What an Arizona primary victory says about the Latino vote


Latinos could hand Arizona to Democrats, but they need to show up at the polls.

While the state has the fifth-largest percentage of eligible Hispanic voters in the country, only 40 percent of those voters turned out in the 2012 presidential election.


Ruben Gallego, a state representative and Harvard-educated Iraq War veteran seeking a seat in Congress, ran a primary campaign he hoped would serve as a blueprint for engaging Hispanic voters. It's not clear he succeeded in galvanizing large numbers of those voters, however.

On Tuesday, Gallego, the son of Hispanic immigrants, won a convincing victory in a Democratic primary for the 7th Congressional District to replace retiring Rep. Ed Pastor. Gallego’s victory in a firmly Democratic district means he is virtually guaranteed the congressional seat in November’s general election. He is not expected to face any Republican opposition.

But the race encapsulated broader themes about Latino voters, in Arizona and across the country. Gallego's campaign sought to energize that base, with mixed results.

In a hard-fought contest, Gallego, 34, defeated former Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a longtime Phoenix politician with close ties to the Latino community. Preliminary results show Gallego won the primary with 48 percent compared to 36 percent for Wilcox.

Early results indicate Gallego’s candidacy did not inspire large numbers of Latinos to vote. The area that makes up Arizona's 7th Congressional District has historically been plagued by low turnout, and that didn't appear to change radically this time around.

While the Maricopa Board of Elections has not released final voting numbers, the number of voters appears likely to be similar to 2012. That would be an achievement, given that turnout is typically better in a presidential election year, but not a watershed moment.


After the win, Gallego told Fusion that the campaign's singular focus on its "ground game" — knocking on doors and speaking with voters — edged up voter participation and aided the win.

"We took a really big risk in deciding to forgo TV and other paid media and focusing on the field, but it paid off," he said.


Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.