By Tim Reid
PHOENIX (Reuters) – Mark Clarcq is an independent voter in the presidential battleground state of Arizona. In 2016 he cast his ballot for Donald Trump, but as the former Republican president appeared at a Georgia jail on Thursday on criminal charges of trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Clarcq said he will never support him again.
“He’s delusional. He’s still saying the 2020 election was fraudulent. In Georgia, he was definitely trying to gain votes he didn’t have. That’s an illegal process. Absolutely I support the Georgia indictment. The justice system should play out and I don’t think he should be pardoned,” Clarcq, 77, said in a shopping mall in northern Phoenix.
As Trump was arrested yet again on Thursday following his fourth indictment this year – and the second related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden – his support among Republican voters has been surging.
But more troubling in the long term for Trump, who is the front-runner by a wide margin in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is the reaction among independents like Clarcq to his legal troubles.
Arizona is one of six presidential swing states that will have a large say in who wins next November’s election, and which Biden narrowly won by just over 10,000 votes in 2020.
Independents are now the biggest voting bloc in the state, outnumbering Republicans and Democrats, according to new voter registration data released last month by the Arizona Secretary of State.
In Reuters interviews with 15 independents in Arizona about Trump’s arrest in Georgia on Thursday, only one said they would likely support Trump next November. The rest, like Clarcq, were repulsed by Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and what they see as his role in instigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.
“I’m glad he’s been indicted,” said Susan Aitken, 71, a registered independent who voted for Trump in 2016. Aitken said she supports the Georgia charges.
“He was already talking about overturning the election even before he lost. Anybody else would be in jail by now.”
A Trump spokesman did not comment on what he described as a small, unscientific sample of independent voters.
In a July Reuters/Ipsos poll, 37% of independents nationally said the criminal cases against Trump made them less likely to vote for him for president, compared to 8% who said they were more likely to do so.
Trump faces 13 felony counts including racketeering, which is typically used to target organized crime, for pressuring state officials in Georgia to reverse his election loss and setting up an illegitimate slate of electors to undermine the formal congressional certification of Biden’s victory.
Trump also faces New York state charges over an alleged hush money payment to a porn star, and two sets of federal charges – one case in Washington involving election interference and one in Miami involving classified documents he retained after leaving office in 2021.
He faces 91 criminal counts in total.
Thom Reilly, a political professor at Arizona State University who has authored studies on independent voters, said recent elections in Arizona and in other battleground states show that independents have been the key swing votes in close elections.
“The winning party in the last four election cycles carried political independents,” Reilly said. In Arizona in 2020 – which Biden won by less than a percentage point – Biden carried independents by 9% over Trump, showing how crucial they were to Biden’s victory in the state, Reilly said.
Independents have yet to make up their mind about which 2024 candidate they prefer with one in five preferring Biden, the same number preferring Trump and the majority undecided in the July Reuters/Ipsos poll.
Strategists said that while the latest indictment will help Trump solidify support within his base and win the Republican nomination, his ability to capitalize on his legal troubles will be more limited in next year’s general election, when he will have to win over more skeptical moderate Republicans and independents.
Stu Rothenberg, a non-partisan political analyst, said Trump is in danger of losing enough independents and moderates to lose next year’s election, in part because of the indictments.
“Close elections are won at the margins,” Rothenberg said.
But some independents are still supporting the brash former reality TV showman, who asserts without evidence he is a victim of a judicial system biased against Republicans.
“I would vote for Trump, even though he’s been indicted,” said Dan Gilbank, 60. “This indictment is a political hit job.”
(Reporting by Tim Reid in Phoenix, Editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell)