POLITICS

Latinos turning Republican stronghold Arizona into shades of purple

Hundreds of activists, supporters of illegal immigrants and members of the Latino community rally against a new Arizona law in Union Square on May Day on May 1, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Hundreds of activists, supporters of illegal immigrants and members of the Latino community rally against a new Arizona law in Union Square on May Day on May 1, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  (2010 Getty Images)

Carmen Maldonado, a Mexican-American, has proudly voted for the Republican presidential candidate since former president George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004.

The 55-year-old grandmother is a staunch Catholic who considers herself strongly pro-life, and pro-military. She decorates her home with American flags and lives with her husband, Vince, a former gold glove boxer, on their ranch in the Arizona desert.

This year, for the first time in years, she is leaning toward voting for the Democrat in the presidential race, even though she is not eager to do so. She said she is “sorry to say” she will support Hillary Clinton this November.

"I am very undecided" She added with a sigh. "Gosh, I can't remember the last time I voted Democrat."

Arizona, once a fortified stronghold for the Republican Party, a border state that spawned the candidacies of conservative Republican nominees like Senators Barry Goldwater and John McCain, is turning from shades of deep red to purple, to perhaps, even blue, according to recent polls that show a close race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 

The growing Latino voter demographic has been a major reason why Arizona is turning into a surprising potential pick up for Hillary Clinton this November, experts say. Hispanics now make up 30.5 percent of the population, with a whopping 21 percent being eligible to vote, according to Pew Research statistics.

And to many Latinos in the Grand Canyon state, both Democratic and Republican, the reason behind their surging interest in the presidential election is the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, who many perceive as anti-Hispanic.

"Everything that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth is against everything I believe in," Maldonado says. "He brings out all the negativity in people."

Patricia Beckley, also 55, who is Mexican-American and a registered Republican, tells Fox News Latino that she is also undecided because she has serious reservations about Trump.

"I don't like his views," Beckley says." There is a lot of division with him and the in the things that he says, and I am not sure we want him as our leader."

Hispanic voters in the desert have been mobilized to vote. During the March primary, a record 600,000 votes were cast in the Phoenix-area alone – almost double the amount in 2012.

The last time Arizona went for a Democrat candidate another Clinton was running for president: Bill Clinton in 1996.

But a lot has happened in Arizona since then. It is now known for one of the most stringent immigration laws in the country, called SB1070, and for one of the strictest implementers of the laws, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, an avid Trump supporter.

According to members of the Clinton campaign, efforts to win Arizona have increased recently with a new push to pull in Latino voters following recent polls that show Clinton in a dead heat with Trump.

A CBS poll earlier this month has Trump at 44 percent, with Clinton only 2 points behind him at 42 percent.

Publicly, the Clinton campaign says Arizona is part of a 50-state strategy. But the fact that one of the most fervent Republican bastions of support like Arizona and Georgia may flip has many Democrats excited.

“We’re bullish on Arizona, but we’re not taking anything for granted," Walter Garcia, Western Regional Communications Director for the Democratic National Committee told Fox News Latino. “We’re going to work hard to hold Donald Trump accountable for his divisive and dangerous rhetoric."

"We are running a 50-state strategy, including Arizona, and that includes engaging with Latino communities in every state to show the contrast between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump," Lorella Praeli, the head of the Latino vote operation for Hillary for America tells Fox News Latino."  Hillary Clinton has spoken directly to Latinos, laying out an agenda that will create good-paying jobs and pass comprehensive immigration reform to keep families together. This stands in stark contrast to Donald Trump's offensive rhetoric and policies that would rip families apart."

Republicans in Arizona are not ceding any ground, and point to a GOP sweep in 11 statewide elections as evidence that the Republican grassroots operations runs deep. Trump met with Hispanic leaders this past weekend to figure out ways to engage the Latino community.

"We never take anything for granted," said Arizona GOP spokesman Tim Sifert. "We take every election seriously and we know every election is going to be different but we are pretty confident."

When asked about Trump’s chances in Arizona, Sifert said: "I would characterize it as cautiously optimistic."

"He is an unconventional candidate, so as a political scientist it can be frustrating to try to rely on your traditional measurement tools because Donald Trump is such an untraditional and unconventional candidate," Sifert said.

"He has been very disruptive and we think that is a positive thing, and we think that the think the voters think that is a positive thing in Arizona."

Serafin Gomez is a White House Producer for FOX News Channel, who also covered the 2016 election as a Special Events & Politics producer and former special campaign correspondent for Fox News Latino. Fin formerly worked as the Miami Bureau Producer for Fox News Channel where he covered Florida Politics & Latin America. Follow him on Twitter: @Finnygo