- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 9, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Democrats in Arizona turned out in large numbers to oust Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and boost the minimum wage to $12 an hour, but their hope of turning the red state blue fell well short with President-elect Donald Trump on track to carry the state.

Despite campaign stops by Hillary Clinton in recent weeks and the possibility of the presidential race coming down to the wire for the first time in two decades, the Democrats only chipped away at Arizona’s conservative history Tuesday. But they were heartened by the progress.

“We bucked the trend. We’re going to pick up House seats, we’re going to pick up state Senate seats, we knocked off Joe Arpaio,” said Alexis Tameron, chair of the state Democratic Party. “We went deep last night.”

Trump was leading by less than 5 percentage points Wednesday, well below what has been seen in previous elections. More than 600,000 votes remain to be counted.

But Sen. John McCain handily beat his Democratic rival, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, in a tough race that focused on his evolving support of the GOP presidential hopeful.

“I think Arizona is still a red state - had it been another candidate, Arizona wouldn’t even have been a battleground state,” said Doug Cole, a longtime Republican political consultant. “Here you have the senior senator, a Republican, not voting for him, the junior senator publicly not voting for him. A lot of your more traditional Republicans did not support the nominee.”

Cole and analyst Paul Bentz, both from consulting firm HighGround, said Democrats don’t appear to have dramatically overperformed Republicans on Tuesday, other than the tight presidential race.

McCain, the Republican White House nominee in 2008, beat Barack Obama by about 9 percentage points, while Mitt Romney in 2012 bested Trump in Arizona by about the same amount. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win here was Bill Clinton in 1996, and before that, Harry Truman in 1948.

In the Legislature, more races were becoming competitive as additional votes were tallied, but as of Wednesday, it appeared the Senate would remain at a 17-13 GOP majority. The House was heading toward being one Republican seat shy of last year’s 26-24 split.

In the sheriff’s race, Arpaio was not undone by Democratic turnout alone, Tempe pollster Mike O’Neil said. Instead, it cumulative effect of his legal troubles, including being charged with a crime two weeks before Election Day, losing a racial profiling case and racking up $130 million in taxpayer-funded legal costs.

“His act just wore thin,” O’Neil said. “Remember: He has been around for 24 years.”

Protesters gathered Wednesday outside the sheriff’s headquarters in Phoenix, putting up a giant inflatable figure of Arpaio in jail garb and handcuffs. Students from several schools also marched to the state Capitol to decry Trump’s election, mirroring protests that played out in other states.

While Arpaio and Trump shared common views on combating illegal immigration, the president-elect had political messages on other subjects, O’Neil said.

“Illegal immigration was only a component of the Trump appeal,” O’Neil said. “With Joe Arpaio, it was almost the essence of his posturing. It really defined him, and for Trump, it was one of the things that defined him.”


Associated Press writer Jacques Billeaud contributed to this story.

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