Much has been said in recent weeks about whether Arizona could be in play in this year's presidential election.
On its face, the proposition seems unlikely. Arizona has not been friendly territory for Democratic presidential candidates. Other than a win by Bill Clinton in 1996, the state has gone Republican in every presidential election since Harry Truman won the White House in 1948.
Nor have Democrats had much luck winning over voters in recent years. Republicans won every statewide race in 2010, from the governor's office to U.S. Senate to mining inspector, and achieved a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the Arizona Legislature. They also won back two congressional seats that had fallen into Democratic hands earlier this decade.
While Democrats like to point to Janet Napolitano's two wins as governor and Terry Goddard's two wins as attorney general, those elections were noteworthy because they defied the Democratic Party's general losing streak.
Nonetheless, two recent polls have Democrats excited about their chances in the Grand Canyon State this year. A Merrill/Morrison Poll, commissioned by ASU's Morrison Institute, showed Romney leading Obama by only 2 percentage points, 42-40 percent. A Rocky Mountain Poll released just days later showed Obama leading Romney 42-40 percent.
Both polls had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
The Morrison Institute poll, done by ASU professor Bruce Merrill, showed that both candidates had secured the base—both Obama and Romney had won at least 78 percent of their respective political parties—but independent voters were up for grabs. Obama had the support of 38 percent, while 28 percent were leaning toward Romney. Roughly one third of independents—34 percent—were undecided.
The poll also showed Arizona's electorate basically split on the question of which party should control Congress after this year's election: 41 percent wanted the GOP in control, while 40 percent wanted Democrats. (About 1 in 5, or 19 percent, are so fed up that they don't want to see either party in control.)
Whether Arizona will be a battleground state remains to be seen, but the Obama campaign is certainly making its presence known—and working to capture campaign dollars here, as well. First lady Michelle Obama visited Tucson earlier this week for a fundraiser at downtown's Fox Theatre and Vice President Joe Biden made an appearance in Phoenix last month.
Meanwhile, Romney visited Phoenix in April, making a point of meeting with Latino business leaders in an effort to court the Hispanic vote.
That's a particularly challenging front for Republicans. A national Fox News Latino poll earlier this year showed that 70 percent of Latinos were likely to vote for Obama, while only 14 percent said they'd vote for Romney.
The Obama campaign is expected to make a decision about whether to spend money in Arizona in the next two months, says Jeff Rogers, chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party.
Rogers says one reason for Team Obama to spend in Arizona might be to boost the fortunes of Richard Carmona, the former U.S. surgeon general who is running for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl.
"We could have a very closely divided Senate and Carmona is someone who uniquely appeals to independents, having been a lifelong independent," Rogers says. "This is a guy who can beat Flake and give us our first U.S. Senate seat here in 24 years."
The Carmona campaign released a poll last week showing that he was in a close race with U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, the favorite to win the GOP nomination.
The Anzalone Liszt Research poll showed that 43 percent of voters were supporting Flake, while 39 percent of voters were leaning toward Carmona, a trauma surgeon who has served with Pima County's SWAT team.
Carmona, who has Puerto Rican roots and grew up in Harlem before joining the Green Berets during the Vietnam War, had a big lead among Hispanic voters, who favored him 61 percent to Flake's 25 percent, according to the survey, which had a margin of error of 4 percent.
Among Hispanic women, Carmona had a 56-percentage-point lead over Flake.
Flake is facing a challenge from Republican newcomer Will Cardon, who has contributed more than $3 million of his own money to his campaign. Cardon has been running TV spots and making the rounds on the campaign trail in an effort to upset Flake.
New York Times polling guru Nate Silver took a close look at the latest polls in Arizona and concluded that Obama faced a rough road in winning the state, but added that the president "certainly could" win it.
"Bill Clinton won Arizona in 1996 when he won the election by about 8 percentage points nationally," Silver noted. "If Mr. Obama won by a similar margin, he'd be at least even-money to pick up the state as well."
But Silver added that if Arizona is in play, it's because Obama is doing so well elsewhere that he doesn't need Arizona to win—so the numbers wizard doesn't consider Arizona a swing state.
Silver called an Obama win in Arizona "superfluous, since in all likelihood he would already have won states like Ohio, Colorado and Virginia that are closer to the tipping point."