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Trump's presidential race is story of the year in Arizona

See the top 10 stories in Arizona in 2016
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Posted at 7:05 PM, Dec 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-26 21:11:05-05
PHOENIX (AP) - The presidential campaign of Donald Trump dominated the national political landscape this year as the celebrity businessman rode a wave of dissatisfaction with the political establishment to the White House. It also was hard to miss his candidacy in Arizona.
 
Trump made seven visits to the state during his campaign, and Arizona became a crucible for hard-line immigration policies as he tapped into conservative frustrations over border issues.
 
He made a major policy speech on immigration here in September and repeatedly vowed to build a border wall. His rallies attracted boisterous crowds and demonstrations.
 
In November, he scored a decisive victory over Hillary Clinton despite the Democrat pouring millions of dollars into the state in an attempt to turn it blue for the first time in a presidential race in 20 years.
 
The campaign was the biggest news story in Arizona this year. Trump was the focus, but the fact that Democrats sought to make Arizona a battleground again raised the state's profile in ways it has not experienced in recent election cycles.
 
Here are the other top stories of 2016:
 
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LONG LINES
 
An ominous sign surfaced in the early hours of the March presidential primary: Lines at Phoenix polling places were forming and showing no signs of letting up. By the end of the day, people were still waiting and Arizona was in the national spotlight over its voting problems. In some locations, voters waited more than five hours - past midnight - to cast a ballot. They emerged because Maricopa County had decided to slash the number of primary polling places from about 200 in 2012 to 60 this year, mistakenly assuming more people would vote by mail. The fiasco cost the county recorder her job and led to lawsuits.
 
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SERIAL SHOOTER
 
Police dubbed him the "Serial Street Shooter." A gunman killed seven people and wounded two in nine drive-by attacks in Phoenix from March to July. Most took place at night as the victim was standing or sitting in a car outside a home. The shootings sent shockwaves through two mostly Hispanic, working-class areas where they occurred, and police have yet to make an arrest as tips have dwindled in recent months.
 
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JOE ARPAIO
 
The longtime Maricopa County sheriff had a tough year. He was voted out of office in November, losing to Democrat Paul Penzone amid lingering frustration over his legal issues and costs. He also was charged with criminal contempt of court over his defiance of a judge's orders in a racial profiling case. A trial is set for next year. But the 84-year-old known for his immigration crackdowns and tough jail policies did find a new spot on the national stage in 2016 as he campaigned for Trump.
 
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HEALTH CARE
 
Arizona became a focal point in the heated debate over President Barack Obama's health care law. Rates skyrocketed on the insurance exchanges, and insurers pulled out of Arizona. At one point, Pinal County was on the verge of being the only place in the nation without an exchange before Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona decided to maintain its presence. Gov. Doug Ducey also changed the way the state handles another element of the Affordable Care Act - expanded eligibility for Medicaid. His office worked with the Obama administration this year to charge some Medicaid recipients copays and premiums.
 
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FORMER SUSPECT IN FREEWAY SHOOTINGS
 
Leslie Merritt Jr. spent seven months in jail after being charged in the string of freeway shootings that rattled Phoenix last year. In April, he walked free after a judge threw out the case. Defense lawyers say prosecutors and investigators botched the case and that the evidence proves Merritt didn't do it. They are suing over how the investigation was handled.
 
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SCHOOL FUNDING
 
Education spending has become a priority again after years of cuts that started during the recession and left schools short on cash. Ducey championed an effort to tap in to the state land trust to fund more than half of the $3.5 billion in new school spending over 10 years. Proposition 123 narrowly passed during a May special election, but it did not eliminate the shortfalls. Education spending is expected to be a key issue during the 2017 legislative session.
 
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POLYGAMOUS TOWNS TRIAL
 
The twin polygamous towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, have long been a target of law enforcement. This year, the federal government carried out one of its most aggressive efforts against the community. After a seven-week trial in Phoenix, a jury found that the towns violated the constitutional rights of nonbelievers by denying them basic services such as police protection, building permits and water hookups. The future of the towns is now in the hands of a judge, who will decide whether their police force should be disbanded, among other remedies.
 
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IMMIGRATION
 
The U.S.-Mexico border and the condition of immigrants remained a major story. The state began to see a spike in immigrants from Central America and Haiti crossing from Mexico, and activists went to court to challenge the conditions of migrants in an Eloy detention center and in Border Patrol holding cells.
 
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TERRORISM TRIAL
 
The federal courthouse in Phoenix became a notable front in the effort to bring Islamic State followers to justice in the U.S. Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem was convicted of helping plan a 2015 attack at a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas in which two associates were killed after they showed up at the event with semiautomatic rifles, bulletproof vests and an Islamic State flag. He was the second person to be convicted in the U.S. on charges related to Islamic State group.
 
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MINIMUM WAGE
 
Voters overwhelmingly approved a statewide ballot measure raising the hourly minimum wage to $10 on Jan. 1 and eventually up to $12 in 2020. A measure in Flagstaff gradually raises the base wage in the city to $15 an hour. But the wage increases are not a done deal. Business groups went to court to try to get the statewide ballot measure overturned, despite it being approved by 58 percent of voters.