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Trump Counts On Rural Voters In Arizona To Help Him Win The State


For a generation, Democrats and presidential campaigns have been losing Arizona. They've been winning other states in the southwest - Nevada, New Mexico - but not there. 2016 was only the latest year the Democrats hoped, but Republican Donald Trump prevailed. What about this year? NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: It used to be conventional wisdom that if you win Phoenix and surrounding Maricopa County and you probably win Arizona. Once reliably red, Maricopa, home to Sheriff Joe Arpaio and conservative snowbirds, but in 2016, Trump won here by less than three points, and polls now show Biden comfortably ahead as more Latinos come of voting age and new growth from out of state is tilting Phoenix blue.

SCOTT SMITH: What that means is that if you're looking for a win in Arizona, the rural vote may be the deciding factor.

SIEGLER: Scott Smith is the former mayor of Mesa who ran for governor as a Republican in 2014. He says if the election is close, Trump could win Arizona by holding down his losses in cities and getting a big rural turnout.

SMITH: I don't know if the numbers work out that way, but we've seen some interesting results in statewide elections over the last two to three election cycles that would say that that's not an absurd strategy.

SIEGLER: One hundred miles to the north of the nation's fifth-largest city and the Biden-Harris signs lining busy Phoenix streets give way to the pastures and long driveways where blue MAGA flags are fixtures...

LAURIE HOLTON: I will show you where it is.

SIEGLER: ...This is Yavapai County, where President Trump beat Hillary Clinton by a 2-1 margin in 2016.

HOLTON: I'm sticking with President Trump because he pulled us out of the gutter and got us on track.

SIEGLER: At an early voting station in Prescott, Laurie Holton (ph) says the economy and rebounding from the COVID lockdowns are top on her mind.

HOLTON: It's a shame because so many people don't realize they want to blame the economy now on him.

SIEGLER: Now, it's been a particularly stressful year for Holton. Her husband suffered brain damage in an accident, and she's now officially his caregiver.

HOLTON: The insurance he had through work was really bad and - but Medicaid came to the rescue and has really helped us.

SIEGLER: The Trump administration is in court trying to overturn the health care law and its Medicaid expansions and protections for preexisting conditions.

HOLTON: That would be - well, that would definitely be a concern for anyone, yes.

SIEGLER: But it's apparently not a deciding factor in Holton's vote. This speaks to how strong the president's base still is in more rural places like this. Trump staged a large rally recently in Prescott, and he was back in Arizona this week for two more, again skipping major cities. We know from 2016 that the Electoral College is skewed heavily in favor of conservative-leaning rural America. But that hasn't translated into either presidential candidate talking much about rural issues. This has long been a complaint of rural voters who say national politicians promise fixes only to get here and find out that the problems are complex and not solvable over one election cycle.

ROSEMARY DIXON: We are not uneducated. We are not unpolitical. We understand what's going on, and it's a big mistake for candidates federally to ignore us.

SIEGLER: In downtown Prescott, Rosemary Dixon (ph) is frustrated watching many of her neighbors doubling down for President Trump. For her, health care is also a big issue. She's 62 and gets her insurance from the Obamacare exchanges.

DIXON: I do for now. I do for now. But how long is that going to last?

SIEGLER: Dixon had to have a kidney transplant a few years ago.

DIXON: They say they are going to protect preexisting conditions, but I don't think I believe that, actually, at this point.

SIEGLER: A high-stakes rural vote in a state that could decide who America's next president is. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Prescott, Ariz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.