Mark Trahant: Donald Trump brings good news to Native candidates

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) has endorsed Democrat Victoria Steele, who is Seneca, for Arizona's 2nd Congressional District. Photo from Grijalva for Congress / Facebook

#NativeVote16 – Donald Trump is good news, or really good news, for Native Democrats
By Mark Trahant
Trahant Reports

Let’s start with an understatement: Donald Trump is not the usual Republican Party nominee for president. There is no script for the months ahead; Trump is as much a reality show as a legitimate politician. His rallies are chaotic. His issues are all over the map in terms of ideology. And he strikes fear into many Republicans running for other offices because of his rhetoric, especially about Mexicans, Muslims and women.

Nowhere does this craziness surface more than in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District.

Victoria Steele is no longer running against incumbent Martha McSally. Now she’s running against the Trump/McSally agenda. (Previous: Six Native Candidates can Win to Flip Congress. And: How little dollars could turn the world of politics upside down.)

A recent Steele campaign email put it this way:
“It was an easy question for Martha McSally. Do you or do you not support Donald Trump? After ducking the question for weeks, her team finally responded … but with the ‘Washington two-step’

Martha McSally’s spokesman said this: “We’re in the middle of a nomination process, and Martha is interested in seeing that process play out. Right now she is focused on doing the best job she can to represent the people of Southern Arizona and make sure their voices are heard.”

I did not see anything in there about if she supports Donald Trump, do you?”

Now that GOP primary process is over and Trump is the presumptive nominee? McSally’s web site makes no mention of Trump. Nor is she speaking out about Trump (as few other Republicans have done).

“It feels like such good news,” Steele told me last week. “It’s either bad for Martha McSally or really bad. She’s been given many opportunities to speak out and renounce his horrible statements, what he has said about women, Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims. Her silence speaks volumes.” Steele says it’s one thing for McSally to not endorse Trump, but she is campaigning as a “moderate” and that’s why she should call out Trump on his hateful statements.

Trump could be a significant problem in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. There are some 528,000 eligible voters in the district and of that number, more than 113,00 are Latino. That’s about 1 out of five voters. And that number could grow. Significantly. According to Pew Research Hispanic Trends report, nearly 58 percent of the Latino electorate is eligible to vote. There is data to suggest that already more Latinos are registering to vote because of the fear of a Donald Trump presidency.

But the extraordinary thing about Trump is that he could also inspire other voters to register and turn out. Against him, that is. Trump has a range of controversial statements from his call to ban all immigration by Muslims to how he describes women.

One recent Gallup poll shows that seven-out-ten women have an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

So Steele is not the only Native American candidate who could benefit from Trump as the Republican Party’s standard-bearer.

Joe Pakootas, the former chairman of the Colville Tribes, is running for the House of Representatives in Washington’s 5th district. Photo from Facebook

Other Native American candidates impacted by Trump
Joe Pakootas in Washington state is running in the 5th district against Cathy McMorris Rodgers. McMorris Rodgers has a position similar to House Speaker Paul Ryan, saying she’s not ready to endorse the presumptive nominee. She told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that she would like to question Trump about some of the statements he has made about women in the past. (Spreadsheet, fusion table: Eight Native Americans running for Congress.)

Washington’s 5th district is about 6.2 percent Latino. But that is an underrepresented group because only about 4.1 percent are registered to vote. So a registration push could bring new voters into the process.

The numbers are interesting for the Native American candidates running as Republicans. In Oklahoma, Incumbent Representatives Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin are running in districts that are increasingly Latino. Cole’s district now shows 6 percent Latino voters and 9 percent of the district’s population. Cole told The Daily Oklahoman last year that Trump’s problem is “he has is he has very high negative ratings, both among Republicans and more importantly among the general electorate as a whole.”

And Arizona’s 1st Congressional District has almost as many Latino voters as Native American voters, 17 percent to 22 percent. (Previous: Big money targets Arizona’s first congressional.) And that’s likely to be an added factor in the November election. Bad news for any Republican, including Shawn Redd or Carlyle Begay. Neither Redd nor Begay have any references to Trump on their web sites.

It will be interesting to see if, and how, the Native American candidates running as Republicans defend or even champion Donald Trump.

Back to the Arizona 2nd District.

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate to Donald Trump. Photo from Facebook

If Trump at the ticket is not good news enough for Victoria Steele, several publications have reported that McSally could be on Trump’s list for potential running mates. The Fiscal Times makes that case: “Arizona Representative Martha McSally is not only a woman but a retired Air Force colonel who flew combat missions, a triathlete and a member of the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees. She could help bolster a Trump ticket’s bona fides on national security and the fight against ISIS.”

Remember the idea of Trump being bad news for McSally or really bad news?

McSally as a potential vice presidential candidate is either good news or really good news for Steele. It’s good news for her opponent to be so closely linked to Trump even is she’s not picked. And if McSally is the choice? Then Victoria Steele has only the Democratic primary to worry about in order to win a seat in Congress.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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