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Arizona delegates leave convention with ‘contagious enthusiasm’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Democrats are used to be being the stepchildren of Arizona politics.

But after a week at the Democratic National Convention, surrounded by thousands of like-minded people and nominating President Barack Obama for a second term, delegates said they are headed home with a renewed vigor.

“We are incredibly diverse as a group, yet we’re really, really unified in the importance of turning Arizona blue, of winning Arizona for the president,” said Bill Roe, chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party. “We’re convinced we can do that.”

The diversity of the 86-member delegation, including state politicians, Native American leaders, members of the business community and others, helps members understand issues that can translate to political victories, Roe said.

With the exception of Bill Clinton’s re-election bid in 1996, Republicans have won every presidential election in Arizona since 1952. But delegates see the state’s electorate as as increasingly diverse and increasingly moderate.

“When you’re looking from the outside, you don’t see it as we see it,” said Sandra Kennedy, a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission. “We see Arizona as being purple.”

Still, Kennedy said she is realistic about the challenges Democrats face in Arizona, where Republicans dominate statewide offices and both houses of the Legislature and hold a majority in the state’s congressional delegation.

“Arizona has always been a tough cookie to crack,” she said.

Delegates face the reality that about 30 percent of Arizona’s registered voters are Democrats, against 36 percent for the GOP. And that the 33 percent who are registered independents often swing toward the GOP.

There’s at least one reason for optimism, however: A contentious redistricting battle yielded two open U.S. House districts in which Democrats are thought to have good chances of winning this year.

In the 1st Congressional District, which covers a broad swath of northern and eastern Arizona, former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, may benefit from Democrats’ edge of 28,000 registered voters in her race against former state lawmaker Republican Jonathan Paton.

That district is open because Republican Rep. Paul Gosar decided to move the 4th Congressional District in western Arizona, where the GOP has a solid edge in registered voters.

In the new 9th Congressional District, covering portions of the East Valley and Phoenix, Republicans hold a slight edge in registered voters. Former state lawmaker Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, is in a tight race there with former Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker, a Republican.

If Kirkpatrick and Sinema win those two districts and Democratic Reps. Ed Pastor, Raul Grijalva and Ron Barber win re-election, as expected, the party would have a majority in Arizona’s congressional delegation.

Delegates also said they are buoyed by former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s chances against Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake for the U.S. Senate seat left open by the retirement of Sen. Jon Kyl, a Republican.

Don Bivens, a delegate and past chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, said the convention generated “contagious enthusiasm.”

“We return to an Arizona where changing demographics, redistricting and far-right dominance in the Republican Party leaves the common-sense middle road wide open for Democratic candidates,” he said.