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Californians Turn Out to Flip Arizona Blue

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San Francisco Democrats gather for a virtual phone banking event. They've been calling Arizona voters.  (Courtesy of Suzy Loftus)

This post has been updated on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 1:30 p.m.

UPDATE: The AP called the heavily contested state of Arizona for Joe Biden, adding 11 electoral votes and making him the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1996. Read more from NPR, and find KQED's election results here.

Original story:

Arizona, home of conservative icon Barry Goldwater, has been a reliably red state in all but one presidential race since 1948 — but this year, Democrats are convinced they have a shot at carrying it.

That’s prompted eager California Democrats to flood the zone — both literally and virtually — in the final days before this election.

Purnima Gaddam is one of them. Gaddam lives in Palo Alto. She’s a mom of two young kids, and she's a nonprofit consultant. Like most working parents, she has a lot on her plate.

But like many Democrats, she was also appalled by President Trump’s victory in 2016.

"It really made me feel like I needed to be more politically engaged in a very active way as opposed to just a theoretical way before," she said.

This year, she decided to get involved. For her, the safest, easiest thing was text-banking persuadable voters in Arizona with help from the National Immigration Law Center. Even though it’s just texting, Gaddam said it was initially terrifying.

"I would say out of the first two hundred texts that I would send, a majority of them don't respond or ask to be opted out," she said.

But then there are those voters who do engage.

"I spoke to one swing voter in Arizona that was really worried about the economy. And when I sent them different questions from the Biden/Harris website that had specific economic plans, that really made sense to the voter," she said.

Gaddam said she felt good after that specific exchange. "Maybe it wasn't something that was coming through the media they were consuming," she said. "We were able to have a real conversation about it. And he got information that he might not have seen otherwise."

Gaddam is not alone. Hundreds of Californians have signed up with groups like the National Immigration Law Center, which is contacting 130,000 "persuadable" voters in three battleground states — including more than 43,000 in Arizona.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks to volunteers phone banking for Arizona Democrats from California. (Courtesy of Suzy Loftus)

They’re targeting Arizona because polling showed the state’s large Latinx population, as well as nonpartisan women, were open to a pro-immigrant message. It's a far cry from 2016, when Republicans, led by Donald Trump, were using immigration to drive up conservative turnout.

Other groups, like the climate change-focused Sunrise Movement, are helping bring people to Arizona to canvass in person.

With safety precautions in place, of course.

"It's very, very safe," said Pat Reilly, a longtime Democratic strategist, based in the Bay Area, who spent part of last week canvassing in Maricopa County, Arizona.

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"Arizona has actually become a model for other states in arranging a field program. They've got an epidemiologist that they're working with. You need to go through a COVID-19 health training. You've got all the PPE gear. You feel very cared for," she said.

Reilly said she has been moved by how many of her fellow volunteers are young people, many of them people of color, who are getting politically involved for the first time this year.

"They're joined every day by an increasing number of volunteers, I must say, a huge number of them from California who are coming down, young Californians who are taking the time to really ensure that every vote counts," she said.

These outside groups are not going to stop reaching out to voters until the polls close, said Archana Sahgal, director of the polling and outreach program that the National Immigrant Law Center created to help Democrats win key battleground states.

"We know that Arizona has captured a lot of the spotlight among Californians. And it's understandable. It's a neighboring state. It has one more electoral vote than Wisconsin does. And there’s the added appeal of flipping a red state to blue," she said.


Democratic leaders in California are also doing their part. Suzy Loftus serves on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and helped host four separate "Women's Wednesdays" phone banking parties. The parties were all held on Zoom, and were supported by Vote Blue SF, a partnership between the local Democratic party and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Women's Wednesdays have featured Democrats like Pelosi and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. But Loftus said she's been most impressed by the everyday folks who made time in their lives to try to flip Arizona blue.

"It's a lot of my neighbors, moms on our PTA, on my kid's soccer team, who all wanted to find a way to do something rather than sit around," Loftus said. "Since we are on the West Coast, we are doing this before we get dinner on the table. I have been amazed at how creative everyone is being, how people have been using and leveraging all the Democratic energy in San Francisco to send it where it's needed."

Loftus said the tone has shifted over these final weeks — now, most of the calls are aimed at making sure Democrats turn in their ballots, not trying to convince folks to vote for Biden or the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona, Mark Kelly.

"If we win Arizona, so many people out here will be so proud," she said.

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