RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For more on Arpaio's chances and what the high number of departing members of Congress could mean for the Republican Party, NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro joins us now.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: All right, so Joe Arpaio served in public office for many years as sheriff, a very well-known quantity in Arizona - although not without controversy, obviously. Do we have any sense yet of what kind of shot he's got at this?
MONTANARO: Well, look, he's got high name identification in the state, means a lot of people know who he is. And that gives anybody something of a head start. Remember, this is a Republican primary. No single issue has fired up or galvanized the Republican base like immigration. And Arpaio's entrance is just going to make that issue, that hard-line talk be something that dominates. You know, just see President Trump's win for evidence of how immigration plays in a Republican primary.
On the other hand, establishment Republicans, ironically, are kind of smirking about this because they think his entry into the race could ironically help the establishment's preferred candidate because Arpaio could split the vote with another conservative in the race, Kelli Ward. And tomorrow, we're expecting Congresswoman Martha McSally, who would be the establishment's preferred candidate, to announce that she's getting in the race. A local poll out yesterday in Arizona confirms this because it's got McSally up 31-29 over Arpaio, with Ward at 25. So pretty even and could give McSally a path.
MARTIN: How much does that matter to the party?
MONTANARO: It matters, you know, what the outcome is and also what the process is in this race. You know, the National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner, the senator from Colorado, yesterday declined to say whether or not the NRSC would back Arpaio if he wins the primary. In other words, they could back him if he were in a general election - different than their stance on Roy Moore.
MONTANARO: The thing is, in Arizona, it's almost a third Latino. And across the country - you know, the country is becoming browner. And Republicans have had a very difficult time appealing to Latinos. And Arpaio's entry can only exacerbate that.
MARTIN: So we mentioned Jeff Flake, who's not running for re-election in Arizona. He's one of 31 Republicans choosing not to run again. Is that a big number?
MONTANARO: Well, the 31 Republicans in Congress is a big number because it's bigger than in any midterm for any party since 1994. And that was a huge Republican takeover year from Democrats. Now, if I were to tell you that that would be the number this early in the cycle, that might indicate a wave. And it certainly might indicate a wave, but some of the fundamentals are still on Republicans' side when it comes to how these districts are drawn, which races are up. They still do favor Republicans. And let's remember - more globally here, the economy is doing very well, and the United States is not in any kind of a hot war that is going as badly as the Iraq War did in 2006, when Democrats took over.
MARTIN: So where does this leave Democrats in 2018?
MONTANARO: Well, they certainly feel good. You know, this is coming on the heels of a couple of wins in Virginia and in Alabama. They certainly feel like they've got momentum and a couple things to hang their hat on at this point.
MARTIN: All right, Domenico Montanaro, NPR's lead political editor this morning for us. Thanks so much, Domenico.
MONTANARO: It's going to be fun. You're welcome.
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