Arizona Democrat David Garcia seemed to have timed his run at the governorship impeccably. The Grand Canyon State has been embroiled for the past year in huge protests stemming from its nearly-last-in-the nation teacher pay; Garcia, a public educator himself, is an education scholar. He was running in a purplish state in a climate understood to favor the Democrats. And Garcia’s opponent, incumbent Republican Doug Ducey, suffered from negative net-approval ratings. Early summer polling suggested what one might expect in such an environment: a neck-and-neck race between Ducey and Garcia.
Yet with a little more than three weeks to go, Ducey is now in pole position. The two most recent polls of the state have him up 54-37 and 55-37, respectively. The Arizona Democratic party has declined to spend money on television ads for Garcia. Democratic senatorial candidate Krysten Sinema’s attitude towards her ballot-mate can be summed up as roughly: David Garcia? Who? Never heard of him.
There are cosmetic reasons for Garcia’s collapse. I interviewed him over the summer; in person he comes off as thoughtful and eloquent. But in televised debates with Ducey, he wilted. The routs were so spectacular as to be reminiscent of the first meeting between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012.
But to those who lament that politics too often come down to superficial issues, take heart: At the root of Garcia’s collapse is policy.
In July, David Garcia endorsed the campaign to “abolish ICE,” the division of the Homeland Security department charged with enforcing immigration laws at home. “ICE is committing some historic atrocities,” he said. Ducey was quick to realize this was electoral manna; within a day, he had penned a USA Today column blasting Garcia’s call.
Then in August, at the Netroots Nation conference in New Orleans, Garcia said, “imagine, no wall in Southern Arizona.” Both of these sentiments can be reasonably interpreted to suggest Garcia simply opposes enforcing immigration laws at all. The latter certainly implies that Garcia is open to something akin to open borders. That’s a big deal in a border state. And the polling trends are plain to see: After Garcia's immigration gambits, he's been sinking.
Garcia recently told the New Yorker that, “You can try to persuade people who you think are going to vote, the persuadable Republicans and Independents. Or you can try to get your base out to vote in bigger numbers." He's opted for the latter strategy. And it does not appear to be working.