Covering CD2 reveals America’s protest vote in Southern Arizona

Tucson felt like a righteous metropolis tonight as I honked my way through downtown, winding along Congress Street and Fourth Avenue. That’s what happens when you spend half the day in Sierra Vista. I’m covering Arizona’s Second Congressional District midterm election, so I felt it important to touch base with the Cochise County Republicans. Putting a face to the name helps in more situations than not. Plus I needed to get out of town—for perspective.

Just before three, I took Speedway Boulevard west to Interstate 10 East, and at Benson it was Arizona State Route 90 South for about 30 miles.

It’s a breathtaking drive. Twenty-three mph gusts toyed with my car. You could see 225 miles in each direction. I never imagined a barren landscape would enchant my soul. I cut through the desert, mainly flanked by pickup trucks. Plenty of beards and firepower here, I thought, while passing an oversized gun depot. These are good people. As a New Yorker, most of the country holds a surreal temperament and appears spacious, obtuse or oddly foreign. But we’re all our own pathetic stereotype, which provides an invaluable source of comedic relief.

My unexpected arrival at the office interrupted Bible study. I was overdressed, which is fairly normal. Vera Hylsky, of at the Cochise County Republican Party, introduced herself and asked if she could help. We chatted for a few minutes, as I explained my motivation for dropping by.

Maybe I should have called ahead, I thought. I’m glad I didn’t.

I was looking for a volunteer who I spoke with three days earlier. She was out of the office. But I was offered her contact information and immediately rang her. No answer on either line. So I made myself comfortable and looked around the 30-foot square room.

Running counterclockwise from the front door, the walls are littered with information about Republican politicians and candidates. First it was Trump/Pence, next was Rep. Martha McSally and as you moved through the space the candidates’ stature decreased in national importance. Hylsky explained she organized it this way for simplicity.

At half passed four, the study group was wrapping up their conversation and birthday celebration—one of the five retirees was turning 90. I overheard them discussing the controversy surrounding Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Another topic at hand was the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The details surrounding the latter were murky. I didn’t bother to ask, especially after Hylsky told her cohort I’m a reporter. As they left, we shared pleasantries and I was wished the best of luck with my article.

Is there a liberal bias in the media, Hylsky asked, as we got to talking.

The bias is dependent upon what your readership asks of you, I said, which was the easiest way to indirectly agree.

There are more liberal-leaning newspaper though, she clarified. Of course, I replied.  

The real lost art is reporting hard facts, I furthered; everything is editorialized these days.

Hylsky said her son, a former journalism major, has been saying that for years.

This space made me uneasy, not because I disagree with Conservative politics, but this particular brand of rhetoric is foreign. It felt as if I walked into a church run by an unfamiliar denomination. We’re all “People of the Book” if we subscribe to politics—our saviors simply speak a different language.

Have you seen an increase in people registering with the Republican party here in Cochise, I asked.

Absolutely, Hylsky said without thinking twice. During the Presidential race, there was a large influx of Cochise County residents who registered with the GOP, she said; many were Democrats who were switching parties in order to place their protest vote.

Wait, what? Please repeat that, I furthered. Democrats in Cochise County—who account for less than 27 percent of local registered voters—were joining the GOP because they were that averse to Hillary Clinton winning the election, I asked for clarification. Yes, said Hylsky.

It was difficult to process this information in real time. Two things were clear: it took one question and roughly an hour to find out earth-shattering information about rural politics in Arizona. How many communities throughout the U.S. experienced this convulsion against a Clinton presidency, I thought. More important, why aren’t we reading stories like this?

We rapped for a few more minutes, then it was quitting time for Hylsky.

I decided to grab a sandwich from a local chain restaurant before leaving Sierra Vista. I scribbled a few notes, read bits of news and took time to enjoy my meal. The temperature plummeted as the sun set. I circled around town a taste, eventually weaving through Huachuca City. My attorney called while I was en route, insisting I stop at the Dusk Till Dawn Cabaret and ask for Bunny. That joint’s been closed for years, I jeered back at him. It’s a shame you took so long to leave your city, he said.

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