema won by two and a half points, Arizona’s Democratic candidate for governor lost by 14 points. Yes, demographics and partisanship can tell us a lot, but it matters to voters who the candidates are and what they believe. Which brings me to the big question about all these suburban Sun Belt voters. What are they looking for in a candidate? What kind of qualities and policies do they want?
Jon Favreau: Hi, everyone. How’s it going?
Jon Favreau: We’ll ask some voters in Maricopa County, and spend time on the campaign trail with state Senate candidate Christine Marsh, after the break.
Jon Favreau: We just heard about how the politics of suburban America are changing, especially across the southwestern United States. There’s a long-term trend where more people are moving from the country’s biggest, bluest metro areas to cities and suburbs in the Sun Belt, making those places younger, more diverse, more educated and more democratic. There’s also a short-term trend where Trump’s lunacy and the Republican Party’s embrace of that lunacy, has repelled a lot of the college-educated voters who’ve always lived in the suburbs. Still, trends don’t decide elections. So I wanted to talk to the people who do. In late October, we took a trip to Arizona, where I sat down with another group of voters, this time in Phoenix. These are people driving the suburban shift we’ve been talking about. Everyone in the room voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and then Hillary Clinton in 2016. Romney-Clinton voters are a relatively small group. There were only about three million in 2016 as opposed to six million Obama-Trump voters. But because a lot of them live in the Southwest and fit the demographic profile of a typical suburban voter, I thought it’d be helpful to have a conversation about what they’re looking for and hoping for in 2020.
Jon Favreau: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this. My name is Jon. It’s nice to meet you all. OK, so to start off, what issues do you think about when you think about how politics and government affects you? What matters to you?
man 1: Global warming.
man 2: Health care.
Jon Favreau: Health care?
woman: The economy.
different woman: Women’s reproductive rights,.
different man: LGBT rights.
woman: I’m going to second the economy.
Jon Favreau: A couple of you mentioned health care. How big of a problem do you think the cost and availability of health care is?
man 2 A huge problem.
different man: Yeah.
woman: It’s getting worse.
Jon Favreau: Getting worse? And what specifically about it? Because obviously, there’s—
man: It’s terrifying.
Jon Favreau: It’s terrifying? Is it, is it more—?
man: Am I going to have it? Is my boss going to lay me off? Am I going to have it? How do I get it then? Is it going to be available? Who decided that my state’s going to have it or not? Where am I going to get the money to pay for anything if I don’t have a job?
Jon Favreau: So it’s a concern about the fact that you might lose it.
same man: Yeah.
Jon Favreau: Someone said education is an issue. What about education? Is it, is it the cost, or availability, or—?
woman: The lack of funding for public education is an issue, especially in Arizona, we’re 49th in the nation in terms of student funding. And I graduated with a degree in art education, but after working in public schools and not getting paid anything, I took different jobs. I nanny’ed for a while because I was making more money. So yeah, it’s, it’s a significant issue.
Jon Favreau: OK, all right. So now getting into it, we’ve heard a little bit about Donald Trump. Could you, what is your opinion of Donald Trump?
different woman: Incompetent.
Jon Favreau: Incompetent.
man: Extremely un-presidential. He’s a reality star. I mean, that’s what, I I’m just waiting for somebody to finally yell out: you’re fired, but, um—
Jon Favreau: Robert?
man: I don’t even know where to begin with that question. Like, I remember a time when you had a certain reverence for the president, right? Like it was like you—even if you didn’t agree with what he said, you kind of had a certain respect. But with this guy, it’s just like all the rules are thrown out, you know.
Jon Favreau: OK.
woman: He’s not a good role model and he hates women.
Jon Favreau: OK.
woman: And he’s like a dangerous child. I don’t how else to explain it. [laughs]
[man] I think he’s I think it’s dangerous for the fabric of the country. I mean, the fact that I can’t have my five year old watch him on TV because you don’t know what he’s going to say is bizarre. If he loses, I’m not sure he’s going to leave. I mean, I think he’s just a dangerous, dangerous person. I mean—
Jon Favreau: So, yeah, nine of the 10 people in the room, didn’t like Trump. And this was before his dangerous behavior brought us to the brink of war with Iran. But Trump wasn’t the only part of politics they didn’t like.
Jon Favreau: How does politics make you feel right now?
Jon Favreau: Angry.
Jon Favreau: OK.
man: Really nervous about the future.
