As Donald Trump Repels Minority Voters, G.O.P. Fears Its Future in the West

Ken Wixon, an Arizona Democratic Party volunteer, this week. The Hillary Clinton campaign is working closely with the state’s Democratic party ahead of the election.

Republicans in Western states fear that Donald J. Trump could imperil their party for years to come in the country’s fastest-growing region as he repels a generation of Hispanics, Asians and younger voters who have been altering the electoral map.

Mr. Trump, with his insult-laden, culturally insensitive style of campaigning, is providing fuel for the demographic trends that are already reshaping the political composition of this once-heavily Republican territory. And now many Republicans are contemplating the possibility that states like Colorado or Nevada could soon become the next California: once competitive but now unwinnable in presidential contests.

In few places are the party’s woes over their nominee more immediate than here in Arizona, a state that has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate only once in the last 68 years.

Recent polls show Hillary Clinton is close to tying Mr. Trump here. And her campaign has responded by teaming up with local Democrats on a statewide get-out-the-vote operation, which has grown to 160 staff members across 20 offices.

While flipping Arizona has been a Democratic fantasy for years — and one that Clinton supporters acknowledge remains quite difficult — their efforts to register and recruit voters are part of a longer-term plan to capitalize on the Republican Party’s vulnerabilities with younger and minority voters.

Nonwhites are growing as a share of the electorate faster in the West than they are elsewhere. For the first time, minorities in 2012 accounted for at least 30 percent of the eligible voting population in Arizona, Nevada and Alaska — all states where Republicans currently hold top statewide offices. Colorado, where Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is so confident of a victory now that it has has no plans to buy advertising time through Election Day, is also approaching 30 percent.

The demographics were already daunting. But many Republicans now say Mr. Trump is only accelerating the flight of minority voters to the Democratic Party, like dry underbrush feeds an Arizona wildfire.

Asked how fellow Republicans could win election to statewide office in the West, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona offered some blunt advice: “Distance yourself from Donald Trump.”

“That’s difficult,” he added, “but I think we’ve got to do it if we’re concerned not just about this election but elections to come.”

Otherwise, Mr. Flake said, “this will last decades.”

Most demographers did not believe Arizona could be truly competitive for Democrats in a presidential election until 2020 at the earliest. But Mr. Trump’s unpopularity has spawned a demographic double threat that has implications in Arizona and beyond: He is not just weak among Hispanics, but also with with educated white professionals who have moved to places like Denver, Salt Lake City and Phoenix in search of better jobs and a lower cost of living.

The trouble signs for the November election have been building. In Colorado, the percentage of registered Republicans as a share of the electorate has dropped by four percentage points compared with 2012. Democrats, who now have about the same share of registered voters, carried the state in 2008 and 2012.

In Utah, Mr. Trump’s lack of support with Mormons has allowed Mrs. Clinton to come close to catching him in some polls.

And in Arizona, new voter registration numbers show Democrats have been registering people at a faster rate than Republicans this year. Registered Republicans, however, still outnumber Democrats over all.

“Arizona is on the cusp,” said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, who studies the political implications of population shifts. “And if it is on the cusp this fast, I think that means these other states become even farther out of reach.”

The entire West Coast is already a wasteland for Republicans. The last time one of the coastal states — with the exception of Alaska — went to a Republican nominee was California in 1988. Moreover, losses in Arizona and possibly Utah would leave Republicans safe in just Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. The peril for Republicans is evident looking at the Electoral College: Those states only have a combined 13 of the total 538 electoral votes. And even in the likely event that Republicans continue to carry Utah, a win in November would yield only six more electoral votes.

And even Alaska might not be safe for very long. Because of growth in the Asian, Hispanic and Alaska Native populations, the state’s eligible voting population is projected to be more than 40 percent minority by 2032, according to a report from the Center for American Progress, the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute.

Every month for the next two decades, 50,000 Hispanics turn 18 and become eligible to vote, according to Resurgent Republic, a Republican research group. But low rates of registration have kept Hispanics from becoming as potent a political force as they could be.

Recognizing that the participation gap is part of what has kept states like Texas from becoming more Democratic — despite a voting age population that is 28 percent Hispanic — Democrats in Arizona have undertaken an aggressive registration drive.

“Phoenix is already a majority-minority city, but our voting numbers don’t really reflect that,” said Seth Scott, the Clinton campaign’s Arizona director.

Democrats are putting more resources behind their efforts than they did in 2012 when there were telegraphing similar — though ultimately misplaced — optimism about Arizona.

The Clinton campaign said it invested hundreds of thousands of dollars this month in a coordinated program with the Arizona Democratic Party to win races up and down the ballot, a commitment the Obama campaign decided not to make in 2012. Together they are targeting 450,000 people they have identified as likely Democratic voters whom they hope to place on the state’s early voting list.

The party receives frequent updates from local post offices on which people have sent back their early registration forms. “And if they haven’t, we go knock on their doors and remind them to,” said Sheila Healy, executive director of the party.

One afternoon this week Ms. Healy was overseeing about 20 staff members and volunteers in a campaign office in the middle-class Phoenix suburb of Glendale. The space, in a former strip mall boutique called In Your Dreams, was humming with optimism.

“We’re not going to settle for purple,” said one volunteer, Marguerite Mahalek, as she spoke to a potential Democratic voter on the phone. “We’re going navy blue all the way.”

Predictions that Arizona would turn blue have been wrong before. Many believed the state was on the verge of going irreversibly Democratic in 2010 — much the way California did after voters there approved Proposition 187 in 1994, which was intended to deny public services like schools and hospital care to undocumented immigrants. Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature passed a measure in 2010 known as the “show me your papers” law, which required law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if there is reason to suspect the person might be in the country illegally.

Despite anger over that law, Mitt Romney won the state in 2012 by 10 percentage points.

Democrats insist that even if their efforts do not pay off now, they will in the long term as the voting population becomes more Hispanic. But the Trump campaign says it is not leaving anything to chance. Mr. Trump’s staff members were scouting locations in Arizona this week for a speech he is expected to give on immigration.

And campaign officials said they have begun a phone bank program called “Trump Tuesdays.” They said they made more than 18,000 calls this week to rally support for his candidacy.

Still, even his supporters acknowledge what they are up against in Arizona and across the West. “I am concerned about my party going forward,” said Sean D. Reyes, Utah’s attorney general. Mr. Reyes is a Republican and backs Mr. Trump. He is also part Hispanic, Japanese and Filipino, and a Mormon.

So he was naturally taken aback when he heard Mr. Trump insult Filipinos this month. Mr. Trump told a crowd in Maine that the United States had to stop letting in “animals” from “terrorist nations,” among them the Philippines. Mr. Reyes said he called the campaign to register his displeasure.

I talked to the Trump campaign and said, ‘Look, if I’m going to support Donald Trump, we’ve got to fix that,’” Mr. Reyes said. To the campaign’s credit, Mr. Reyes added, Trump staff members agreed.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.