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Trump has a smaller campaign in Arizona this election. What that could mean for his chances

We begin with a look at the ground game for each major presidential candidate in Arizona. And, at least for the Trump campaign, it’s looking a little thin — a lot thinner than it did four years ago when he ran and lost here by just 10,000 votes. 

Given how narrow that victory was for President Joe Biden in 2020, all eyes are on Arizona as this year’s election season heats up.

The Arizona Republic’s Laura Gersony is reporting that Trump may already be in trouble here — if the size of his local campaign efforts are any indication. 

The Show spoke with her more about it, beginning with just how high the stakes are in our state. 

Full interview

LAURA GERSONY: So as many of your listeners may know, Arizona is one of just a handful of states that's seen as truly up for grabs by both parties. So that means our voters will have a major hand in deciding the next occupant of the White House. And last cycle, it was extraordinarily close. Biden just barely scraped away with a victory here. He beat Trump by around 10,000 votes. And to put that into perspective, that's about a third of the number of fans who attended the average Major League Baseball game last year. It's one-seventh of the number of people who came to each of Taylor Swift's concerts in one day a year ago. So just incredibly close, really a coin toss.

LAUREN GILGER: That's a good way to put it into perspective. OK, so you are covering these campaigns in our state and looking at sort of the, you know, the campaign presence of each major candidate here in the state, nine months out from the election. And you're, you're looking particularly at the Trump campaign because it looks to be quite different than it was the last time around when he ran in 2020. Tell us a little bit about what that looks like right now.

GERSONY: That's exactly right. So what we know so far is that the Trump campaign's field operation in Arizona is coming together much slower than it did during the last presidential election cycle. So one way we can tell, for example, is by looking at the number of people on the state party's payroll. That's a rough indication of how many people the GOP has hired to do field campaigning in Arizona, including for the presidential race. There's a pretty striking disparity here.

So in February of 2020, the Arizona GOP had more than 60 people on its payroll. That's according to campaign finance records. At the same time this year, it had just six. That is one-tenth of that 2020 figure, plus one full-time Trump campaign staffer. So you can imagine that's an imperfect metric. Of course, it's just one of many factors that will matter in this race. But with Arizona being so competitive, these more tactical, wonkier details could end up having an outsized importance.

GILGER: Right. Right. And this, this looks very different as you said to how his campaign presence looked here in 2020. And it comes at a time in which there's a lot being said about the Republican Party, the National Republican Committee, the state Republican Party and financial troubles they find themselves in. Is that to do with this, is that contributing to the small staff we might be seeing here in Arizona right now?

GERSONY: Lauren, that is a great question. We asked the Trump campaign that and they didn't share much. they said in a comment that they don't feel obligated to discuss their strategy with members of the news media, which is of course their prerogative. But yes, what we do know is that the Trump campaign and the wider Republican Party apparatus are facing pretty choppy waters financially.

One mounting cost is Trump's legal bills. The recent verdicts finding him guilty of defamation and civil fraud have cost the former president millions of dollars, with other cases still ongoing. And the Republican National Committee Committee is in a similar boat. They started this year with a fraction of the money they had on hand in 2020. And your listeners may already know that, of course, money and ground game certainly can't buy everything in a race like this. But if we're looking at a margin of victory on the scale of a Taylor Swift concert or even narrower, then the general feeling among politicos is this could absolutely make a dent.

GILGER: Could anything on the horizon turn the financial situation around for the GOP at this point? I mean, are, are they lagging in fundraising as well?

GERSONY: They are, they are. And there's also some chatter about, you know, who's gonna pick up the slack here in Arizona. One key player is Turning Point USA. That's a group based in Arizona, led by the conservative media personality Charlie Kirk. Turning Points' leadership has criticized the RNC for its failure to fund and for what it sees as a failure to organize at the grassroots. And so they have launched this effort to the tune of $100 million in Arizona and other swing states to kind of make up that difference. Although it's hard to know how effective that will actually be since those efforts are really still in their beginning stages.

GILGER: OK. So then let's talk for a minute or two about the other side of the aisle here and what the ground campaign is looking like at this point for the Biden campaign?

GERSONY: Yes. So the Arizona Democrats, as my editor likes to say, they are unavoidable for comment on this. They're really proud to have hired 19 full time staff members for their coordinate efforts in Arizona. Plus, they have 15 more employees working for the state Party. And they're also touting that they've opened eight field offices so far and those are typically nerve centers for on the ground campaign activities. So they're certainly ahead of the Trump campaign. But as I've said, already, a lot can change between now and November.

GILGER: Yeah. Yeah. So final question for you then, and you've hinted at this a little bit, but for those of us who are not plugged into the political world, how much of a difference could it actually make? Like having people opening field offices in staff positions for a particular campaign in a swing state like this? Does it matter? Like does it come down to actual votes?

GERSONY: Yeah. And I think that's a great question, and I would just say that it's one of many factors. I think, you know, it's important to reiterate this election is historic. I mean, we have a former president who really tried to undermine the result of the 2020 election without evidence. And those views are despite not being factual, they're shared by a passionate portion of the GOP electorate. So I would say, you know, of course, Trump is just like any other candidate, you know, he's lost here in the past, he has to build a campaign, he has to knock doors, but I would say this is just one layer of a pretty complex, and, and certainly an interesting campaign.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.