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Tariff Fight Reveals Republican Divisions in Up-For-Grabs Arizona

CHANDLER, Ariz. — President Trump’s rancorous dispute with Mexico over tariffs and the border energized some Republicans and rattled others around the country last week.

But in few places were the stakes as high as in Arizona, once as reliably Republican as it can get, now increasingly up for grabs. And the reactions played out like a preview of the divisions the party could face in presidential politics and a key Senate race in 2020.

Arizona’s Chamber of Commerce, a proxy for the Republican establishment, predicted devastation if tariffs were placed on Mexican imports such as fruits and vegetables. Grass-roots Trump supporters — who are often at odds with the business community — stuck with the president.

“Who cares about the price of an avocado when we’re having to pay for the illegals coming seeking asylum,” said Dodie Bell, a small-business owner in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, voicing support for the president the day Mr. Trump announced a deal with Mexico and withdrew the tariff threat.

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“Who cares about the price of an avocado when we’re having to pay for the illegals coming seeking asylum,” said Dodie Bell, right, a small-business owner, with her husband, Steve Bell, in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler.CreditAsh Ponders for The New York Times

But Tim Maiefski, a wealth manager out to dinner downtown, where restaurants sprayed cooling mists over outdoor tables, said that without immigrant labor, the state’s economy would grind to a halt. Mr. Maiefski, who has always voted straight Republican, wants his party to nominate someone else in 2020. “I hope to God they get somebody in there” other than Mr. Trump, he said.

Those crosscurrents are on ample display in Chandler, a desert boomtown of 250,000 that reflects the demographic changes buffeting Arizona politics.

The city, once farmland where ostriches were raised, was the first in the country to rewrite its zoning code to make way for self-driving cars. High-tech employers like Intel lure transplants from California, India and West Africa who have brought with them more liberal views.

Once staunchly Republican, many Chandler precincts were colored purple on a map of last year’s midterms. Swing voters helped elect Democrats to the United States Senate, the secretary of state’s office and, for the first time in the city’s memory, the State Legislature.

Now, both parties believe that Arizona, which Mr. Trump won by about 90,000 votes, or 3.5 percentage points, is in play in the 2020 presidential race. Who wins will come down, in no small part, to places like Chandler, with its well-educated independent voters.

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Mr. Maiefski and his girlfriend, Tricia Mitchell, had passed a roofing crew in their neighborhood laboring outdoors in 103-degree heat. “They work harder than anybody,” Ms. Mitchell, an analyst for a tech firm, said of immigrants.

Ms. Mitchell did not vote in 2016. But she plans to show up next year — to cast a ballot against the president. She has a Hispanic daughter from an earlier relationship, and ever since Mr. Trump’s election, she said, her daughter has faced racial hostility.

To Democrats, the importance of making inroads in the Sun Belt followed the thunderclap of 2016, when Mr. Trump’s appeal to white voters without a college degree won him Rust Belt states that had seemed permanently out of Republicans’ reach.

If the president is able to hold on to even one of the so-called blue-wall states he won in 2016 — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — Democrats must find somewhere else to win.

To many analysts, Arizona could be that somewhere else, thanks to the influx of college-educated transplants and the mobilization of Latino voters, especially young Latinos, whose turnout in 2018 was higher than the 2016 presidential race — highly unusual for a midterm.

“This is not your dad’s Arizona anymore,” said Chuck Coughlin, a Republican consultant in the state. He said Midwest retirees, the traditional conservative base, were aging and being replaced by younger, more diverse and independent voters.

Recently, Mr. Coughlin sent a copy of a New York Times opinion column headlined “The Coming G.O.P. Apocalypse” to the Trump campaign’s Arizona state director, Drew Sexton.

“I’d love to hear your thoughts on this column,” he wrote. It noted that only 12 percent of millennials identify as mostly or consistently conservative.

“Got lots of thoughts,” Mr. Sexton, himself a millennial, replied, according to Mr. Coughlin. “Most of them bum me out.”

Other Republican strategists said Arizona, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996, is not about to flip next year.

“Every two years my friends on the left side of the spectrum declare that this is the election that will prove Arizona has become a purple swing state,” said Stan Barnes, a former Republican state lawmaker who is now a lobbyist. “Every year it ends up falling short.”

