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Arizona Primary to Test Voting of Expanded Latino Electorate

A day before the presidential election puts all focus on Arizona, eyes will be on the state and whether voters give a longtime senator and controversial sheriff a chance to fight for their seats in the general election or give them the boot.

Both Republican Sen. John McCain and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio are facing contested Republican primaries Tuesday, and both are backers of GOP nominee Donald Trump. Arizona's primaries don't allow for cross over voting for those who have chosen a party, but independents are allowed to vote in either party primary Tuesday.

John McCain: People of Arizona know me 2:43

Latinos in the state are registered heavily as Democrats, so many won't have a say in the McCain, Arpaio primaries.

But Trump's visit to the state is serving as something of a backdrop to the state primary. Memories of the anti-immigrant law the state enacted (parts of which were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court) remain fresh and Trump's labeling of Mexicans as criminals, rapists and people bringing drugs to the has been a rallying cry for some trying to turn out the Latino vote here.

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The Latino electorate has been quickly expanding in Arizona, with 992,000 eligible voters in 2016, about 21.5 percent of the state's eligible voter population. The state has come into play in the presidential election as Hillary Clinton beefed up her ground game here and the race has tightened in the state. The Latino electorate, particularly in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, play a part in that strategy.

According to the latest voter registration numbers released by the state, the GOP has an edge in the state's voter registrations, 34.8 percent to Democrats' 30 percent. But about 34.2 percent have claimed no party.

Image: Jose Barboza, a Promise Arizona volunteer, registers voters in Phoenix
File photo of Jose Barboza, a Promise Arizona volunteer, registering voters in Phoenix. Courtney Columbus / News21

In Tuesday's races, McCain faces former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who ha been making much of the senator's age - he turned 80 Monday - and offering herself as the more conservative of the two. While McCain was one of the architects of the Senate bipartisan immigration proposal, some Latino groups have recently criticized the Republican incumbent for backing Trump despite his anti-immigration rhetoric.

Arpaio is one of four candidates in his race. He has has been an unapologetic campaigner and adviser to Trump. But he's seeking a return to office while embroiled in a continuing fight with the courts and Justice Department. DOJ is considering criminal contempt charges against him that were recommended by a federal judge for ignoring orders to stop practices that led to racial profiling Latinos and for perjury. He has drawn three challengers.

James García, a spokesman for Promise Arizona, which has been registering Latino voters, said groups are seeing Latinos register without party affiliation, although he said those who do still tend to lean Democrat. He said he does expect Trump's repeated visits to the state and the Arpaio race "has Latino voters very interested and certainly has grassroots groups out there going door to door and recruiting Latino and women voters."

"These groups have set a goal to register about 75,000 people by Election Day in November ... that's going to have some impact on the primaries because people are very interested ... but when that comes to fruition is going to be in the general," García said.

The last time voters in the state went to the polls, in the March presidential primary, the number of voting sites had been severely reduced and voters stood in long lines for hours.

More polling places were in place for Tuesday, according to the Arizona Republic.

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