At last, Election Day approaches. Our long nightmare, just about over.
Blessedly gone will be the ads from our wanna-be leaders, warning us that this one is a liar and that one is a traitor or a fake doctor or a bought-and-paid-for all-around scoundrel.
So, with our biennial exercise in wholesale character assassination just about behind us, all that’s left is to count the votes.
Here are three things to watch for on Tuesday:
Waves, ripples or still water?
The size of the surf will determine whether Republican Martha McSally or Democrat Kyrsten Sinema will become Arizona’s first female senator.
That and the mood of moderate women.
Early ballot returns showed Democrats are voting in larger numbers than in past elections, only don’t expect a tidal wave. Republicans, who generally enjoy a 12-point advantage in midterm elections, also are turning out in larger-than-usual numbers.
But as of Friday, Democrats had narrowed the GOP turnout advantage to 7.9 points.
Several strategists – Republican and Democrat – tell me any coming blue wave flattened out after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, which were disastrous for Democrats.
“Unless Democrats have a really strong turnout on Election Day, it’s going to be difficult for Sinema,” said Republican consultant Nathan Sproul.
Democratic strategist Chad Campbell, however, says the single-digit gap in early ballot returns is potentially seismic.
“If you factor in that independents and women seem to be leaning more Democratic this year, it all adds up to a potentially very good environment for Democrats,” Campbell said.
Moderate Republican and independent women should have been a tailor-made get for McSally, who represents the state’s biggest swing district in Congress. But moderate Martha was a no-show in this campaign. Instead, McSally kept her star firmly hitched to President Donald Trump – not a guy with big female fan club – and never moderated her tough talking tone to appeal to the middle ground.
Meanwhile, Sinema has spent her entire campaign courting suburban women and early voting trends – showing a late surge by Democrats and unaffiliated voters – suggest it’s paying off.
“Republicans still have an advantage, but the gap appears to be closing as Election Day draws near,” said Paul Bentz, senior vice president for research and strategy at HighGround, a Republican consulting firm. “While our polling showed a slight lead for McSally, the poll also showed that Sinema had strong support among Democrats and unaffiliated voters. As more of those voters return their ballots, the advantage shifts significantly towards Sinema.”
In all, nearly 1.5 million ballots had been cast by Friday – more than half of them from female voters.
Advantage (teeny, teeny, tiny advantage): Kyrsten Sinema.
Year of the woman?
It’s been a decade since a Democrat was elected to statewide office in Arizona. That could be about to change. Here are the races to watch:
Secretary of State, where HighGround polls show a close one between Democrat Katie Hobbs and Republican Steve Gaynor. But Gaynor was lagging last week among female voters and independents were breaking nearly 2-1 for Hobbs. Advantage: Hobbs.
State superintendent, featuring another close race between Democrat Kathy Hoffman and Republican Frank Riggs. But nearly a quarter of Republican women told HighGround pollsters they still were undecided and as with Gaynor, Riggs isn’t drawing independents. Advantage: Nobody. With more than 18 percent still undecided late last week, this one’s too close to call.
Corporation Commission, where Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Kiana Sears and Republicans Justin Olson and Rodney Glassman compete for two seats. Kennedy lost in 2014 when Arizona Public Service is believed to have poured more than $1.3 million into a dark money campaign to defeat her. This year, APS has stayed out of the race, instead spending $50 million to oppose Prop. 127, the clean-energy initiative. Given that APS was a big issue in the campaign and even Republican voters rejected APS-friendly Commissioner Tom Forese in the primary, Kennedy seems poised to grab a seat.
In other races, expect Republicans Mark Brnovich (attorney general) and Kimberly Yee (treasurer) to be a lock.
Can RedforEd turn the state Senate blue?
With a 17-13 split, Democrats need to pick up two seats to finally win any voice in the Legislature.
RedforEd has been hitting the streets for Democrats. But the group was outmaneuvered politically when Republicans voted for Gov. Doug Ducey’s teacher pay raise plan last spring – never mind that it took a threatened walkout to squeeze a raise out of them.
The battleground districts:
East Phoenix/Paradise Valley’s District 28, where Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee faces Democrat Christine Porter Marsh, a former Arizona teacher of the year.
Chandler/Gilbert’s District 17, where House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Democrat Steve Weichert, a hospital administrator, battle for an open Senate seat.
Northern Arizona’s District 6, where Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen faces a challenge from Democrat Wade Carlisle. Carlisle resigned his seat on the Holbrook City Council to take on Allen, who eked out a win two years ago with not even 51 percent of the vote.
Then there’s Ahwatukee Foothills/Tempe’s District 18, where Republicans hope to reclaim a seat they lost in 2016. Here, Democratic Sen. Sean Bowie is in a rematch with Republican Frank Schmuck, a pilot.
Finally, watch the northwest Valley’s District 21, where Republican Sen. Rick Gray hopes to fend off independent Kathy Knecht, a teacher who hasn’t said whether she would caucus with Republicans or Democrats.
Democrats need to pick up two seats to force a 15-15 split.
Advantage: I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.
Reach Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org.