Winning Arizona would be a considerable coup for the Obama campaign, expanding the electoral map in a year when 2008 gains in old Republican strongholds, like Indiana and North Carolina, are gravely teetering.
Also benefitting Democrats is the candidacy of Richard Carmona, a Hispanic doctor, soldier, and former surgeon general under the George W. Bush administration who is running for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl and has the potential to galvanize the Latino vote.
"The importance of the Carmona vote and with the debate over 1070, will Hispanics be more motivated to vote this time?" Merrill said. "I think they will be, but the question is by how much. Will it make a big difference or not?"
Merrill added he still believes the economy is the paramount issue for all voters. "I doubt that it's a game-breaker," he said of SB 1070.
Gary Segura, a political science professor at Stanford University and a principal at the polling firm Latino Decisions, said he doubts the conditions are right for Democrats to win Arizona. But he said SB 1070 could mobilize Hispanics in other neighboring states and nationwide.
"The Latino advocacy organizations see this as Armageddon," Segura said. "Research suggests that Latino mobilization is greatest when they're frightened and SB 1070 conceivably affects every Latino. If the United States loses the case, the effect for Obama is quite strong because "˜the big bad meanies are coming to get you.' "
But the temperature of Arizonans themselves — perhaps the most important indicator — is difficult to gauge when it comes to the law that has become most closely associated with their state. In the wake of its passage, Arizonans gave the GOP an iron-clad grip on the state legislature and elected Republicans to all six statewide offices up for grabs.
At the same time, in 2011, state Sen. Russell Pearce, chief architect of SB 1070, was thrown out of office in a recall election, spurred in part by the backlash against the legislation.
Tellingly, the Arizona Republican Party is focusing not on SB 1070 or any of the other social issues taken up by state legislatures that have ignited heated debates across the country. Rather, Arizona GOP spokesman Shane Wikfors said the party is adjusting its message and advising candidates to focus on the economy.
"It's not an us-versus-them situation," he said. "We are not as a party pushing strong anti-illegal-immigration messaging at this point because the fact of the matter is the Latino/Hispanic vote in Arizona is extremely concerned about what's happening with the economy."