Sen. John McCain aside, Arizona is shaping up to be a swing state in the 2008 presidential election.
In a survey that pitted the top two presidential contenders of each party against one another in head-tohead tests, Republican McCain held comfortable leads against both Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, of New York, and Barack Obama, of Illinois.
However, Republican Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, finished just behind Obama and just ahead of Clinton. Statistically, both the Romney-Obama and Romney-Clinton races finished in dead heats.
“The reality is that Arizona is increasingly moving toward the center and voters look more favorably on moderate and Democratic candidates than has been the case over the past several decades,” said Earl de Berge, research director for Behavior Research Center of Phoenix.
McCain’s strength in Arizona stems from his favoriteson status. He has represented Arizona in the U.S. House and Senate since 1982. In a potential presidential contest, he attracts 85 percent of Republicans, 55 percent of independents and 23 percent of Democrats statewide.
In contrast, Romney’s appeal among all sectors within Arizona is significantly less, according to the Rocky Mountain Poll released Thursday. Romney draws 67 percent of Republicans, 38 percent of independents and 12 percent of Democrats.
“You just have to look at it and say Arizona could easily go Democrat this time. It could just as easily go Republican, but it certainly isn’t a lockeddown cinch for the Republican Party, that’s for sure,” de Berge said.
The state already is in play, said Alice McKeon, spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party.
“What we saw in the last election was that Arizona is moving to a national stage and is winnable by Democrats. I think that will continue going into the 2008 presidential elections,” she said.
In November, Democrats Harry Mitchell of Tempe and Gabriella Giffords of Tucson won U.S. House seats previously held by Republicans, while Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano easily won a second term.
However, Republican Sen. Jon Kyl beat the former chairman of the state Democratic Party by nearly 10 percentage points in the most expensive election in Arizona history.
In presidential elections, Arizona last voted Democratic in 1996 for Bill Clinton’s second term. The state since has voted Republican in 2000 and 2004 for George W. Bush.
The survey of 629 voters statewide was conducted Jan. 12-22. It has a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.
Another Rocky Mountain poll released two days earlier indicated voters within both parties remain largely undecided concerning their respective parties’ nominees. McCain gained the top spot among Republicans with 40 percent support, while Clinton finished first among Democrats with 32 percent support.
That poll was based on the same sample of voters and had a margin of error of 6.3 percentage points within each party.