Listen up Mitt, Newt, Rick and Ron. There are some tricks to get Arizona voters to like you.
That’s the opinion of Arizona political operatives who offer advice to Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul heading into Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary.
“Border issues are very important. Particularly with the Tea Party, right-wing of the party that tends to vote in primaries, they continue to be pretty tough on illegal immigration,” said Bruce Merrill, the senior research fellow for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University who has a Ph.D. in political behavior.
Merrill said Santorum and Romney have an advantage because of this. Gingrich has been more tolerant of not displacing families and has supported the “Dream Act.”
Carolyn Cox, chair of the Pima County Republican Party, said Arizona Republicans are different than other Republicans for one primary reason.
“I think the main difference between Arizona and other states is that we have a border,” Cox said. She believes candidates need to address border issues in order to appeal to Arizona Republicans. She also encourages addressing government spending and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obama Care by Republicans.
“I think they need to be absolutely honest in explaining how you are going to reduce the deficit, how you going to cut back government and how you are going to replace Obama Care with a free-market type system,” Cox said.
According to Thomas Volgy, a professor of political science at the University of Arizona, if you asked a cross section of the Arizona Republican party, the No. 1 issue for Republicans is the economy.
“That might not be the No. 1 issue in the very conservative part of the party, you have all these divisions,” said Volgy. “It’s quite possible that most Arizona Republicans care about the economy first, but they might not be the ones who are dominating in the actual voting.”
Barbara Norrander, a professor of political science at the University of Arizona, said Arizona Republican voters care about issues similar to those in other Republican primaries, but that the economy is usually the primary issue.
Candidates also need to understand the Arizona Republican party make-up.
Merrill said Arizona Republicans fall in to two factions, “Goldwater Republicans” who tend to be more moderate, and the right-wing of the party who tend to be more conservative and vote more.
Volgy also agreed that there are two kinds of Arizona primary voters, very conservative and more moderate. “To get enough of the vote in an ideal world you need to try to appeal to both of them. The alternate is to bank on the idea the much more conservative and much more intense voter on the Republican side who turns out to the primary, then you appeal more to the right wing of the Republican party,” said Volgy. He finds that strategy risky.
Norrander said she didn’t know if Arizona Republicans are that different than other Republican voters, but one aspect that differs in Arizona is that the percent of religiously conservative voters is lower than many other states.
Merrill also said it will be very important in Arizona to see whether the conservatives begin to get behind either Gingrich or Santorum. Romney still needs to connect with the conservative wing of the party he said.
The only reason Romney is still in the race is because he receives about 25 to 35 percent of the vote across the country. As long as that other 70 percent is divided by three other candidates Romney still prevails, according to Merrill.
Lower turn-out will most likely see the right wing of the party dominate and heavily favor Santorum, while a higher turn-out would tend to help Romney, said Merrill.
“The issue that will determine who wins this primary will be turn-out.”