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Here’s why some older Arizona voters are trading Trump for Biden

Yvonne Wingett Sanchez Arizona Republic (CNT) City News And Talk

#phoenix-az | #chandler-az | #tempe-az | #mesa-az

Republican Ann Whitmire is a pretty optimistic person, and though she voted for an independent candidate during the 2016 presidential election, she rooted for Donald Trump when he became president. 

Even though the 68-year-old mutuel teller was repulsed by his “womanizer issues,” she gave him positive marks on the economy, the creation of new jobs, and his trade deals. 

Then, in April, she contracted COVID-19.

While the president for months downplayed the seriousness of the virus and flouted public health mask recommendations as he traveled around the nation for campaign rallies — eventually Trump tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized  — Whitmire struggled at home in Phoenix to recover from the illness. She missed work and important family milestones. She’s just starting to feel more like herself again.

If Whitmire finds herself adjusting to a new reality, the same can be said for Trump and Republicans. Senior voters like her are breaking from years of loyalty to the Republican Party, polling suggests, giving Democrat Joe Biden even consideration among one of the most critical voting blocs in America.

Part of it owes to Biden and his retro political style. Part of it also is because of Trump’s personal style and political record.

“If his lips are moving, he’s lying,” Whitmire said of Trump. “He’s misleading. He’s lying, he’s leading you down whatever path he wants you to go.”

She’s not yet sure who she will vote for this time around, but she’s certain of one thing: “It will not be Trump.”

In Arizona, second only to Florida for the most retirees, support from seniors is crucial to winning any statewide race.

Many senior voters in Arizona still support Trump. But others said his delayed and inconsistent response to the COVID-19 pandemic has put them directly in harm’s way and has kept them locked away from their friends and family with no clear timeline of when they can safely visit with them again. 

Trump’s contradictory messaging about the path forward on the pandemic has only ratcheted up their anxiety. 

At the same time, many fixed-income seniors worry about the future of Social Security, given Trump’s aim to make permanent cuts to the payroll tax that funds the program. They also worry about rising out-of-pocket costs for many of their prescription drugs. 

Other seniors are watching the impact on their grown children, who are helping to care for their aging parents and at the same time raise their own children. 

“They are watching this economic burden and see that it somehow hurts their kids and grandchildren,” said Mark A. Peterson, a UCLA professor of public policy, political science and law. “The other threat to their grandchildren is the disruption of school, which is just going to have long-term consequences.”

As they crisscross the country to make their cases to voters, Trump and Biden talk directly to seniors about the issues they care most about. Both talk about the financial burden of the prices of prescription medicine, reducing the practice of surprise medical billing and the need to protect insurance coverage for those with existing medical conditions. 

Trump sizes up his early actions to protect Americans from COVID-19 by issuing an executive order blocking entry to the U.S. by some who had been to China and working with state and local governments to distribute medical supplies. He has sought to provide certainty to Americans that a coronavirus vaccine could be available to them “soon,” and “within weeks,” although some experts characterize that as overly optimistic at best.

Biden has called Trump’s handling of the crisis “almost criminal” and has accused Trump of failing to enact a coherent plan for moving forward. 

In outreach efforts to Arizonans, the Biden campaign recently tapped Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., as a surrogate to speak with seniors about the importance of having reliable and affordable health care. Sinema, a moderate Democrat, won her race for the U.S. Senate in 2018 in part because of a message that centered heavily on the issue. 

Seniors were an essential foundation to Trump’s victory in 2016 over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Back then, according to national exit polls, voters aged 65 and older favored Trump over Clinton 52-45. 

Now, various polling suggests older Americans are more divided. 

A new poll released Monday by the New York Times/Siena College survey suggests serious problems for Trump in Arizona. The poll, conducted after the first presidential debate but before news that Trump had contracted the virus, showed Biden leading Trump by 8 percentage points among likely voters in the state, 49 percent to 41 percent.

Among those 65 years and older, the poll found Biden with a 2-percentage-point lead over Trump, 47% to 45%. Eight percent said they supported “other” candidates. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

Another recent poll by AARP Arizona shows Trump losing to Biden among Arizona’s seniors. 

