By: Gromer Jeffers Jr.
TEMPE, Ariz. — As the presidential race appeared to be tightening in battleground states with only six days to go, Hillary Clinton held a rally Wednesday night in reliably red Arizona.
It was a bold move, perhaps designed to expand the electoral map, that Democrats here cheered and Republicans mocked. And it sparked discussion about whether a lasting Donald Trump effect could help make GOP strongholds like Arizona — and Texas — more competitive.
"It shows that Arizona is rapidly changing and is a real battleground state, for now and the future," said Steven Slugocki, chairman of the Maricopa County Democratic Party.
Republicans say that's overstated, both now and for the future.
"It's too little, too late," said Tim Sifert, a spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party. "She should fire her campaign manager. She's in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Democrats see Clinton's visit to Arizona State University as the boost needed for a political upset in a state that hasn't voted for a Democratic president in modern history.
Coupled with an expected uptick in the Hispanic vote and Trump's inability to broaden his base, they see Clinton finishing strong here, maybe even winning.
At the rally, Clinton cast her rival as anti-Hispanic, telling the more than 15,000 in attendance that Trump wanted to deport immigrants.
"About half of the people he wants to deport--they've paid more taxes than Donald Trump has paid," Clinton said.
The former secretary of state knows the Hispanic vote is critical in this election.
Turnout among black voters doesn't appear to be approaching the levels it reached in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was on the ballot. So, Clinton is relying more heavily on Hispanics to help fortify her against a big showing from Trump supporters.
The Hispanic vote, according to various surveys of the early vote, is up in most swing states. And activists predict at least a 10 percent increase in Latino turnout over the 2012 election.
Clinton has not spent much time in Arizona but has campaigned in other parts of the country with former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who represented the state and left office after being shot in the head by a deranged gunman.
Giffords joined Clinton at the Tempe rally.
"Hello, Arizona," Giffords said. "Great to be here today. I'm here to talk to you about Hillary Clinton. Hillary is tough. Hillary is courageous. She will fight to make our families safer. She will stand up to the gun lobby. That's why I'm voting for Hillary."
"Speaking is difficult for me," said Giffords, who survived a gunshot to the head five year ago, "but come January I want to say these two words: "Madam President!"
Chelsea Clinton, the former first daughter, also spoke at the rally.
According to reports, Clinton kept her motorcade in Tempe for at least 45 minutes after her event to watch The Chicago Cubs, her hometown team, win the World Series.
Miguel Medrano, a Democrat who is helping organize Hispanic voters in Arizona, said Trump was a big factor in their motivation. When Trump announced his campaign, he described some Mexican immigrants as murderers and rapists. And he made building a massive wall along the country's border with Mexico the centerpiece of his campaign.
"The Hispanic electorate is more active than ever," Medrano said. "Trump's early comments about Hispanics, particularly Mexicans, caused conversations in the community to start early. It's the impetus for changing Arizona."
Trump also has a tepid relationship with Arizona's most popular Republican, Sen. John McCain. The former presidential contender pulled his support for Trump after a video of the nominee talking about sexually assaulting women surfaced last month.
Still, Trump is expected to do well in Arizona. He's boosted by surrogates including former Gov. Jan Brewer, who after the last presidential debate predicted Trump would have no problem winning the state.
Polls show him keeping a comfortable lead, after Clinton closed the gap in recent weeks.
"It's a different election this time around," said Sifert, the GOP spokesman. "But Trump will win Arizona. He's been here seven times. ... In 2012, the campaign didn't come here. It was a done deal."
And while Clinton was in Tempe on Wednesday night, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence was rallying supporters in nearby Mesa.
Still, Democrats say they have hope.
"We have an opportunity to turn Arizona blue," said Slugocki, the Democratic leader. "It's the perfect time to maximize our effectiveness and turn out voters."
At the rally on the campus of Arizona State, supporters said they hope Clinton will carry Arizona, predicting they will help "make history."
"The voters in this state are more diverse," said Michelle Miller, a nurse from Tempe. "She'll do well here."
Retired Phoenix resident Cathy Harper agreed.
"She's going to win Arizona, because Trump has created so much animosity," she said. "It's more than just a dream. She's going to do it."