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Trump's Rural Voter Strategy Didn't Pay Off In Every State

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of the clearest divides in politics is between rural and urban voters. Look at a map of red and blue counties and it becomes clear a big rural vote for President Trump or other Republicans frequently offsets Democratic votes in and around cities. But that formula did not work for Trump in Arizona, which The Associated Press called for Joe Biden. NPR's Kirk Siegler covers the urban-rural divide and is in Phoenix. Hey there, Kirk.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What happened in Arizona?

SIEGLER: Well, you know, it's - we're still learning more. And votes are still being counted.

INSKEEP: Right.

SIEGLER: But, you know, in the closing days of the campaign, Trump largely skipped Phoenix. He wanted to hold his big rallies out in more rural areas. But here in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, this is where most of the voters are. You know, this is the old Sunbelt where a Democratic presidential candidate hasn't really won since the '50s. It was long Republican, but Democrats are - or demographics, rather, are changing. You know, younger people are moving in from the coasts for cheaper housing and a lot of Latino voters coming of age or are newer to the rolls, like Melissa Trujillo (ph). She's Mexican American. And she remembers well Arizona's recent history of anti-immigration sentiment. Ten years ago, the state passed the polarizing SB 1070, which made it a state crime to be in the country illegally. Let's hear from Trujillo now.

MELISSA TRUJILLO: Arizona has been through a lot, from laws that were probably a little bit discriminatory to certain demographics. We had to deal with Joe Arpaio. We just got tired of it.

SIEGLER: And, Steve, you know, Joe Arpaio, the famously law-and-order sheriff here in Maricopa County, was ousted in 2016, in part due to a large turnout among Latino voters in this county. The coronavirus also hit Latino communities hard. Melissa Trujillo there, she survived it. Some older voters as well appeared to move over to Joe Biden because he took the virus seriously. And, of course, President Trump largely dismissed it in many communities.

INSKEEP: So I guess the math just isn't working as well for Republicans in Arizona because the metro area is so large and it's become so much more Democratic. Is this a viable strategy in other states for Republicans?

SIEGLER: That is keeping to the rural vote. Well, we know the Electoral College is weighed disproportionately to rural areas with not much population. So you know, the Republicans have consolidated control in sparsely populated rural counties. And if they get enough of them, that can make the difference. But, you know, Steve, the West is interesting. Arizona appears to be following the path of what we've seen in the last 10 years or so in Colorado, Nevada - big cities in this region where you've had a lot of Latino voter registration and mobilization recently. So I think Arizona could become a test lab and may shake things up a bit. You know, the Democrats, since about 2008, have been focusing heavily here in the West. They kind of think of this as their new South to sort of offset all the losses they've made in the last couple of decades in the Sunbelt.

INSKEEP: Kirk, thanks so much.

SIEGLER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Kirk Siegler in Phoenix.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLYING LOTUS' "PYGMY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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