Wall Street Journal
By Laura Meckler and Byron Tau
March 21, 2016
Sen. Bernie Sanders, lagging far behind Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential race, is looking for a comeback in Arizona, where he has spent the better part of the past week campaigning ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
Both campaigns are working hard for the state, with rallies, multiple television ads and high-profile surrogates. They have also waged another round in their battle over who has the best record on immigration, an issue of particular concern here.
But Mr. Sanders has invested far more personal attention, with events almost every day over the past week, a trip to the U.S.-Mexican border and special attention to the Native American community.
“As I look around here, I see a lot of energy, I see a lot of beauty, I see a lot of enthusiasm,” Mr. Sanders told more than 3,000 people at a weekend rally. “And I see a lot of people who are going to transform the United States.”
In a fundraising appeal emailed Monday, campaign manager Jeff Weaver told supporters, “Tomorrow night is a very important night for our campaign.”
Tuesday will also feature Democratic caucuses in Idaho and Utah, and both camps say Mr. Sanders has the advantage in those two states.
After last week’s sweep of five big-state primaries, top Clinton aides have argued that her delegate lead is so significant that it is now almost impossible for Mr. Sanders to catch up.
Limited public polling suggests Mrs. Clinton is ahead in Arizona. She is helped by rules that limit participation in the party primary to Democrats, given Mr. Sanders’s appeal to independent voters. The state’s demographics may also help: Older voters are among her strongest supporters, and in 2008, nearly four in 10 voters were age 60 and over.
Mr. Sanders has performed best with white voters, who in 2008 made up 68% of Arizona’s Democratic primary. The nonwhite population in Arizona is smaller than it was in the Southern states where Mrs. Clinton dominated, but still higher than most of the states where Mr. Sanders has scored wins.
The Vermont senator has built his Arizona campaign around appeals to both Hispanics and Native Americans.
Over the weekend, he held a news conference along the Mexican border in Nogales, where he criticized the idea of a border fence and slammed the federal government’s deportation policies. “We don’t need a wall, and we don’t need barbed wire,” he said, standing in front of a tall barrier that separates the U.S. from Mexico. “We need to fix our broken criminal justice system.”
His wife, Jane Sanders, spent most of last week here, participating in small group discussions with tribes and visiting the Tent City jail run by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is nationally known for his crusade against illegal immigration. It was her first extended solo campaign trip.
At the jail, she ran into Mr. Arpaio, who gave her a brief tour with local TV cameras in tow. She then met privately with local families. During their discussion, Mr. Arpaio let her know he was supporting Republican Donald Trump.
“I’m just going from sun up to sun down,” she said in an interview last week.
For her part, Mrs. Clinton looked beyond her primary battle with Mr. Sanders during a rally in a Phoenix high school on Monday afternoon. She instead trained her fire at Republican front-runner Donald Trump, without mentioning him by name.
“It’s been deeply distressing to me to see the divisiveness, the mean-spiritedness, the incitement of violence, the aggressiveness in this campaign,” said Mrs. Clinton. “I don’t ever remember anything like it.”
On the airwaves, Mrs. Clinton is highlighting issues including immigration and gun control. One spot features a young girl fearful that her parents will be deported, with Mrs. Clinton emotionally promising to do the worrying for her. A second ad has former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was critically wounded by a gunshot to her head during a constituent event in 2011, saying Mrs. Clinton will “stand up to the gun lobby.”
The third Clinton ad is about education, an issue that is particularly important to Hispanic voters.
The state’s early voting program tends to favor the front-runners, and as of Monday, about 300,000 ballots had been cast in the Democratic primary. That compares with about 455,000 total votes in the 2008 primary.
“If you look at the ballots that have come in thus far, it seems to me that the race should be tilting towards Hillary,” said DJ Quinlan, former executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party who has been neutral in the race since his first choice, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, dropped out.
For Mr. Sanders, a victory is critical to maintaining enthusiasm for his campaign in the face of his steep delegate climb. Sanders aides argue he can win the nomination if he scores big wins in New York in April and California in June. That is a tough order, even under the best of circumstances, and impossible if his support wanes.
Meantime, a win here is important for the Clinton campaign to blunt any momentum that Mr. Sanders might get if he wins a string of coming caucuses, including Idaho and Utah on Tuesday, and Alaska, Hawaii and Washington state next week.
The former secretary of state may have the nomination in hand in either case, but her campaign hopes to close out the primary period on a positive note.
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