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How the race for Arizona’s Senate seat will play a crucial role in the nation’s future

Updated: Feb 7

We break down the bid for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s U.S. Senate seat — from Latino voters and election mistrust to abortion, independents and turnout in Arizona.

By Yana Kunichoff, AZ Luminaria

As the first-generation child of Mexican immigrants, Alejandra Nuñez never expected to consider leaving America. She is also among the millions of women across Arizona and the nation who never expected to see the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and gut constitutional protections for abortion.

Nuñez watched the swift aftermath of the court’s decision that empowered a Republican attorney general in her home state to call for criminalizing abortion under a 150-year-old local law. Now she is watching how politics and politicians are affecting her human and health rights as she decides who to support in key elections like Arizona’s Senate seat.

Without access to a full range of reproductive healthcare options, she’s ready to exercise her voting rights even as she weighs what healthcare rights she needs in the state and nation she calls home. 

“I deserve the right to make my own choice for my own body,” Nuñez says.

When deciding who to vote for in November, a candidate’s position on abortion healthcare access will be “one of the first things I look for,” she says.

This election, Nuñez and other voters have the chance to influence what abortion laws are on the books in Arizona.

Some voters are signing a petition to place a measure on the November ballot that could enshrine abortion as a right in Arizona’s constitution. Organizers are still collecting signatures to get the measure – Arizona for Abortion Access – on the ballot. Others are joining an opposition campaign – It Goes Too Far –  launched in January to defeat the ballot measure. Interest in both campaigns is likely to increase voter turnout this presidential election year.


Access to abortion appears to be supported by an overwhelming majority of Arizonans —  91% want abortion to be legal in some cases, according to a September 2022 poll by Noble Predictive Insights (formerly OH Predictive Insights). However, the survey did not provide insight into specifics about the extent to which respondents believed that abortion should be readily available or restricted based on a fetus’ stage of development. 

University of Arizona student Ricky Guthridge is president of his campus’ College Republicans group. The Tucson voter supports a total ban on abortion. “I’m 100% pro-life,” he says, using a term popularized by religious groups who believe that human life begins at conception. 

The high-profile election to fill U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s Senate seat could determine not only which party holds power in Congress but also how political decisions made at the national level have local impact.

Without the protection of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in America in 1973 before it was overturned in 2022, there is no constitutional right to abortion in the U.S. However, the Senate has the power to protect or limit access to drugs to end pregnancies, as well as to enact federal legislation preserving reproductive rights or restricting abortion altogether.

“Abortion will no doubt be one of the top issues driving Arizonans to the polls this November, just as it was in 2022,” said Kelley Dupps, senior director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. 

Sinema’s term ends on Jan. 3, 2025, opening her seat for a heated election this year that could direct the course of the nation’s future. She has yet to announce her candidacy but is widely expected to run as an independent. 

For many voters, access to abortion healthcare is set to strike at the heart of what’s at stake in the 2024 election year. 

Sinema herself has played a complicated role in efforts to protect women’s access to reproductive healthcare. While she has consistently supported access to abortion — saying last year that she backs abortion before a fetus is viable, and after it is viable “if it would put the life or health of the mother at risk” — some of her political positions in the Senate have hurt her relations with reproductive rights groups.

Specifically, EMILYs List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Reproductive Freedom for All pulled their endorsement of Sinema after she voted against efforts to end congressional filibusters. The filibuster is a rule that requires 60 votes in the Senate to pass most legislation. Opponents argue it gives a minority of legislators too much power in votes to block majority rule. Sinema was one of only two Democrats to oppose changes limiting the filibuster rules in a 2022 vote.

One challenger for the Senate seat is Democrat U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego. He has promised to adamantly support reproductive rights if elected to the Senate, and has won the endorsement of several advocacy groups that previously endorsed Sinema. Gallego has spoken in favor of reforming the filibuster, and called it “a tool of obstruction.” 

On the Republican side, the two contenders  — still to face off in a primary Aug. 6 — offer subtly different positions on access to abortion healthcare. 