Jon Favreau: What about, what about politics makes you feel those things?
man: For me, it’s, I would just say no compromise, it’s just, it seems like everybody is on one side or the other, whereas I remember a time when you could be kind of more middle leaning.
different man: I mean, I agree very much that you’re either far right or far left. There’s not a lot of people in the middle. And the state of Arizona, you know, was represented by John McCain for a while. Now it’s just, you know, it’s kind of scary.
woman: Well, you almost feel like there isn’t a party anymore that represents how many of, myself and my friends feel.
Jon Favreau: What about folks in this—?
man: I was kind of going to piggyback off what you said about um, I think, you know, the 10 of us here probably feel differently about some things, but I’m sure we can all get along fine. But you watch TV, you watch the media, and the parties are so far to the left and right that it looks like nobody’s getting along.
Jon Favreau: When you hear these comments, you start to see how well-positioned Kyrsten Sinema was in a state like Arizona. Felecia Rotellini, chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, could see it too.
Felecia Rotellini: Kyrsten Sinema is an independent thinker and she’s an independent leader. And she is one of those folks who wants to work across the aisle, wants to get things done. She had a history of doing that in the Congress and as well as in the state legislature. So her values were very much aligned with the majority of Arizonans.
Jon Favreau: Rotellini goes further to talk about how winning candidates like Sinema argued in 2018 that it was important to provide a check on the extreme partisanship of Republican controlled Washington.
Felecia Rotellini: What you see in the state legislature and what you see in D.C., are Republicans so hell bent on partisan politics, so wanting to get their way or the highway, and the chaos—that’s not solving anybody’s problems. So the feeling of being less secure and the feeling of being more vulnerable to the chaos in Washington, is making folks pay attention to what the Democrats are talking about, and seeing that they’re the ones that want to help them.
Jon Favreau: It’s certainly hopeful to think that the chaos in Washington has pushed voters towards the Democrats, but it’s all incredibly frustrating too. For the last decade, the Republican Party has pursued a governing strategy that’s built around never compromising with Democrats at all, and they know that if they do nothing but obstruct, scream about Democrats, and turn Washington into a circus, voters will get pissed and become cynical about government in general, no matter who’s in charge, which especially hurts the party that argues government can be a force for good.
Jon Favreau: Let’s switch to start talking about the Democratic Party. Um, what is everyone’s opinion of the Democratic Party?
woman: It’s not the current Republican Party. I’m a 100 percent independent, I voted both directions on numerous elections, probably 50/50 split right now at this point.
man: I mean, there’s a lot of what we’re calling now “progressives” which are, you know, extremely far to the left. It’s just, it’s different. I mean, I don’t like certain aspects of it. As far as, you know, of Medicare for All, you know, the Green New Deal. I mean, you’re basically looking at what socialist countries do, and ambitions are going to go down. I mean, that’s not the American way. That’s not how our economy works.
Jon Favreau: Ron Brownstein gets at some of what I heard from the voters in Phoenix about their view of government.
Ron Brownstein: Where you have a lot of voters who are drawn to the Democrats on cultural issues but are still somewhat resistant to the most expansive plans to tax and spend. And I think that is now the point of friction in the Democratic Party. How big does government get? How much does it spend? How much control does it exert over the private economy? With single-payer health car as perhaps the most pointed example of that. I think that the issues and ideology play into an overall image of the candidate. And I think that Democrats will be testing how far they can push these previously Republican suburban voters—who are on a long term basis, moving toward them around cultural issues more than economic issues. And I don’t think we know what the breaking point is with them.
Felecia Rotellini: What we saw in 2018 was that the values that are most important to Arizonans, regardless of a party affiliation, is what resonated. And Democrats won because they were the only candidates talking about what really matters, and that’s affordable, accessible health care.
Jon Favreau: You mentioned Medicare for All. Does anyone else have an opinion on Medicare for All, what does everyone else think about Medicare for All, as a health care platform?
woman: I would say just call it something different. It, just insurance—Insurance for All. I think that scares people when they hear Medicare for All. I think they should just call it what it is. And we’re going to have to have some sort of nationalized health care.
man: I just don’t understand how taking care of the health of your citizens isn’t a priority, or like something that should be, that the government should do. They take care of so many other things for us. They write so many other laws for us to follow. How about they put their money where their mouth is, and make sure we’re healthy, happy nation?
Jon Favreau: So do you think that the government should guarantee health care for every American?
