PHOENIX — Arizona Republicans lost the last two U.S. Senate races.
Four statewide offices are held by Democrats.
Democrats are as close as they have been in five decades to taking control of the state House.
The Arizona Republican Party is officially at war with the state’s chief executive.
And while Donald Trump is back in Florida after his defeat, he continues to seek a place on the national political stage.
As far as Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is concerned, the GOP is in fine shape.
And he is counting on the presidency of Democrat Joe Biden to turn around the Republican Party’s fortunes in 2022 and beyond.
“I believe that the Republican Party has a lot of things to be hopeful about,” Ducey said in an interview with Capitol Media Services. “There’s a lot of signs of optimism.”
On a national level, he said, Republicans did pick up some seats in the U.S. House.
“And the majority is well within sight,” Ducey said, glossing over the lost seats in the Senate that, with a 50-50 split, gave Democrats the majority with Vice President Kamala Harris having the deciding vote.
Ducey chooses to focus on the victories.
“How about we reflect on the last governor’s race?” he asked.
It is true that Ducey, seeking a second term in 2018, picked up 56% of the vote against Democrat David Garcia. Garcia was widely viewed as a weak candidate with a campaign beset by missteps, including what was interpreted as a call for open borders.
But that was also the year Republicans faltered in their bid to hang on to the offices of secretary of state and state schools chief. And Democrats picked up a second seat on the five-member Arizona Corporation Commission.
Ducey has an explanation for all that.
“In ’14, for all Republicans, there was a wind at our back called Barack Obama,” Ducey said, speaking of the year he was first elected governor and Republicans also won the secretary of state, attorney general, schools superintendent and treasurer posts.
Democrat Obama “brought the (Republican) party together,” the governor continued. “And we had more Republicans in office, both at state legislatures, majority in the (U.S.) House of Representatives, majority in the Senate. Same at the gubernatorial level.”
So a Democrat in the White House is good for Arizona Republican fortunes?
“Well, I worked very hard to not have a Democrat in the White House in 2020,” Ducey replied. “It’s a reality.”
What also is a reality, he said, is that, in general, off-cycle elections tend to favor the party in the minority.
“If they can properly press it, they can maximize it,” Ducey said. “And that would be my expectation of the Republican Party across the country.”
The party is in an unusual situation, however, with huge schisms between what might be called the Trump wing and the more traditional business-oriented Republicans that include Ducey.
“There’s one Republican Party,” the governor insisted. “It’s supposed to be a broad coalition.”
Still, he conceded some things are amiss.
“A majority party should be in the business of adding people, not purging them,” he said.
But the official party structure in Arizona has been censuring its own members who are not considered properly loyal.
Those included Ducey himself, who incurred the wrath of the precinct committee workers over his decision to certify the election results declaring that Biden had won Arizona’s 11 electoral votes.
“That’s an action of zero consequence,” Ducey declared of the censure.
Still, the party’s “cancel culture” remains, with some making declarations about who is pure enough to be considered a true Republican. The flip side of that is some GOP registrants have decided to reregister as independents or Democrats.
Ducey said this purity test is not universal throughout the party.
“What I would think is more common is the Ronald Reagan posture of ‘someone who is 80% my friend is not 20% my enemy,’ ” he said.
Still, he can’t deny what is happening.
“Right now there is a discussion around purity and these tests that are going on,” Ducey said. “And I’m hopeful we can get past it and get focused on ideas, an agenda, and actually moving good thoughts forward.”
For the moment, it is Kelli Ward, chair of the state party, that is its public face. And she’s the one who keeps getting the publicity, locally and nationally.
“Only because you keep talking about her,” Ducey responded. He suggested that too much attention is being paid not just to Ward but to whoever chairs the party at a given time.
“Party chairmen used to have an outsize role,” he said. “They would make decisions in smoke-filled rooms on who the candidate was and who could participate in the primary and who the winner would be.
“None of that exists anymore.”
Now, Ducey said, the best thing the person running the party can do is raise money, register Republicans and win races. And he did not hide his feelings about how Ward is doing.
“By any measurement, the current party chairman has failed at all three,” he said.
As for Trump and how he might affect the future of the GOP: “Well, he’s an outsize force in American politics,” Ducey said, saying he’s not just a former president but also the leading voice in the party.
“So those are all things that will factor into what 2022 and 2024 looks like,” he said.
“He did receive nearly 75 million votes,” Ducey continued. “So the idea of having a large majority expanding party is something he can be incredibly helpful to.”
That leaves the question of whether having Trump endorse certain Republicans he finds acceptable — and oppose others he considers disloyal — could result in the party nominating candidates who may not have a broad enough appeal to win a general election.
“Endorsements can often be over valued,” Ducey said. But he said the backing of Trump still can be of value to candidates in the party.
Ducey also said the success of Democrats in 2018 and 2020 should not be a surprise.
“Arizona always has been an independent state,” he said. “People that talk about us as such a deep ruby red Republican state forget the names of Janet Napolitano and Bruce Babbitt and Dennis DeConcini.”
That does not tell the entire story.
DeConcini was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976 after a brutal primary fight between Republican Congressmen Sam Steiger and John Conlan left the survivor politically hobbled.
Babbitt never intended to run for governor but hoped to take on Barry Goldwater for Senate in 1980.
But the departure of Gov. Raúl Castro for an ambassadorship to Argentina, and the 1978 death of his successor Gov. Wes Bolin, who had been secretary of state, left Babbitt, as attorney general, the next in line of succession. And as Babbitt famously said, “You play the hand that’s dealt you.”
Napolitano, also a former attorney general, squeaked in to the governorship over Republican Matt Salmon by just 12,000 votes. But as Salmon later acknowledged, he was unable to pick up the support of many evangelical congregations because he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A bruising, Steiger/Conlan-type primary contest could repeat itself.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, a Tucson Democrat who won his seat in November to serve out the final two years of the term that originally belonged to John McCain, has to run again in 2022 for a six-year term of his own.
With Ducey having forsworn any interest in the seat, that could set the stage for a GOP primary fight between current congressman Andy Biggs — who is firmly in the Trump camp — and Ducey ally/former House Speaker Kirk Adams or someone in the same political camp.
Right now, though, Ducey said he is not focused on whom the party will offer up in 2022.
“Let’s let politics stand down for a while,” he said. “We’ve just sworn in our new senator. And let’s focus on why we’re here, which is actually to govern and make policy.”