In 2020, the focus of Democrats was on taking control of the Arizona Legislature. They had their eye on 6 districts where Republicans had been slipping over the last several cycles. Republicans were playing defense everywhere.
But there was one district where no one was looking: Arizona’s 4th Legislative District.
Covering the majority of Arizona’s southern border and four counties including a portion of Maricopa, a sliver of Pima, and large parts of Pinal and Yuma, LD4 was one of the state’s larger districts. It was partly suburban and party agricultural, with some data estimates putting the number of Hispanic voters in the district at over 40%.
The district was represented by three Democratic women. Two were longtime representatives of the district and members of the community. But the third was significantly weaker, appointed to the seat and winning one election unopposed. She was not an Arizona native, had almost no legislative accomplishments to her name, and was barely visible in the district. She could be taken out. But the district also had a Democratic registration advantage of almost 15 points. It would have to be the right candidate.
Joel John was a fourth generation Arizonan, small business owner, former public school teacher – and fluent in Spanish. His work in agricultural irrigation took him from one end of the district to the other, so he had frequent contact with communities across the vast district.
When we heard he was interested in running, we knew he had the potential to win the district with the right strategy and ground game.
The first key to this campaign was the candidate’s personal investment of time and hussle. He collected almost all petition signatures personally and then went on to personally knock thousands of doors across the district and place hundreds of phone calls.
Our strategy was to point out that residents of the district didn’t know one of their representatives (“Know your state representatives? Probably not.” was one of our ads) – and therefore she was probably not representing them well. By contrast, we had to make it clear that Joel John would be a different kind of representative. And so he did what he was already doing – be out among the people of his district constantly – and we made sure voters knew about it. He also met them where they were, at their front doors, and in their language. He focused on the issues of concern to the district like education, health care, and the Second Amendment.
Once again, message discipline and authenticity were key. We stayed true to our message and strategy and the candidate stayed true to himself.
In the end, voters saw the difference and a D+15 district elected its first Republican since redistricting.