Jon Favreau: Does that—who else thinks that?
different man: I agree, but I just, I think there needs to be a public option.
Jon Favreau: Who likes Medicare for All better, and who likes the public option better? Or neither.
man: Public option.
different man: Public option.
Jon Favreau: Public option.
man: Public option.
different woman: I don’t, I don’t know. I feel like either would better than what we have. I think, I don’t know, maybe you need the public option first and then eventually move to Medicare for All-type thing.
Jon Favreau: It struck me that this group of voters, much more than all the others, spoke about politics and news like people who follow it closely, including pundits. Some of their concerns with Medicare for All were substantive, but many were about how it would play in a general election. And when they talked about whether the party was too far to the left, it wasn’t connected to specific issues, but seen as part of a candidate’s overall character and electability. I talked to David Plouffe about these larger questions.
Jon Favreau: How much do you think ideology matters to vote choice? I keep thinking about you’ve got a very moderate Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema wins the Senate race in Arizona, flips it for the first time in a long time, and then a much more liberal nominee for governor in that state loses by a lot. Then you go to Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin, pretty liberal, for Medicare for All wins by 11 points, while the more moderate gubernatorial candidate also wins by just, by maybe by a point or two.
David Plouffe: Well, then you look at Ohio and Sharrod Brown’s performance, you know, versus Cordray in the governor’s race.
Jon Favreau: Yeah.
David Plouffe: So now some of that depends on strength of candidate, weakness of opponent. But, so I think candidates do matter. So part of it is their character. Part of it is, are they a strong political performer? And that matters because you’re both trying to inspire people to get involved in your campaign and register and vote, but also get a swing voter to be interested in you. So, you know, in Arizona, you know, the Sinema people would probably tell you that she was kind of the perfect candidate to win over enough suburban Maricopa County voters. So I think that’s harder in a presidential race because you’re running nationwide. And so we need a candidate who can put together a winning coalition in Arizona, but at the same time do it in Michigan. So I think that for candidates, ideology is part of it, political strength is part of it. I think authenticity is part of it.
Jon Favreau: What are you looking for in an ideal Democratic presidential candidate? What kind of qualities, what that person have, and issue positions to, if you want to talk about that?
woman: I think someone that can bring the country back together, someone like JFK, that was a president for everyone.
woman 2: Someone with like compassion, and empathy, and humility, and normal human characteristics.
man: I was going to say someone who can put a sentence together.
woman 2: [laughs] Coherent.
different woman: A role model, people can, people can look up to. Not so polarized.
Jon Favreau: OK.
woman: I like that. Not so polarized.
man: I think something that can unify the country, like you said, that I mean, regardless of their positions, I think somebody that could just talk to everybody.
Jon Favreau: Becky Bond, a progressive activist who was a senior adviser to Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign, argues that such a candidate doesn’t necessarily have to hold a certain ideology.
Becky Bond: What’s really grabbing voters across the board, especially when you need a lot of votes—not just a few votes in a small congressional race—is an authentic candidate who tells the truth, who says what he or she believes, who wants to change things, and who’s willing to go to voters and engage with them and say: even if we don’t agree on everything, here’s who I am and here’s what I would like to do, and I want you to be with me, and I’m going to listen to you, and we’re going to do this together, right, we’re going to make change together. So I think that the model of the moderate is a really misleading one.
Jon Favreau: OK. Last question: if the Democratic candidate for president—let’s say they won the race, they’re the nominee, they were here right now—what advice would you give that person in the race that they’re about to run against Donald Trump?
man: Don’t go too far to the left, because I think Trump will just absolutely eat them alive.
different man: Visit Wisconsin.
Jon Favreau: Visit Wisconsin.
man: Visit the battleground states. Yes.
woman: Oh, that’s right. Hillary didn’t go—
man: Appeal to, appeal to the moderates.
woman: Keep the right in view. Yeah.
different woman: I don’t, I don’t know that—I feel like he’ll say they’re a socialist, even if they’re not. Like I feel like he’s just going to say that anyway. So I don’t necessarily know. I guess . . . I don’t know. Put ads on social media. Or something [laughs]
Jon Favreau: All right, guys, thank you so much.