Local news anchor turned far-right figurehead Kari Lake said during her gubernatorial run that she is opposed to almost all abortions. She has since softened her stance. On her Senate campaign page, Lake said she does not support a federal ban on abortion. She also states that while she hopes women “choose life,” she recognizes that many Arizonans support some access to abortion. 

Lake is one of a handful of Republican Senate candidates shifting their positions on abortion given polling that shows broad support among Americans for the procedure. 

Her opponent, Republican Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb has said he is opposed to all abortion. “Rooted in my abiding faith, I will always stand up for and defend the sanctity of life. I believe that being a voice for the voiceless is a pillar of compassion and conservatism,” his campaign website says. 

Arizona has long been considered a Republican-controlled region, but the Southwest border state’s Senate elections have defied easy characterization. Democrat Mark Kelly won the state after Republican John McCain, and Sinema was elected after Jeff Flake, an anti-Trump Republican.

Historically, Arizonans have elected an evenly partisan split of candidates to the Senate: seven Republicans and seven Democrats. 

With a potential independent candidate and amid record distrust of both traditional political parties, Arizona’s Senate election could be a bellwether for what candidates or issues bring people to the polls.

It’s already spurring newly-energized potential voters to action. 

An election for the future of the Grand Canyon state 

Whoever is elected in November will join Democrat Sen. Mark Kelly as one of two Arizona senators, each serving a six-year term in America’s highest legislative chamber. The former astronaut and anti-gun violence advocate won the seat after his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was critically wounded in the Jan. 8, 2011 mass shooting in Tucson.

To serve in the Senate, any contenders must be at least 30 years of age, have held American citizenship for at least nine years, and be a resident in the state they seek to represent.

Arizona’s next senator is likely to play a crucial role as a deciding vote in a tightly divided congressional chamber, where they can help sink or advance bills key to infrastructure, defense and social services support, as well as vote for or against presidential appointments.

“If Democrats are going to maintain control of the Senate, this is one of the races they definitely need to pick up,” said pollster and political strategist Paul Bentz, with the Phoenix-based public affairs firm HighGround, Inc.

“In a crowded field there are two schools of thought on who Sinema hurts: Lake or Gallego,” he said. “To this point, we see that Sinema has gained more support from the Republican side.” 

Arizona’s Senate election also could illuminate answers to broader questions about the future of politics in the Southwest and across America: Where and how will disinformation take hold in a politically, as well as racially and ethnically, diverse state with 22 federally-recognized sovereign tribal nations? How will young voters and Latino voters – two groups election analysts say have growing demographic influence in Arizona – continue to make their mark on electoral politics?

The state’s candidates all show a range of political pathways for representation at the federal level. 

As one of two senators representing Arizona, Sinema has been noteworthy. Her decision to shift from a member of the Democratic party to an independent in the midst of her latest term gained praise and condemnation.

She’s championed support for U.S. military veterans. And was elected as the first woman to represent Arizona in the Senate, the nation’s first openly bisexual senator and chose to be sworn in with constitutional readings from the U.S. Library of Congress rather than a bible. While she has a considerable campaign funding trove, Sinema has yet to publicly announce whether she will seek reelection in 2024.

Her Democratic opponent, Gallego, is the son of Latino immigrants and a former Marine Corps member. He has represented Arizona in the House of Representatives since 2014 and currently represents Phoenix’s District 3. While lauded for serving his country and supporting benefits for veterans, he has drawn wide criticism from anti-immigrant circles for supporting human rights for migrants crossing Arizona’s border to seek asylum.

Lake – a  staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump – has drawn strong support from voters who want tighter border and immigration restrictions. Though she lost her Republican bid for Arizona governor, her rallies across the state drew thousands of supporters. She is known nationally for repeating conspiracy theories and personal attacks to reject the results of elections deemed fair and transparent by multiple judicial orders.

Lamb also has aligned himself with Trump and made the concept of “law and order” a cornerstone of his campaign, regularly calling for stricter immigration policies and posting photos and videos of himself heavily armed in the desert or at the border. In 2020, he published a book, “American Sheriff: Traditional Values in a Modern World,” and is known for aligning himself with “Constitutional Sheriff” movements, which lobby for local jurisdiction over state and federal laws.

