PHOENIX — Arizona Republicans lost the last two U.S. Senate races.
Four statewide offices are held by Democrats. Democrats are as close as they’ve 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.
But as far as Gov. Doug Ducey is concerned, the GOP is in great shape. And he’s counting on a Biden presidency to turn around the party’s fortunes in 2022 and beyond.
“I believe that the Republican Party has a lot of things to be hopeful about,” Mr. 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,” Mr. 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.
Mr. Ducey, however, chooses to focus on the victories.
“How about we reflect on the last governor’s race?” he asked.
It is true that Mr. Ducey, seeking a second term in 2018, picked up 56% of the vote against David Garcia. But Mr. Garcia was by all accounts a weak candidate with a campaign beset by missteps, including what was widely interpreted as a call for open borders.
But that was also the year Republicans faltered in their bid to hang onto the offices of secretary of state and state schools chief. And Democrats picked up a second seat on the five-member Arizona Corporation Commission.
Mr. Ducey has an explanation for all that.
“In ‘14, for all Republicans, there was a wind at our back called Barack Obama,” he said.
“He brought the 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,” Mr. Ducey said. “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,” Mr. Ducey said. “And that would be my expectation of the Republican Party across the country.”
But the party is in a unusual situation, with huge schisms between what might be called the Trump wing of the party and the more business-oriented Republicans that include Mr. Ducey.
“There’s one Republican Party,” the governor insisted. “It’s supposed to be a broad coalition.”
Still, he conceded that some things are amiss.
“A majority party should be in the business of adding people, not purging them,” he said.
That, in fact, has been what has been going on.
The official party structure has been censuring its own members who are not considered properly loyal. That include Mr. Ducey himself who incurred the wrath of the precinct committee workers over his decision to certify the election results declaring that Mr. Biden had won Arizona’s 11 electoral votes.
“That’s an action of zero consequence,” the governor declared.
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 even Democrats.
Mr. 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, though, it is Dr. Kelli Ward, chairwoman 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,” the governor responded. He suggested too much attention is being paid not just to her but also to whoever chairs the party.
“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,” Mr. Ducey continued. “None of that exists anymore.”
Now, he said, the best thing the person running the party can do is raise money, register Republicans and win races. And the governor did not hide his feelings about how Dr. Ward is doing.
“By any measurement, the current party chairman has failed at all three,” he said.
And what of Mr. Trump and how he might affect the future of the GOP?
“Well, he’s an outsize force in American politics,” Mr. 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 in to what 2022 and 2024 looks like,” the governor said.
“He did receive nearly 75 million votes,” Mr. Ducey continued. “So the idea of having a large majority expanding party is something he can be incredibly helpful to.”
That still leaves the question of whether having Mr. Trump endorse certain Republicans he finds acceptable — and oppose others he considers disloyal — could result in the party nominating candidates who may not be able to have a broad enough appeal to win a general election.
“Endorsements can often be overvalued,” Mr. Ducey said. But he said the backing of Mr. Trump still can be something of value to candidates in the party.
Mr. Ducey also said the success of Democrats in the last election cycles 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.”
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Mr. DeConcini got 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.
Mr. Babbitt never intended to run for governor but hoped to take on Barry Goldwater for Senate in 1980.
But the departure of Raul Castro for an ambassadorship to Argentina and the 1978 death of Wes Bolin who had been secretary of state left Mr. Babbitt, as attorney general, the next in line of succession. And as he famously said, “You play the hand that’s dealt you.”
Ms. Napolitano, also a former attorney general, squeaked in over Republican Matt Salmon by just 12,000 votes. But as Mr. Salmon would later acknowledge, he was unable to pick up the support of many evangelical congregations because he was a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints.
That Steiger-Conlan contest could repeat itself.
Mark Kelly has to run again in 2022 for the final two years of the term that originally belonged to John McCain. With Mr. Ducey having forsworn any interest in the seat, that could set the stage for a 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.