Jon Favreau: I left the Phoenix group feeling cautiously optimistic, these were not fans of Donald Trump. At times they sounded like Democrats when talking about the issues they cared about, like education, health care, reproductive rights and climate. But as much as I’d like to think that concerns about the Democratic Party moving too far to the left is some creation of D.C. pundits, I heard those concerns from a lot of these voters. It makes sense since they all supported Mitt Romney. Though these are also the kinds of voters who helped Democrats flip states like Arizona and win the House in 2018. The key question is: are there concerns about issues like Medicare for All, or socialism, enough to keep them from voting for the Democratic nominee? Out of 10 people: only one said he was definitely voting for Trump, six said they were definitely voting for the Democratic nominee, and the rest? For them, it depends on who the nominee is. Felecia Rotellini talks more about who these voters are.
Felecia Rotellini: We’ve got independents moving here from the Midwest. We have retired teachers and union members that are moving here from the East Coast and the Midwest. The folks that are in our suburbs are working for a living, they’re working families, they’re students going to school. So those folks are voting Democrat because it’s about having affordable, accessible health care. It’s about making sure that we have a great public education available to all kids. And then if you’re retired, you want to make sure that your Social Security is going to be secure. And if you’re a working family, you want to make sure that your Social Security will be there for you when you need it.
Jon Favreau: One Democrat who’s talking about these issues is Christine Marsh, the Arizona State Senate candidate who you heard from at the top of this episode. Recently, we spent a few days tagging along with Christine on the campaign trail, hoping to understand what she was hearing from voters in her Maricopa County district. Christine, who’s been a teacher for 28 years, first became interested in politics in 2016, when she was picked as Arizona teacher of the year and began touring schools across the state.
Christine Marsh: I saw on a deeper level what was going on in classrooms. I saw the increase year after year of class sizes. At that point in time, I had a class of, I think, 42 kids in English, which is just ridiculous. And across the state it was even worse.
Jon Favreau: I heard a lot about education from the voters I spoke to as well, specifically about the cuts that have been pushed through by the Republicans in the Arizona State House. Arizona now spends less on education than almost every other state. When she toured schools across Arizona, teachers opened up to Christine about how some of their students are really struggling.
Christine Marsh: One of the teachers that I talked to, talked about having flashlights and batteries in her desk drawer to give out to kids whose power had been cut off at home. I said something like: well, you know, like what about like food or, you know, like granola bars or something like that. And she’s like: oh, that just goes without saying, of course, I’ve got food.
Jon Favreau: When Trump was elected, a few folks from the local Democratic Party asked Christine to run for state Senate. She struggled with the decision and lost a lot of sleep over it.
Christine Marsh: And I ultimately realized I lose more sleep if I didn’t do as much as I possibly could to help the state and help the kids in the state. So I went ahead and said I would run.
Jon Favreau: Marsh’s race was too close to call. It took 12 days to tally all 94,000 ballots before the announcement that Christine came just 267 votes short of victory.
Christine Marsh: In the first month or two, I was pretty sure I was not going to run again. I was like, for one thing, I was like, I just bought a dog. Like, you can’t run a campaign and have a dog because you’re too busy. But it really came down to kind of the same thing, that I became increasingly aware that if I didn’t do this again, I was not going to be able to sleep well. I was not going to be able to look my students in the eyes and know that I had done everything possible.
Jon Favreau: So she’s back out on the campaign trail, where we caught up with her one recent Saturday talking to voters at a community center.
Christine Marsh: We’re going to start in like five minutes if you want more, a cookie or a coffee.
Jon Favreau: Yeah, about 40 people gather in a big circle eating chocolate chip cookies that Christine’s aunt made. They tell her what needs to change in Arizona: cramped classrooms, corporate tax breaks, prison reform.
man: Privatize schools, prisons and whatever other state services, OK, that’s got to reverse, because the truth it has been proven shown that privatizing these services has led to such gross corruption. But lastly, it always will be education—
Christine Marsh: The big ones almost across the board is health care, education, often the environment, sometimes the economy. But it surprises me that education comes up as often as it does.
Jon Favreau: Democrats need to flip five of the 90 seats in Arizona state legislature to gain power and make progress on issues like education, and Christine is hoping that hers will be one of those flips.
Christine Marsh: The first time through, I was running to metaphorically stop the bleeding. I was running to make sure that things don’t get worse. This time through, it’s more like trying to provide a broader vision of what the state could be. I mean, if we invested our money differently and didn’t have so many systems in place that just allowed the rich to get richer, and could actually make sure that everybody’s lives get better. I think that’s, you know, that’s where it’s at.