As of Jan. 28, Lamb’s Senate campaign website was down with an error message that said “This site can’t be reached.” He posted messages on a campaign account on X, formerly known as Twitter, as recently as Jan. 22.

Campaign representatives for Gallego, Lake and Lamb did not respond to repeated requests for comment on how they would differentiate themselves from their opponents and what they could achieve in the Senate that they cannot in their current position. Representatives with Sinema’s office also did not respond to requests for comment. 

For Arizona voters who will cast a ballot this fall, the Senate race is an opportunity to influence the social, cultural and political direction of their state and nation.

College students Aaron Cruz of Tempe and Guthridge of Tucson both plan to vote in 2024. They see deeply different paths forward in the desert state they call home. 

Cruz is Latino and a first-time 18-year-old voter. He says empathy for his friends who are women and his immigrant family is shaping his voting decisions. He is in favor of access to abortion healthcare and will consider a candidate’s stance when he casts a ballot. 

“I want to stand up for them,” Cruz says of supporting candidates who support women’s reproductive rights. 

Cruz also represents the knowledge environment of the future: he gets his information from TikTok creators and occasionally radio or news sites — but he also looks at the lived experiences of his friends and family to determine what issues matter to him. 

“I try my best to see what all the news coverage says,” Cruz says. 

Guthridge wants to see a shift to more traditional social and economic values. 

His father’s experience as a mortgage banker during the 2008 housing crash followed by his parents divorce when he was in high school instilled in him the sense that America was on the wrong path. 

Now he looks to hard-driving Republican candidate Lake to offer solutions. 

“I believe that her policies are going to put her across the finish line,” he says. “We just need a mom to go in there, step in, and clean up our problems.” 

As a leader with the UA College Republicans group, Guthridge mobilizes and recruits members.

“If you just talk with men for five minutes about how bad the country has gotten” it’s easy to find and energize new members for his university’s young Republicans group, he says. 

“Men have been demonized, mainly White men,” he says.

Regardless of personal or partisan experiences, Arizona voters don’t fall cleanly along Republican and Democrat lines.

The state has a significant number of independent registered voters. And they are likely to play an important role in the November Senate election. 

Independent voters upend partisan expectations in Arizona 

Adrian Fernandez didn’t consider himself political when he joined the Air Force in 2003. But two decades later, he is more critical of the reasons behind some American wars: not democracy, as he was told when he joined, but a growing need for resources like oil, he says. 

Now a Tucson firefighter and a member of Veterans for Peace, Fernandez knows a lot of things he’d like to see change locally and globally. But he isn’t counting on either major political party to make those changes. 

“I don’t believe in either party from the duopoly, due to their track records of not serving the people,” he says. “I consider myself more of an independent that is going to look into what the person stands for.” 

In the Grand Canyon state, he’s not alone.

Arizona currently has nearly as many unaffiliated voters as Republican voters, the largest registered voting block in the state, according to the Secretary of State’s January 2024 registration report. This number shifts as voters register ahead of the election. Reports as recently as last fall showed independents had edged out both major parties.

In total, 34.38% of Arizona voters were independent, or not affiliated with a political party, compared to 34.58% who said they were Republican, according to the January report. Independent voters are included under the category of “other” in voter registration data. Trailing closely are 29.55% of Arizona voters registered as Democrats. Other parties Arizonans have aligned with are the bipartisan No Labels, with 0.63% of registered voters, the Libertarian Party, with 0.79%, and the Green Party with 0.06% of registered voters.

National attention is on Arizona’s historic race that could shift traditional political dynamics: potentially pitting a Republican and Democrat against a well-known independent candidate in a three-way election. 

Arizona has been a swing state in the last few elections. Since both major political parties have comparable levels of support among voters, independent voters can shift the outcome. This year, with nearly as many people registered as unaffiliated rather than Republican or Democrat, voters like Fernandez could play a decisive role.

