Arizona Democrats sense momentum in final weeks of campaign

Story highlights

  • State Democrats have set up 32 offices and hired more than 160 staffers
  • A new poll out Wednesday shows Clinton with a 5-point lead

Phoenix (CNN)Harriett Freedman doesn't just sense the once reliably Republican state of Arizona is now a battleground. The 67-year-old grandmother and lifelong Democrat sees it in its ground game.

"I've been volunteering a long time and this is the first time I really feel people are taking us seriously and we really have a chance," she said while volunteering for the Clinton campaign at a rally headlined by Chelsea Clinton in Tempe on Wednesday. "They're sending people. They're sending money. They've never done that before."
    Freedman, a self-proclaimed "lonely Democrat" in Carefree, population 3000, exudes triumphant joy as she talks about the political shift. But she can't hide her surprise.
    It's a sentiment shared by Alexis Tamerón, Arizona Democratic Party state chair. "We were playing the long game. 2020, 2022," she explains, as the target years where state Democrats would harness a changing demographic of more Latinos and millennials to edge Arizona into battleground territory. But then an unlikely catalyst came along.
    "I do believe Donald Trump has helped us jump our timeline," she says.
    Across Arizona, Democrats are making a fervent push in the final stretch before Election Day. Feeling the momentum is on their side, Democrats point to data from Arizona's secretary of state showing the party edging Republicans in voter registration in the last eight weeks by about 5,000 voters.
    State Democrats have set up 32 offices and hired more than 160 staffers, more than they've had in decades, sharing office space with the Clinton campaign. State Democrats believe more staffers will come from outside the state, expanding their ground game with cash and expertise.

    Poll gives Democrats reason to believe

    A poll released Wednesday by the Arizona Republic, Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy and Cronkite News shows Clinton with a five-point lead over Trump.
    The Democrats are now investing $2 million in ad buys and direct mail -- not to mention an all-star cast canvassing the state this week in an effort to turn the state blue. In addition to Chelsea Clinton's visit to Tempe, Clinton surrogate Bernie Sanders headlined two campaign rallies in Flagstaff and Tucson.
    And First Lady Michelle Obama, arguably the Democrats' most powerful public speaker in recent weeks, held a rally in Phoenix Thursday, urging the crowd of thousands to vote for Clinton and other Democrats on the Arizona ballot.
    But she directed her most potent words toward Trump, who has repeatedly suggested the election is rigged -- even refusing to say whether he'd accept the results on November 8. That sentiment, Obama argued, should motivate Democratic voters in Arizona.
    "When you hear folks talking about a global conspiracy and saying this election is rigged, understand that they are trying to get you to stay home. They are trying to convince you that your vote doesn't matter, that the outcome has already been determined and you shouldn't even bother to make your voice heard."

    Arizona GOP: Not so fast

    Arizona Republicans, however, are showing no signs of allowing their reliably red state to go blue.
    "I don't know what people's definition of blue is, but to me it's bright red," says Arizona GOP Chairman Robert Graham.
    The defiant Graham boasts his party's active base and organizational outreach in the state, with 12,000 volunteers and more than a 1.2 million live phone calls so far to voter households. While he acknowledges that Democratic speakers like Obama are a dynamic force, he's skeptical that will translate into votes for Clinton. He also welcomes the Clinton campaign's push in Arizona, arguing it only helps Trump.
    "If Hillary spends time and money here ... we actually hope, in the sense, that she does that because then it takes resources out of other battleground states where she may have a better chance," Graham says.
    Republicans here have reason to be confident and urge a closer look to the same Arizona secretary of state voter registration data that have Democrats buzzing. Numbers show the GOP holds an overall advantage of 161,000 voters with under three weeks to go before Election Day.
    Many Trump supporters believe Arizona will stay red in 2016.
    Jay Yager sat amongst a few dozen of those supporters as they watched the debate live Wednesday at a party held at GOP headquarters in Phoenix. Undeterred by polls showing Clinton ahead in the race, the GOP faithful in the room munched on pizza and snacks as they applauded and laughed at Trump's zingers.
    Yager has lived in the area since 1977 and is not convinced by recent polling putting Hillary in the lead. He says he's already voted from Trump and is confident the state he's called home for almost 40 years will do the same on November 8.
    "I have friends on either side of the aisle and most of them are say it's Trump," says Yager. "I think it's absolutely Trump."