Jon Favreau: This hopeful positive message isn’t the only difference from 2016. As we’ve been talking about, the demographics in the Maricopa County suburbs are shifting in the Democrats favor.
Christine Marsh: We get the voter registration numbers every quarter. And what people are saying is happening across the country, is definitely happening in my legislative district, where Democrats are picking up voters at a higher rate than the Republicans.
Jon Favreau: One of Christine’s supporters is a former student, 27-year old Yassamin Ansari. Yassamin says she’s seen this demographic shift firsthand. She compares Maricopa County to Orange County, a once reliably conservative part of Southern California.
Yassamin Ansari: Growing up here, I do think it’s much more divers, I do think it’s changed. People I’ve heard say that Scottsdale Paradise Valley reminds them of Orange County like five, ten years ago, and Orange County now, like all four districts are blue. So I think it’s changing. I also think, you know, there’s a Trump effect where even people who have been lifelong Republicans here, there is a contingent who do think that it’s gone too far, and that Donald Trump is, you know, it’s too much and it’s too extreme.
Jon Favreau: Yassamin decided to become a candidate herself, and she’s currently running for a spot on the Phoenix City Council. She credits some of her inspiration to Ms. Marsh’s Advanced Placement literature class during the 2008 campaign.
Yassamin Ansari: At the time, I had no—I couldn’t tell at all what her own political leanings were, I think she’s good at looking at both sides of something really well. You know, I think especially in the Arizona House of Representatives, the State Senate, you know, it’s going to be really important for someone, you know, while fighting for Democratic progressive values, while being a fighter for certain issues, being someone that’s open to the other side and like open to negotiation and can find a really good middle ground. And I think that served her really well just in campaigning as well.
Jon Favreau: Christine has been spending a lot of time knocking on doors. And she says it doesn’t bother her when some of the people she meets aren’t all that excited to see her, partly because of all her years at the front of the classroom.
Christine Marsh: I make it my mission to like every single kid, even the ones who don’t want to be liked, and who are doing everything possible to make sure that they can get under my skin. But that same mentality is, I think, what really helped me reach some of these people that I think maybe other candidates potentially would just not even give them a chance. So, yeah, it takes some discussion, and I’ve found that a lot of them are willing. Even if they say they’re not and they don’t want to talk to me, if I say something like: OK, I understand that, do you think you could invest just two minutes of time in me and let me ask you a few questions about your stance? Almost no one’s going to turn that down. And I learn a lot.
Jon Favreau: Those face-to-face discussions, one door at a time, will happen countless times across Maricopa County between now and November. From local candidates like Yassamin, and state candidates like Christine, to the next Democratic nominee for president. And not just in Maricopa, but all over the U.S. and big cities and suburbs and rural towns from coast to coast. The question is: will their message move people to vote, especially those who don’t usually show up at the polls?
Ron Brownstein: Every sign is that turnout in 2020 is going to be enormous. I mean, there are projections that as many as 15 million more people could vote than in 2016. The interesting thing is, does this benefit one side or the other? Does it benefit them differently in different places? There are really big pools for each side to draw on. And, you know, if you think about Arizona, if you can expand the turnout, Democrats have more that they can get their hands on, if they can register them. Texas, same thing. Georgia might be another. All of this has the potential to completely reorder American politics sometime in the 2020s.
Jon Favreau: Those are some big ifs. To find out how big, we’re taking a trip to the southeast corner of the country in the next episode, where there are big plans underway to expand the electorate in Georgia and Florida. We’ll hear from activists and organizers who are registering new voters, and one woman who understands better than most how to get these folks to turn out on Election Day: Stacey Abrams. That’s next time, on The Wilderness.
Jon Favreau: The Wilderness is written and directed by me, Jon Favreau of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Andrea Gardner-Bernstein and Andrea B. Scott. Andrea B. Scott is also our editor. Austin Fisher is our assistant editor and associate producer. Music by Marty Fowler. Sound design and mixing by Daniel Ramirez. Production support from Alison Falzetta, Sidney Rap, and Brian Semel. Kyle Seglin was our recording engineer. Austin Fast, Virginia Lora, Nancy Rosenbaum and Max Wasserman were our field producers. Fact checking by Justin Klosco and Soraya Shockley. Archival production by Shana Deloria and Soraya Shockley. Archival legal review by Chad Russo. Special thanks to Sara Geismer, Mukta Mohan and Tanya Somanader, and to Mike Kulisheck from Benenson Strategy Group. Thanks for listening.