While the Senate race is gearing up to be a contest where those voters could have a self-avowed independent candidate in Sinema, it remains to be seen if there is sufficient political cohesiveness among Arizona’s unaffiliated voters to turn a bloc of them away from a major party candidate.

Also unknown is whether independent voters seeking change would see Sinema as a legitimate alternative to the political status quo.

Independent voters in Arizona

This graphic shows voter registration numbers for Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and “Other,” which includes independent non-affiliated voters, over the last decade, according to data from the Arizona Secretary of State.

Still, in elections increasingly won by the margins in swing states, even a seemingly meager number of votes can spur a win. Democrats see Sen. Kelly’s 2022 win over Trump-backed candidate Blake Masters as a sign they’ve made inroads with Arizona voters. Kelly won his race by roughly 126,000 votes.

About 63% of eligible voters, or nearly 2.6 million people, cast ballots in the Senate election that determined whether Democrat Kelly or Republican Masters would represent Arizona. In 2020, it was 3.3 million voters deciding between Kelly and Republican Martha McSally. And in 2018, 2.4 million people voted in the Senate race between then-Democrat Sinema and McSally. As of January 2024, there are about 4.1 million registered voters, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office.

“An independent candidate who has such high-name recognition and is an incumbent creates a unique dynamic in Arizona,” Stella Rouse, director of the Hispanic Research Center at Arizona State University, told Arizona Luminaria. “It could very well determine the levers of power in the Senate.” 

The way independent voters in Arizona are able to cast a ballot varies by election. For example, rules for independents voting in the presidential preference election differ from rules for voting in the Senate party primary election.

To vote in the Aug. 6 Senate primary, independent, or unaffiliated voters, must select a specific party ballot when they go to the polls. They also can request a specific party ballot to vote by mail. Independents are not required to formally register with any political party to vote in the Senate primary.

However, independents who wish to vote in the presidential preference election, set to take place March 19, must first register as a member of a recognized political party before casting a ballot.

To vote for a senator in the general election, like the one on Nov. 5, all Arizona voters will receive the same ballot with a list of eligible candidates.

Independent candidates only appear on the general election ballot, according to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. The commission oversees some campaign finance programming and runs voter education efforts.

Typically, candidates running as independents in Arizona have a harder hill to climb than party-affiliated candidates: they must gather signatures to have their names printed on the general election ballot without the campaign efforts of a political party on their home turf.

As of Jan 28, Sen. Sinema had not yet filed a statement of interest, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office. The filing period for candidates to qualify for the ballot opens March 9 and ends April 8.

If Sinema runs she will be doing so with a broad local and national reputation – both favorable and unfavorable – and a substantial fundraising cache. Her inconsistent support of the Democratic Party’s measures has drawn ire from Democrat voters and some bipartisan organizations that have criticized her for avoiding in-person meetings with Arizona constituents. 

Many far-right Republicans don’t trust Sinema, who spent much of her political career as a staunch progressive before shifting to a centrist Democrat and then to provoking her own party. 

Guthridge, the president of the University of Arizona College Republicans, says he won’t vote for Sinema because she has voted with President Joe Biden too many times. But he understands why being an independent in Arizona is appealing.

“People like to say they are independent because the parties kind of suck,” he says.   

More moderate conservatives could see Sinema as an alternative to Trump-supported Senate candidates, including Lake. She also could draw votes from Arizonans who denounced Trump after the former president’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

Meanwhile, Lake’s uncertain standing among some members of Arizona’s Republican Party was made clear in a recent clash. The head of the state’s Republican Party resigned after a recording was leaked to the Daily Mail of London that appeared to show the party leader pushing Lake to drop out of the Senate race in exchange for a job. In a fundraising campaign email, Lake’s team has said there was “No shot in hell!” that she would leave the race.

While Sinema remains mum on her candidacy, Democrat leaders are already framing her as a party pariah. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero took a swipe at Sinema at her 2023 reelection party, where she leveraged her local win to stress the importance of electing “a real Democrat” to the U.S. Senate. 

Some young voters who previously supported Sinema have turned to protests and confrontations as backlash for her initial lack of support for Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which progressives pushed for because it included deportation protections, funding for paid family leave and lower drug costs. 

