The GOP’s embrace of Donald Trump’s campaign lies will be tested Tuesday as voters in Arizona choose between candidates they say would not have certified the 2020 campaign results and those who say it’s time to move on.
The former president has endorsed and campaigned for a number of candidates who support his lies, most notably former television news anchor Kari Lake in the governor’s race. Lake, who says she would have refused to certify President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Arizona, faces Karrin Taylor Robson, a lawyer and businesswoman who says the GOP needs to focus on the future despite what she called an “unfair” election. .
And in the race to oversee the election as secretary of state, Trump is also supporting a state lawmaker who was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and claims the former president was cheated out of victory.
As the midterm primary season enters its final stretch this month, Arizona’s races are poised to provide important clues about the direction of the GOP. Victories by Trump-backed candidates could give the former president allies who dominate the election administration as he considers another bid for the White House in 2024. The losses, however, may signal an opening in the party to a different way forward.
“I think the majority of people, and a lot of people who are Trump supporters, want to move on,” said former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who supports Robson. “I mean, it was two years ago. Let’s go. Let’s move.”
Other closely watched races on Tuesday include the Republican contests for Michigan governor and Missouri senator. Kansas voters will be the first to weigh in on abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court revoked a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. And two Republican members of the House from Washington state who voted to impeach Trump face primary challengers.
But the contests are especially visible in Arizona, a longtime Republican stronghold that has become more favorable to Democrats in recent years due to explosive development in and around Phoenix. The primaries and the fall election will provide insight into whether Biden’s success here in 2020 was a one-time event or the start of a long-term departure from the Democratic Party.
With such high stakes, Arizona has been central to efforts by Trump and his allies to challenge Biden’s victory with false allegations of fraud.
Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence the election was tainted. The former president’s claims of fraud have also been roundly rejected by courts, including judges appointed by Trump. A manual count led by Trump supporters in Arizona’s largest county found no evidence of a stolen election and concluded that Biden’s margin of victory was greater than the official tally.
Although Trump remains the most popular figure within the GOP, his efforts to influence the primaries this year have yielded mixed results. His preferred candidates in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania prevailed in their primaries.
But in Georgia, another state central to Trump’s election lies, his chosen gubernatorial candidate was defeated by more than 50 percentage points. Georgia’s Republican secretary of state also ran for renomination against a Trump-backed primary challenger.
The former president hopes he will be more successful in Arizona, where the current governor, Doug Ducey, cannot run for re-election. That could give Trump a better chance than in Georgia to influence the winner.
Lake is well-known across much of the state, having bought the evening news in Phoenix for more than two decades. Now he is campaigning as a fierce critic of the mainstream media, which he says is unfair to Republicans, and other enemies of Trump’s Make America Great Again Movement, including the McCain family.
A supporter of Trump’s election with lies, Lake says her campaign is “already detecting some theft” in her own race, but has repeatedly refused to provide any evidence for the claim.
Robson, whose homebuilder husband is one of the state’s richest men, is largely self-funding her campaign. The GOP establishment, increasingly comfortable distancing itself from Trump, has rallied around him in the past month with a series of endorsements from Ducey, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence .
The surge in establishment support for Robson has drawn national scrutiny in a race over what he says to the GOP base ahead of crucial presidential primaries in two years.
“Everybody wants to try to make this a kind of proxy for 2024,” said Christie, who ran for president in 2016. “Trust me, I’ve been through enough of this to know that 2024 is going to be decided by the people who they’re going to step up to the plate and ’24 and how they’re performing or not performing at that time.’
Robson is running a largely old-school Republican campaign focused on cutting taxes and regulations, securing the border and promoting school choice.
On the Democratic side, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is the frontrunner against Marco Lopez, a former Nogales mayor and border enforcement official during President Barack Obama’s administration.
As Arizona’s top election official, Hobbs has endeared herself to Democrats with a passionate defense of the integrity of the 2020 election, a stance that has drawn death threats. But it is weighed down by a discrimination case won by a black policy consultant from Hobbs’s time in the Legislature.
In the Senate race, Trump is backing Blake Masters, a 35-year-old first-time candidate who has spent most of his career working for billionaire Peter Thiel, who is financing his campaign. Masters emphasizes the cultural grievances that animate the right, including critical race theory and claims of heavy technology censorship.
Until Trump’s endorsement, the race had no clear front-runner between Masters, businessman Jim Lamon and Attorney General Mark Brnovich, all of whom sought his endorsement.
Lamon says Trump made a mistake endorsing Masters and is digging into his own fortune to highlight Masters’ ties to tech companies and his writings as a college student advocating open borders. Lamon signed a certificate falsely stating that Trump had won Arizona in 2020 and that he was one of the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors.
Trump traveled to Brnovich and may have torpedoed his campaign when the attorney general’s election fraud investigation failed to lead to criminal charges against election officials.
The eventual winner of the primary will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in the fall.
The Republican race for secretary of state includes Mark Finchem, a Trump-backed candidate who was on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, and Shawnna Bolick, a state lawmaker who has pushed for legislation that would allow the Legislature to override the will of voters and decide which candidate receives the state’s 11 electoral votes for president. The GOP establishment has rallied around advertising executive Beau Lane, who says there have been no widespread problems with the 2020 election.
Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who testified before a House committee Jan. 6 about Trump’s post-2020 lobbying campaign, faces a Trump-backed challenger in his bid for the Senate.