August 11, 2004
PHOENIX - The fate of Arizona in November's presidential election now rests largely with independent and undecided voters.
Loyal members of each party are mostly lined up behind their candidates, leaving the outcome of the tight race for Arizona mostly up to the uncommitted.
The slim margin between the candidates is underscored by President Bush's scheduled visit to Phoenix on Wednesday and Democratic candidate John Kerry's swing through northern Arizona earlier this week.
Both candidates are trying to connect with what polls show is a shrinking number of undecided voters.
Courting uncommitted voters is tricky because they may not respond to the same message that resonates with a candidate's base of supporters, said John Garcia, a political science professor at the University of Arizona.
"They aren't a uniform block," Garcia said.
Independents now account for nearly a quarter of the state's 2.2 million registered voters. The number of independents has more than doubled since 1984.
Political scientists differ in their explanations for the sharp growth among independents in Arizona, one of several western battleground states.
Some analysts said newcomers to Arizona often register as independents because they aren't familiar with its political landscape.
Others said partisan bickering sometimes drives people to become independents.
Or some are considered "weak partisans" who lean more toward one party than the other, yet retain their independent label.
Danny Diaz, a spokesman for Bush's re-election campaign, said the president's record of improving health care and education will appeal to voters who haven't settled on a candidate.
"They will look at the bipartisan achievements of this administration and recognize that they have made progress," Diaz said.
Arizona Democratic Chairman Jim Pederson said undecided voters will identify with Kerry because the nominee focuses on jobs, restoring international relations, health care and other priorities.
"I don't think they care about those social issues that the Republicans are trying to promote," Pederson said.
Part of Kerry's swing through Arizona earlier this week was aimed at picking off a few "disillusioned Republicans" in conservative communities such as Kingman, said Sue Walitsky, spokeswoman for Kerry's Arizona campaign.
Standing on a flatbed truck near the railroad tracks in Kingman, Kerry told supporters and foes that he will draw on his military service in Vietnam to protect America from enemies and restore international relations damaged during Bush's tenure.
While waiting for Kerry's rally to begin, Carol Greene of Golden Valley said she was inclined to vote for Bush but wanted to keep an open mind about Kerry.
"I'm looking for something that appeals to me," Greene said.
Diaz said Kerry's views on prescription drugs and restoring damaged forests are out of step with undecided voters.
"I think that in many ways the average person in Arizona is happy with the president's record," said state Republican Chairman Bob Fannin.