He said that even though Mr. Trump’s approval was 45 percent in Arizona, with 51 percent disapproval, the Democratic nominee was likely to be outside the state’s mainstream.

Most recently, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democrat whom Arizona Republican strategists most fear, abandoned decades of support for a ban on federal money to pay for abortions.

“The Democratic Party seems determined to miss this moment and lurch to the left,” Mr. Barnes said. “They’re going to be so far outside the spectrum of Arizona politics that Donald Trump becomes more attractive, even if you don’t like his style and some of his policies.”

Last year’s Senate race, won by Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, is a lens through which both parties interpret the political lay of the land. Republicans argue that Ms. Sinema won by regularly voting for Trump priorities as a congresswoman, siding with the president more than some Republicans — a centrism no Democratic presidential nominee would espouse.

Last year’s Senate race, won by Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, is a lens through which both parties interpret Arizona politics.CreditIlana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

To Democrats, Ms. Sinema successfully branded herself as an “Arizonan,” neither Democrat nor Republican, and her opponent, Martha McSally, damaged herself with independents by hugging Mr. Trump too tightly.

Ms. McSally, a former Air Force combat pilot, was later appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated when Senator John McCain died last year. She will probably be on the ballot again in 2020, likely facing Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, in one of the decisive races for Senate control.

A factor that some Republicans fear could further alienate independents in both the presidential and Senate races is the resurgence of the far-right fringe in Arizona, which Mr. McCain had fought to marginalize.

In January, the hard right elected as state Republican chairwoman Kelli Ward, whom national Republicans have attacked as a conspiracy theorist. Donations to the state party have fallen sharply under Ms. Ward. Recently, she shared a stage with far-right figures at a suburban rally supported by three “patriot” organizations identified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In a telephone town hall last week, Ms. McSally faced a wave of criticism from grass-roots Republicans for breaking with Mr. Trump on his threat of Mexican tariffs, which the senator warned would harm the state economy.

“We’re being invaded,” parried a caller from Tucson, according to a transcript provided by a person who recorded the event. “I don’t see why the Republicans don’t stick together on this.”

A second caller demanded, “On the record today, are you going to support Donald Trump if he goes ahead with tariffs?”

Arizonans have more knowledge and experience of the porous border than most Americans do, and voters are sharply divided over Mr. Trump’s harsh language about migrants, his demand for a wall and his handling of a surge in Central American families seeking asylum.

John Giles, the Republican mayor of Mesa, said Mr. Trump would win the state again, but he cautioned, “The president would be well served to soften his rhetoric when it comes to immigration if he wants to be successful in Arizona.”

Voters in Chandler, as elsewhere, often fell into two camps: those who complain that taxpayers are providing services to undeserving, undocumented immigrants, and those who said migrants’ economic contributions were substantial, and they deserved empathy.

“There’s too many coming over, the state’s taking care of millions, something’s got to happen to stop it,” said Eileen Cram, a retired school administrator, who moved to Chandler from Oregon.

She plans to vote for Mr. Trump a second time. “Somebody has to be in there that’s strong, and he’s strong — not wishy-washy,” she said.

Another educator, Altreana Anderson, 43, a former principal of a primary school with a majority Hispanic population, said the real crisis was the failure to meet the health care needs of undocumented children and to offer legal work status to their parents, which traps families in poverty.

Altreana Anderson plans to vote against Mr. Trump for a second time in 2020, saying, “He’s been wrong since Day 1” about immigration.CreditAsh Ponders for The New York Times

“I do understand peoples’ frustrations with them not paying taxes,” Ms. Anderson said. “If you gave them citizenship, they would pay into the system just as you and I do.”

She plans to vote against Mr. Trump for a second time in 2020. “He’s been wrong since Day 1,” about immigration, accusing Mexico of sending criminals and rapists, she said.

“We are getting some very good people,” she said. “People I trust and love. We have no problem employing them. Walk into any neighborhood, and I can guarantee they have a landscaper who is undocumented.”

Betty Iparraguirre, who voted for Mr. Trump, said she will not do so again.

“I thought because he wasn’t a politician he would be different,” said Ms. Iparraguirre, a real estate agent whose family is from Mexico.

“I can’t understand half of what he’s saying,” she said. “It’s almost like watching a reality TV show. He’s not even trying to fix something.”

Source: NYT

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