That survey showed Biden leading Trump 49-47 among voters 65 and older in the battleground state. The margin of error for the poll, conducted Aug. 30 through Sept. 8, is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

The poll found strong support for two of the nation’s largest domestic programs — Social Security and Medicare — and that a significant majority of voters from both parties were more likely to vote for a candidate who will protect those programs, lower prescription drug prices and bolster nursing home protections. 

A separate poll by Monmouth University in New Jersey showed a range of outcomes in the presidential race based on different turnout scenarios. Based on a high-turnout model and a poll of only registered voters, Biden led Trump. Under a model assuming lower turnout than in 2016, the race was tied. 

Among voters 65 and older, 52% said they would vote for Biden while 46% said they would vote for Trump. Just 2% of older voters said they were undecided. The September poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

Asked for their views of Trump, 52% of older voters said they viewed the president unfavorably, while 45% viewed him favorably. Four percent had no opinion.

Bob McGinnis sure does.

The Chandler Republican, who served in the U.S. Navy in the 1950s, voted for Trump in 2016. 

He won’t again, citing Trump’s personal integrity and overall performance, including his handling of COVID-19 and “putting down the scientists who were saying what’s really going on.”

Beyond the pandemic, McGinnis was disgusted by the president’s disparagement of veterans, whom he has called “losers” and “suckers,” according to reporting by The Atlantic. 

“I’m looking through Bob Woodward’s book and, you know, all the stuff that has come out, just the whole sum of it and the continuous lying,” said McGinnis, who is in his 80s. “It’s ridiculous. Obnoxious, I guess, is the best term.”

David Wasserman, of the Cook Political Report, said Biden’s performance with older voters represents one of the biggest changes from 2016 so far, which bodes well for the Democratic ticket in Arizona. 

“Keep in mind that when a Republican defects, that’s worth two votes,” he said. “Taking one from the Republican column and putting one in the Biden column. And to the extent Trump has a field operation to identify new voters and try to turn them out, he’s only adding one vote. So it’s tough for Trump to offset that.”

Wasserman said senior voters are driven to Biden in part because they may have a comfort level with Biden that they didn’t have with Clinton. 

“My own theory is that seniors appreciate that Joe Biden comes from another era of politics where giving people hugs and holding and kissing babies was standard practice,” Wasserman said. 

INSULTS FLY: 1st Trump-Biden debate offers little substance for Arizona voters

Dana Kennedy, state director of AARP, said some senior voters are moving away from Trump because of deep anxiety over their health and financial situation. They’re also worried about the solvency of Social Security and Medicare, she said.  

“Seniors have been a really big stronghold for Republicans, and I think you are starting to see some concern regarding their retirement income and also their health care,” Kennedy said. “With COVID and long-term care facilities, we say that this is an important constituency, but are we putting targeted resources there?” she asked. 

Kennedy said seniors have been complaining for some time about the high costs of prescription drugs and worry about out-of-pocket expenses for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Who is going to be eligible for that vaccination when it becomes available,” she said, echoing their questions.

Peg Bohnert, a 73-year-old retiree from Scottsdale, is a registered independent with conservative leanings and gave Trump a chance in 2016. 

She wanted the Bush and Clinton dynasties to come to an end and thought Trump’s political-outsider stature would usher in positive changes. 

“He betrayed that chance,” she said. “I was foolish enough to think he would surround himself with experts and listen to them. Well, he clearly listens to no one.”

She’s watched in dismay over the past seven months as Trump has issued contradictory messages about the threat of COVID-19, which has upended her family.

Her son is teaching high school from his dining room. Her grandson is attending college from his bedroom. 

“It’s also impacting my ability to see them because I’m of an age group that is very, very vulnerable,” she said. “I see them trying to juggle their life accommodating all the changes that we’re in. … It’s a mess.”

At the same time, Bohnert is worried about her pocketbook.

“I cannot make any more money. What I have needs to last me the rest of my life.”