Sinema was eventually a deciding vote in the passage of the bill, however, she didn’t support the president’s efforts to raise the corporate tax rate and worked to limit the number of drugs Medicare could renegotiate pricing for from pharmaceutical companies. 

Political analysts are digging for insight into how Arizona’s seemingly unpredictable voters will act in a three-way race. A November 2023 Engagious/Sago online focus group showed that swing voters, who don’t identify strongly with either party, were more likely to back Sinema. But if the contest was between Gallego and Lake, they supported the Democratic candidate. 

Arizona voters could be closely split in a contest between Lake and Gallego, with 46% in favor of Lake and 45% supporting Gallego, according to a January 2024 poll by Public Policy Polling, a national firm affiliated with the Democratic Party. If Sinema was in the race, the poll found, 17% of respondents favored her, compared to 36% for Gallego and 35% for Lake. 

In the GOP race, Lake is the Republican frontrunner over Lamb. She won Trump’s coveted endorsement last fall when she announced her campaign. 

Guthridge, the young Tucson Republican backing Lake, says he supports the Republican Party and its candidates because they reflect his values, including stricter government limitations on immigration and promises to enact policies to strengthen the economy.

The UA College Republicans group is currently involved in phone banking to call 50,000 voters this semester to register them as Republicans if they are not already. 

“You can’t change anything if you’re not interested in it,” he says. 

Carla Roberts encourages students to register to vote on the University of Arizona campus, Sept. 8, 2022. Roberts is a volunteer with Arizona Center for Empowerment and its sister organization Living United for Change in Arizona.

Roberts became more politically active last year when several laws she disagreed with were enacted.

Presidential elections bring out Senate voters 

More people come out to vote in presidential years — and that impacts turnout for Senate races. In the last four presidential and midterm elections in Arizona, hundreds of thousands more people came out to vote during presidential years, according to an AZ Luminaria analysis of data from the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. 

In 2016 and 2020, both presidential years, 2.5 million and 3.4 million people voted in the Senate race, respectively. In 2018 and 2022, midterm election years, nearly 2.4 million and nearly 2.6 million people voted, respectively. 

Off-year elections “tend to see a drop off among younger and less educated voters,” said Barbara Norrander, a professor in the School of Government & Public Policy at the University of Arizona. “Turnout is around 55% in presidential election years and about 15 percentage points lower in off-year elections.” 

Arizona is expected to see a ballot measure enshrining abortion, which political experts say could also increase turnout. That was the case in Ohio, where the off-year election saw almost 50% of registered voters cast a ballot, with a majority voting to protect abortion rights.

“The abortion issue is a major driver for young voters,” polling expert Bentz said. 

The Democrats’ consistent ads and campaign messaging on abortion could draw voters on this issue, he added. “The ground game they built and put in place over the last six years has started to bear fruit,” he said.

Two Arizona voters who have been newly energized around access to abortion healthcare are Danielle Castellanos and Malika Lugogo. They had both been to several Black Lives Matter rallies over the past few years. But neither had attended a rally for reproductive healthcare until an overcast weekend in January, when several hundred protesters took part in a march around the state Capitol on the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade. 

Castellanos attended the rally for her daughter. “I want to make sure that my daughter has the same rights I had,” she says. Lugogo, a student at ASU, finds the lack of access to what she considers basic healthcare a “ridiculous” sign that “our lives aren’t valued.” 

Both say that they plan to take their efforts to ensure reproductive rights like abortion not only to rallies, but also to the ballot box.

Nuanced partisan divides on the issue of abortion access may influence how many Arizonans vote this November. 

The September 2022 Noble Insights poll found that four in five, or 81%, of surveyed Democrat voters said a candidate’s stance on abortion is “very/somewhat impactful” to their voting decision compared with 58% of independents and only one in five, or 18% of Republican voters. 

Only 9% of Arizona voters surveyed were in favor of making abortion access in the state illegal in all circumstances. But respondents were divided over whether abortion healthcare should be legal under all or some circumstances. About 50% of the 829 registered voters surveyed said abortion procedures should be legal only under certain circumstances, while 41% said it should be legal under any circumstances. 

