Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano predicted Arizona will follow its Southwestern neighbors and move from swing-state status to Democratic stronghold as the border state’s demographics continue to change.
On Tuesday, the former Arizona governor told reporters that she is confident her home state will take after Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado in gaining Democratic voters in the coming cycles.
“Arizona will be behind them,” Napolitano said during a discussion hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “I think it will be more purple over time, but ultimately blue.”
In 2012, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., secured his first term with a 3-point margin of victory in a race much closer than many operatives anticipated. Meanwhile, partisan control of the congressional delegation flipped as Democrats won two House seats and Republicans lost one seat. But those gains were also a reflection of a newly redrawn congressional map that favored Democrats.
“It’ll happen, I think,” Napolitano said. “The fact that I could win three straight elections there, I think is indicative that Democrats can win and do win in Arizona.”
In the 2012 elections, Republican Mitt Romney carried Arizona with more than 54 percent of the vote. In John McCain’s failed bid for president in 2008, the GOP senator won his home state with 53 percent.
But the recent presidential elections have been somewhat anomalous, Napolitano said. In 2012, President Barack Obama’s campaign “really didn’t play in Arizona,” and McCain is a “favorite son” back home, she said.
Earlier this year, McCain warned that states such as Arizona will flip to Democratic majority if GOP leaders can’t gain the support of Hispanic voters by delivering on an immigration overhaul.
Napolitano said Tuesday that she agrees with McCain. Changing demographics in Arizona are beginning to persuade those previously wary of revamping the system for granting citizenship, the secretary said.
Opposition to giving illegal immigrants a way to become citizens gained traction in the early 2000s in Arizona, when border entry in San Diego and El Paso, Texas, was substantially restricted, Napolitano said. That lockdown funneled illegal border crossings to Arizona, and more than half of the apprehensions of illegal immigrants were occurring in the area near Tucson, she said.
“People lost confidence in the rule of law, that it was under any sort of control,” Napolitano said. “And I think that caused some real political pushback. And people were legitimately concerned about what was going on.”
Abby Livingston contributed to this report.