Jan 30, 2024 - Politics

How Biden and Trump could impact Arizona's U.S. Senate race

A mashup of photos of Donald Trump and Kari Lake, Joe Biden and Ruben Gallego.

Clockwise from left: Mario Tama, Nicole Neri/Bloomberg, Rebecca Noble/AFP via Getty Images

How Arizona voters feel about President Biden and former President Trump during their likely repeat showdown this November could impact the outcome of the state's U.S. Senate race.

State of play: Nearly four years ago, Arizonans rejected Trump and voted for a Democratic president for the first time since 1996. But as Biden's polling numbers struggle, some Republican insiders think Trump has a shot to win back the state and boost down-ticket candidates — most notably, U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake.

  • Lake is the presumptive Republican nominee and will run against likely Democratic nominee U.S. Rep Ruben Gallego. Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who currently holds the seat, has not said whether she'll seek reelection.

Why it matters: Arizona is a key battleground state in the presidential election and could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate.

What's happening: A November poll by The New York Times and Siena College showed Trump leading Biden in Arizona and four other critical swing states.

What they're saying: "The old saying goes, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.' Even people who maybe weren't fully on the Trump train are realizing they miss his policies," Lake told Axios Phoenix last week, pointing to the former president's handling of border security, the economy and foreign relations.

The intrigue: Most local and national pundits blamed Lake's narrow 2022 gubernatorial loss on her close ties to Trump and repeated claims that the 2020 election was stolen, saying they isolated moderates.

Yes, but: "I definitely sense a tide turning to Republican favor, especially in Arizona with the complete ignoring of the immigration issue. If Biden loses, that will be the issue that tanked him," Republican political consultant Marcus Dell'Artino tells Axios Phoenix.

  • Gallego criticized the Biden administration's decision to close the Lukeville border crossing — but at the end of the day, all Democrats will be "tied to the president," Dell'Artino says.

The other side: Gallego declined Axios' interview request. His campaign spokesperson said "yes" when asked whether he supports Biden and thinks the president should be running for re-election and "no" when asked whether Biden could negatively impact his Senate chances. Gallego's spokesperson said the Biden-backed CHIPS Act "will bring thousands of jobs to Arizona."

  • When asked last week on Arizona Family's "Politics Unplugged" whether he endorses Biden, Gallego said, "I'm a Democrat. We're going to make sure we get out the vote and at the end of the day when I win the Democratic nomination I will be with our Democratic nominee, and that's going to be Joe Biden."

Of note: Sinema did not respond when asked for comment.

By the numbers: To win in an Arizona statewide race, a candidate historically has had to hold 90% of their party voters and more than half of independent voters, local political consultant Chuck Coughlin tells us.

  • Trump and other MAGA-aligned candidates have failed to do both since 2016, he says.
  • "[Trump's] only path to winning and Lake's only path to winning is to have an enthusiasm gap in the November cycle where those portions of the electorate do not show up," Coughlin says.

Reality check: Trying to predict how voters will feel about Trump and Biden — and their party's respective Senate candidates — may prove a futile exercise.

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