Arizona Latino communities to play a key role in Senate race 

Progressive TikTok creator Thelma Villasana’s parents live, and vote, in Arizona. She resides in California. As Central American migrants who lived in the United States at the time that Ronald Reagan signed a sweeping immigration reform bill – with amnesty provisions that created a legal path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants – her parents always voted Republican. 

That is, up until Trump’s election. She and her progressive siblings have worked to move their parents to voting for Democrats. 

“We talk about it as a family,” she says. “Me and my sisters are very vocal.” 

As the largest group of non-White voters in Arizona, how Latino voters like Villasana’s parents cast their ballot could play a decisive role in the 2024 Senate election.

An estimated 32.5% of Arizona residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to 2023 U.S. Census population estimates. 

About 25% of Arizona’s eligible voters are Latino, according to a 2024 analysis by the Pew Research Center. Arizona only follows New Mexico, California and Texas in the portion of eligible Latino voters in the respective states. Nationally, Arizona is home to the fifth largest portion of eligible Latino voters – 1.3 million – after California, Texas, Florida and New York.

White residents, who don’t identify as Hispanic or Latino, are 52.9% of Arizona’s population, census data shows. A Pew Research Center analysis shows that White voters in the state made up 63% of eligible voters in 2018. 

While recent election data shows much of the Latino electorate voted for the Democratic candidate, it was far from an overwhelming majority. 

In the 2022 midterm elections, most Latino voters in Arizona cast their ballot for Kelly in the Senate campaign with 58% choosing the Democrat. Another 40% voted for the Republican candidate Masters, according to CNN’s exit poll analysis. 

The split vote among Latino voters has been a national trend, say some researchers, that could raise interesting questions for a race with a well-known third-party candidate. 

“The Latino vote is becoming a bit more fluid in terms of their allegiance to the Democratic Party,” said Rouse, ​​director of ASU’s Hispanic Research Center.

Latino voters have delivered decisive if narrow wins for Democrats, including Sinema, in the past. 

To win her close 2018 election against Republican contender McSally, Sinema invested heavily in ads on Latino TV stations and chatted with local business owners in Spanish at targeted meet and greets. In a 2019 analysis of that race, the Latino Vote Project said the Latino community’s rate of growth and Democratic vote share was largely responsible for Sinema’s victory. 

But those victories aren’t absolute. In 2020, 63% of Latinos in Arizona voted for Biden and 36% cast their ballot for Trump, according to exit polls.

Based on recent elections, young Latino voters are expected to play a significant role in this year’s races, Senate and otherwise. Arizona’s large number of young Latino voters has shifted past Senate and governor races, according to a 2022 analysis from Tufts University’s election research project

When Cruz thinks about why politics and local elections, like the Senate race, are important to him, he says several issues rise to the top. One is immigration — Cruz says multiple members of his family have struggled with their immigration status over the years. He remembers the period after Trump’s election, when he was in sixth grade, as full of fear and uncertainty.  

The likely 2024 Senate candidates have deep partisan divides on immigration: Sinema and Gallego both support some increased access to citizenship for undocumented immigrants coupled with increased border enforcement. ​​Lake and Lamb have used the specter of immigration and crime along America’s southern border as a large part of their campaigns, repeating Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about migrants from México. 

Another big issue for Cruz is gun control. As a student at a public high school in the Phoenix area, Cruz says he has experienced multiple classroom lockdown drills in response to a gun or possible shooter on campus. 

Those experiences defined his adolescence — but he sees little action from politicians. There were 346 school shooting incidents across the country in 2023, the last year Cruz was in school. That’s according to the K-12 school shooting database, an independent project by Florida-based researcher David Riedman

Both Sinema and Gallego voted in favor of federal legislation to address gun violence. Sinema supported the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which established enhanced background checks for gun buyers under 21 and created grant opportunities for schools to hire mental health professionals. Gallego championed the Protect Kids Act, which didn’t pass the Senate, but would have cut off access to semiautomatic weapons for anyone under 21 and established new federal criminal offenses for gun trafficking.

