Surely it must be a sign of the times. As I walk through my Republican neighborhood in Scottsdale, Arizona, I am astonished at the number of Biden/Harris political placards that seem to be popping up daily.
My parents were pioneers. They bought the first house in the neighborhood where I now live too. When they arrived from New York, they were greeted by coyotes, snakes, prairie dogs and deer. The Wild West seemed to be right outside my front door. Scottsdale was a big country town with old-fashioned values and a feisty western spirit. People walked around wearing cowboy hats and boots.
Arizona voters are a tricky bunch, especially those of us who have grown up here. Many are fiercely independent: open-minded, but on the conservative side, and always willing to surprise. For example, I know plenty of Democrats who are gun owners and strongly believe in the right to bear arms. And recently, a Republican neighbor â a loyal Trump supporter who owns semi-automatic weapons â confided in me, âI love my powerful guns, but truly no one needs or should be allowed to have them.â
Seemingly abundant with contradictions, it is not easy to pin down the average Arizona voter. But one overlooked fact is that many of us, Democrat or Republican, are also fiercely loyal to the memory of the long-term senator we know from growing up here: John McCain.
I first met Senator McCain as a television reporter in a small-town market on my first assignment. I was sent out with the hope of snapping up an interview with a congressman, if I was lucky. Politicians, not as well-known and nowhere near as high-ranking, did not give me the time of day, but McCain did. And first impressions last.
I am not alone. McCain is a most beloved figure here in Arizona. President Trumpâs attacks on our Arizona senator, former GOP presidential candidate, Vietnam War veteran, POW and hero did not go over well. Â
Many old-school Republican Arizonans have felt alienated from the party they so deeply cherish over the past four years. This includes over 100 former staffers of the late McCain, who earlier this year signed a letter endorsing Democratic nominee Joe Biden for the presidency. This, as well as Senator McCainâs wife Cindy, who has also endorsed the former VP.
Loyalty counts in Arizona, and so does common sense. And Arizonaâs Governor Doug Duceyâs initial response to Covid-19 was to follow the science and protect Arizonaâs citizens.Â
In May 2020, all that changed after President Trump arrived in the state. Earlier that week, Governor Ducey had extended the stateâs stay-at-home order, asking Arizonans to have patience as it took effect and lowered infection rates. However, hours before Trump arrived, Ducey changed his tune and decided to reopen parts of the stateâs economy instead.
Certainly, Arizonans need to have our economy open. People must be able to protect their livelihoods and support their families, even during a pandemic. However, there were practical solutions that our government, both local and federal, could have put in place â such as an immediate mask mandate. It did come much later, in mid-June, when thousands had already been infected.Â The impact was clear: A study by the CDC in October showed when Arizona mandated and enforced the wearing of masks, the average number of Covid-19 cases fell by 75 percent.Â
However, politics rather than science ruled the day here in Arizona. When in mid-May leadership made it seem like the pandemic was over and everything was fine, people assumed their lives could go back to normal â and they did.
Then the predictable happened. People became very ill. The death numbers started rolling in, and behind every statistic is a real person with a family. The numbers of positive cases a few weeks after Trumpâs visit grew into the thousands per day. Over 5,000 people in Arizona have died of Covid-19.
President Trump is in Arizona today as I write this, at another rally with plenty of people not wearing masks. Masks are certainly not comfortable in our often 100-degree weather. But theyâre not nearly as uncomfortable as being ill in the hospital.
Trump and Vice President Pence have come to Arizona several times in the past few months. They know how tight the race is here. Their supporters are fervent and if it were not for the pandemic, and Trumpâs statements about Senator McCain, Arizona might have been an easy win for them.
But people here are weary of politics, the pandemic and party lines. They are looking for sanity and stability. From what I am seeing and hearing here, and from what I have witnessed in my surrounding community of Maricopa County, the impression is that Arizona will vote Democratic and turn blue for the first time in decades.
Masada Siegel is a freelance journalist and the author of a childrenâs book