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Why Arizona’s conservative stronghold could tip over for Biden

PHOENIX – Ten years ago, Maricopa County was the place that spawned the political careers of Republican extremists like Joe Arpaio, the sheriff who demonized immigrants and placed inmates in tent camp. Politicians in Phoenix and its suburbs prospered with appeals to voters about guns, religion, and taxes.

But these days, the county’s scorching growth has produced a battleground in which Republicans suddenly find themselves on the defensive. The children of immigrants targeted by Mr. Arpaio, along with an influx of foreigners from places like California, are reshaping the political landscape of this part of the West.

With Arizona now on its way to becoming a coveted award for Democrats, Maricopa County is undergoing what could be one of the biggest political changes of any major county in the United States in recent years. The last time Maricopa County came close to siding with a Democratic presidential candidate was in 1948.

“We think of John Wayne and the Sonoran Desert when we have visions of Arizona, but the truth is we are an urban state where Metro Phoenix is ​​the heart and soul of Arizona at this. stadium, ”said Joseph Garcia, executive director of Chicanos Por La Causa Action Fund, a Phoenix-based group that has helped register and rally thousands of Latin American voters for Joseph R. Biden Jr.

There is now a sizable roster of elected positions in the county that are held by Democrats, including a county recorder, sheriff, appraiser, and school principal – all at where the Republican Senator at five terms Barry Goldwater led the resurgence of the American conservative movement. in the 60s and 70s.

Various factors have contributed to the political reconfiguration, stemming from the backlash – including powerful Republicans in the Phoenix business establishment – against Arizona’s 2010 crackdown on immigration. The changes began to clearly take shape in 2016, when Mr. Arpaio was defeated and Hillary Clinton lost the county by just three percentage points.

They accelerated in 2018 with the transfer by Kyrsten Sinema of a seat in the Senate to the hands of the Democrats. And they became a potential game changer this week, as the county appeared to be giving a crucial boost to Mr Biden’s candidacy for president and Mark Kelly’s change of seat from another Senate seat occupied by the republicans.

On Friday afternoon, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. led President Trump by about three percentage points in Maricopa County – in a county that in 2012 saw Mitt Romney, then the Republican candidate for president , bring Maricopa County by 12 percentage points.

“Right now, Maricopa is blatantly, unashamedly, blatantly a Democratic county, something I never thought I’d see in my life,” said Stan Barnes, 59, a longtime Republican strategist in Phoenix. “It just blows my mind.”

Even as the individualistic reputation of the Maricopa County shooting gives way to calls for change from its increasingly diverse electorate, it remains – like much of the country – heavily divided along political fault lines. County Republicans maintain considerable influence over Arizona state politics. Some of Mr. Trump’s staunchest supporters live in Maricopa County, as evidenced by armed protesters who lined up outside the County Recorder’s vote tabulation site this week.

Representing roughly 60% of Arizona’s population with nearly 4.5 million residents, Maricopa County ranks among the fastest growing counties in the United States. The influx of more voters from other states, many of whom are relatively moderate or liberal, has produced some of this growth.

But the county has also provided one of the most important venues for the ascendancy of Latino voters and elected officials in recent years, following the rapid growth of its Latin American population since the turn of the century, from around 365,000 in 2000 to over 1.3 million. in 2020.

While Florida Latinos garnered much of the nation’s attention this week for helping Mr. Trump win this state, efforts to boost the Democrat vote by Arizona Latinos have received relatively little. attention – and negligible help from the National Democratic Party, Garcia said.

“All the attention for whatever reason is going to Miami-Dade County as if it were the center of the Latino universe,” he said. Referring to the national party, he added: “We did not receive any help from them, but for us the Latin vote was too important and we were not going to wait.

The passage of the old days seems shocking even to some of the Democrats involved in making it happen.

Former trial lawyer and Marine Adrian Fontes became the first Latino elected to the Maricopa County office in 2016.

“I never thought I would get elected, period,” said Mr. Fontes, who now oversees the elections as county secretary after defeating a Republican president who has held the seat since 1988. “I didn’t. I hadn’t foreseen because of my lack of political sense that Maricopa County would be the most important county in the most important presidential race in recent history, ”he said in a recent interview.

As votes in the county are counted this week, pro-Trump protesters, some of them armed with military-style rifles, unsuccessfully demanded to be allowed into the building where the count is taking place. The crowds sometimes sang for Mr. Fontes to be recalled.

Since he is also a candidate for re-election, Mr. Fontes stands away from the tabulation center and the complex of his own recorder to avoid the appearance of any irregularities in the count. He leads his Republican opponent in the race.

“It’s the delightfulness of the irony that none of these people voted for me and we all want the exact same thing from this election: we want every valid vote counted,” he said. said about the protests.

Many Democrats trace the changes that made them competitive in Maricopa County to the series of anti-immigrant laws a decade ago that helped galvanize Latino youth in Arizona. A decade later, they gave birth to a generation of activists and elected officials.

Raquel Terán, a Democratic state legislator who represents a district that encompasses parts of Phoenix and Glendale, began her political career as a field organizer fighting against anti-immigrant legislation and for workers’ rights.

In 2012, she ran for office and lost only 113 votes before resuming her work as an organizer. Eventually, she became the State Director of Mi Familia Vota, a national group that helps Latinos become citizens and register to vote. She decided to resume racing in 2018 and won. This year, she ran unopposed for a second term.

“Over the years, we have strengthened political power,” said Terán. “And 2020 shows that our work is paying off.”

Another activist, Anabel Maldonado, was in high school when Arizona passed a law in 2010 that allowed police to arrest and question anyone suspected of being in the country illegally, targeting undocumented immigrants in a state that had become a laboratory for such measurements.

Mr Arpaio, the former sheriff, enforced the law, known as SB1070, by deploying his deputies to Maricopa County to carry out arrests and raids on workplaces.

“Just being Latino in the state has given us a lot of anxiety,” said Ms. Maldonado, 29. “You’d say goodbye to your parents in the morning without knowing if they’d be caught in a raid.

Instead of leaving the state, she said, many young Latinos were energized. “It turned into a moment for people to stand up and fight and move past fear to do something,” she said.

A decade later, Ms. Maldonado, the daughter of a janitor and teacher assistant who immigrated to Phoenix from Mexico, is among many immigrant children who built a grassroots movement that has educated and mobilized hundreds of thousands. Latino voters. .

Ms. Maldonado began working with activists who mobilized in response to the anti-immigrant law.

Hundreds of volunteers worked during the recent election campaign, braving the 110-degree heat in face shields to engage Latinos in a Basta Trump (“Enough of Trump”). Others made phone calls and sent text messages.

“We were helping people focus on our struggles, access to education, health care and employment,” said Eduardo Sainz, state director of Mi Familia Vota.

In addition to tipping the state into the presidential race, the effort led to the passage of a proposal in this year’s poll to boost public school funding by hundreds of millions of dollars each year in imposing a tax on the richest 4% of employees. in Arizona.

Simon romero reported from Phoenix, Miriam Jordan from Los Angeles and Michael Wines from Washington. Frances robles contributed reporting from Miami.