In Arizona, adults who have not been convicted of a felony have the right to carry firearms openly and with a state-issued permit they may carry a concealed gun.

On the Republican side, both Lake and Lamb have spoken in favor of wide access to guns. Lake has opposed gun-free zones, as well as “red flag laws” that allow authorities to remove guns from the possession of someone deemed at risk of harming themselves or others. Lamb, whose campaign website includes a photo of him holding a weapon, said he has “always been a fearless defender of the Second Amendment.” 

Cruz believes that few political leaders have put forward a viable gun-violence solution that makes him certain that students are safe in a school environment. 

“Students should be able to go to school without having the risk of potentially being dead just for going to school,” he says. 

Cruz and other members of Gen Z have lived through generation-defining social and political turmoil. They’ve witnessed their parents endure the Great Recession of 2008 to 2009, practiced lockdown drills in response to a spike in school shootings, came of age during a global pandemic, and are likely to see their future burdened by student loans. 

Those difficulties may be compounded for Latino Gen Z voters, whose communities have faced disparities tied to immigration and income inequality. In December 2021 the average White family household held $250,400 in median wealth compared with Latino family households that held $48,700 that year, according to a 2023 Pew Research Center analysis

These experiences give Latino students a clear sense of what big-picture changes they want to see for their political futures, said Francisco Pedraza, a professor at ASU and associate director of the Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research. 

Arlette Moreno, center, and Genna Polston, right, register to vote at the University of Arizona Mall on Sept. 6, 2022. The registration table was hosted by Mission for Arizona, an Arizona Democratic Party organization. Representatives for the group said they would be on campus every day until Election Day.

“They see in real concrete ways the line of sight between where they are at, the policies legislators are enacting and how that impacts directly their lives,” Pedraza says. 

Still, when they can’t map those issues directly onto a candidate, it can make young people feel disengaged from the political process. Rouse, of the Hispanic Research Center at ASU, has seen that dynamic play out more broadly.

“In general, young Latinos follow along with other young people that feel pretty disillusioned with the political system and political process,” Rouse said. Like Biden and Trump: “you have these 70-year-old, almost 80-year-old guys, likely to be the nominees. They don’t represent anything they stand for.”

In this dynamic, voter advocates say outreach efforts that engage young Latinos in Arizona on their terms will be critical. How extensively voting advocates and partisan campaigns can find new, or previously disengaged voters, is also key, especially for races like the Senate election that are expected to be tight.  

LUCHA, or Living United for Change in Arizona, is one voter outreach group expanding their work for the 2024 election. 

They are planning to knock on 1 million doors, many in the Tucson and Phoenix areas but also target more rural areas. In December, they held a holiday dinner in Douglas, a border community they expect to be crucial to success in rural areas. 

“If the Democrats aren’t able to win over Latino voters, they’re not going to win Arizona,” LUCHA communications director César Fierros said.

The group will have 40 organizers who will oversee 250 canvassers fanned out across the state. “Next year will be a major year of growth for us,” Fierros said.

Their goal is to register 70,000 new voters before the 2024 election.

Trust and distrust in Arizona’s 2024 election

Over the past several years, Arizona has become an integral part of the national far-right effort to discredit America’s election voting systems. That effort is likely to spill into the state Senate race, especially if the election is close.

In 2022, there were recounts for three statewide races. In 2020, conservatives who complained of fraud in the election results, despite multiple higher courts finding them valid, pushed for an audit and hand-count of presidential election ballots.

That count cost millions of dollars, was rife with problems and found no substantive evidence of fraud.

In 2021, Arizona was one of seven states where lawmakers introduced legislation to make it easier for elected officials to overturn elections, according to the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan institute studying democracy. And far-right Republican candidates, including Lake, have used their platform to cast doubt on election results and spread unfounded conspiracy theories.  

Voter outreach groups in Arizona working to build trust in elections say they are at the start of their organizing plans for 2024, and expect to begin formal door-knocking and canvassing events in early 2024. Alongside those efforts are local initiatives to increase voter access to polls. 

In Pima and Maricopa counties, for example, officials have championed a “vote center” model that allows voters to cast their ballot in any polling location, regardless of their precinct

And in November 2023, Gov. Katie Hobbs announced she would be putting $2.3 million of COVID-19 rescue dollars toward: efforts to support counties that lost election staff following attacks and intimidation; maintaining the statewide voter database that serves most Arizona counties (with the exceptions of Pima and Maricopa); and paying for election security and poll worker recruitment. 

Single issue voters could sway the election 

When A.J. Guerrero was knocking on doors in the Phoenix area as an elections canvasser, he came across plenty of people who were apathetic or mistrustful of the voting system. 

Guerrero was sympathetic — he knew politics could often feel disconnected from daily living. 

He tried to engage Arizonans by encouraging them to think of voting in a Senate, presidential or mayoral race as a civic duty, not only for themselves, but for their community. Politicians craft policies that directly affect their lives. State legislators control investments in school funding, while state senators can dole out billions of federal dollars for regional needs. 

People he met while canvassing told Guerrero about their struggles with poverty, like paying for rent each month. Across Arizona, rents increased by 53% between August 2017 and August 2023. In Tucson, rents jumped 67% in the same time period, according to Pew Charitable Trust research. 

The political campaign he worked for, “Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy,” promised to support candidates advocating to raise wages and improve working conditions. 

When Guerrero votes for a Senate candidate, he does so to address the staggering income inequality he saw while knocking on doors across Arizona. 

“There’s a lot of poverty and income disparity that we’re seeing right now,” he says. “It’s affecting us at all levels.” 

For many Arizona workers who will vote in the Senate race, wages aren’t keeping pace with the gains made by the corporations that employ them. Some national companies paid their workers too little to cover basic living expenses even as they showed wealth gains for shareholders, according to a 2022 Brookings Institute survey of wages and profits for 22 large corporations.

The Senate has the power to legislate sweeping changes for Americans on a federal minimum wage. Those efforts have been controversial, and the Arizona delegation has been split. Sen. Kelly supported the proposal for a $15 minimum wage in 2021. Sen. Sinema voted against that effort. Gallego has promised to support a federal $15 minimum wage. 

“I’ll actually vote to raise the minimum wage,” Gallego wrote. He stated his opposition to Sinema’s position in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, in a June 2023 post promoting his Senate run. In Tucson, a local ballot measure put the minimum wage on track to reach $15 by January 1, 2025.

In a close race, one Arizona voter showing up for a single issue – income equality, reproductive rights, immigration, campaign finance reform or otherwise – can make a difference. 

Having served in the U.S. military, Fernandez, the Tucson firefighter, now volunteers with Veterans for Peace. He speaks with the public about the realities of war and votes regularly because he values democracy. Fernandez plans to vote in the 2024 Senate election. Even if he doesn’t expect the race to address his biggest issue – ending the mass influence of money in politics.

Since 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision has allowed corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money for elections. The case has roots in Arizona: in an effort to show a political documentary about Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2008 election, conservative non-profit Citizens United challenged a campaign finance reform law sponsored by iconic Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain. That challenge eventually led to overhauling campaign finance law in favor of corporations. McCain famously called the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling the bench’s “worst decision ever.”

Fernandez wants to vote in the Senate race and other elections for candidates who don’t take corporate donations and prioritize policies to limit the influence of money in politics. 

End Citizens United, an organization that endorses politicians who support campaign finance reform, endorsed Sinema for Senate in 2017. By May 2023, they had switched their support from Sinema to Gallego. 

Fernandez questions how much his one vote influences elected officials’ political decisions compared to millions of dollars in campaign donations. He sees both Republicans and Democrats taking money from corporations.

“If they’re not about getting the money out of politics, it’s just an illusion where the two parties want people to think their vote matters,” the Air Force veteran says.

Still, after serving his country, Fernandez wants a say in who leads it, in Arizona’s Senate seat or elsewhere.

“I always vote,” he says.

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