Of the roughly three dozen states that held primaries this year, Arizona is where Donald Trump’s 2020 conspiracy theories seem to have won the most markets.
This week, Arizona Republicans fielded candidates up and down the ballot who focused their campaigns on fueling baseless conspiracy theories for 2020, when Democrats won the state’s presidential election for the second time since the 1940s.
Joe Biden defeated Trump in Arizona by less than 11,000 votes — a slim margin that has sparked endless efforts to audit and overturn the results, despite election officials’ repeated and emphatic insistence that minimal fraud was committed.
Joining them is Blake Masters, a hard-nosed businessman running to unseat Sen. Mark Kelly, the soft-spoken former astronaut who entered politics after his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, was seriously wounded by a gunman in 2011.
There’s also Abraham Hamadeh, the Republican nominee for attorney general, along with several candidates for the state legislature who are certain to win their races. They are pretty much election deniers all the way down.
Another notable primary result this week: Rusty Bowers, the former speaker of the Arizona House who offered emotional testimony to Congress in June about the pressure he faced to overturn the election, was easily defeated in his bid for a seat in the Senate.
To make sense of it all, I spoke with Jennifer Medina, a California-based political reporter for The New York Times who covers Arizona and has deep experience in many of the policy issues driving the state’s elections. Our discussion, lightly edited for length and clarity, is below.
You’ve been reporting on Arizona for years. Why are many democracy watchers so concerned about the results of the primaries there?
It’s pretty simple: If these candidates win in November, they’ve promised to do things like ban the use of electronic voting machines and get rid of the state’s wildly popular and entrenched vote-by-mail system.
It is also easy to imagine a similar scenario with the 2020 presidential election but with very different results. Both Lake and Finchem have repeatedly said they would not have certified a Biden victory.
Some might say this is all just partisan politics or posturing — that Finchem, Lake and Masters just said what they think they had to say to win the primary. What does your report show? Is their denial of the election just loose talk, or are there signs that they really believe what they’re saying?
There’s no reason to believe that these candidates won’t at least try to implement the kinds of plans they’ve promoted.
They will no doubt face legal challenges from Democrats and nonpartisan watchdog groups.
But it’s worth remembering that despite losing battle after battle in the courts over the past two years, these Republicans are still pushing the same election-denying theories. And they have fed those false beliefs to huge numbers of voters, which helped bolster their victories on Tuesday.
We saw evidence of that this week with the wave of Republicans going to the polls in person on Election Day instead of voting by mail, as they’ve done for years, after repeatedly hearing baseless claims that mail-in ballots are rife with fraud. This was especially true for lake supporters.
There is no way to know what these candidates really believe in their hearts, but they have left no room for doubt as to their intentions.
How do you feel about whether these Republicans are capable of swinging to the center for the general election? And what might happen if they did?
We haven’t seen much, if any, evidence that these candidates have plans to switch to the center, other than minor tweaks to some of the language in the Masters TV ads.
They’ve spent months denouncing people in the party they see as RINOs (“Republicans in Name Only,” in case you’ve forgotten). In Arizona, that list includes Gov. Doug Ducey, who refused to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election as Trump demanded, and the now-deceased Sen. John McCain, who angered many conservatives and Trump supporters by voting against repealing the Affordable Care Act. .
So even if these candidates do try to swing to the center, expect their Democratic opponents to point to these statements and other past comments to paint them as extremists on the right.
I wonder how much Republicans will continue to focus on the 2020 election in the final stretch of this year’s campaign. More moderate Republican officials and strategists I spoke to in Arizona have repeatedly said they worry that doing so will weaken the party’s chances in the state, where independent voters make up about a third of the electorate.
Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state who won the Democratic nomination for governor, and Sen. Mark Kelly, the Democrat who will be up for re-election in the fall, talk a lot about denying the election or Jan. 6 when they’re out with voters ?
Hobbs became widely known in the days after the 2020 election when she appeared on national television at all hours of the day and night assuring voters that all ballots would be counted fairly and accurately, no matter how long it took. So it is no exaggeration to say that her own fate is deeply linked to the rise of electoral denial.
But while her closest supporters have promoted Hobbs as a guardian of democracy — and she has benefited from it in her fundraising — she is not a central element of her day-to-day campaigning. Many Democratic strategists in the state say they think he would be better off focusing on issues like the economy, health care and abortion.
And that line of thinking is even more true in the Kelly camp, where many believe the incumbent senator is best served by focusing on his image as an independent willing to take down other members of his own party.
In March, for example, Kelly referred to the surge in asylum seekers crossing the border as a “crisis,” language that Biden resisted. Kelly has also supported a portion of a border wall, a position most Democrats strongly oppose.
As a political issue, how does election denial play with voters versus, say, jobs or the price of gas and groceries?
We don’t know the answer yet, but whether voters see the 2020 candidate rejections as foreclosures is one of the most important and interesting questions this fall.
I’ve talked to dozens of people in Arizona over the past few months — Democrats, Republicans and independents — and few are single-issue voters. They’re all worried about things like jobs and gas prices and inflation and abortion, but they’re also very worried about democracy and what many Republicans refer to as “electoral integrity.” But their understanding of what these terms mean is very different depending on their political perspective.
Is there some aspect of the appeal of these candidates that people outside of Arizona might be missing?
Each of the winning Republican candidates we’ve discussed has also focused on cracking down on immigration and militarizing the border, which could prove popular in Arizona. It is a border state with a long history of anti-immigration policies.
Two demographic groups are widely credited with helping swing the state to Democrats in the last two elections: white suburban women and young Latinos. As the state has grown more purple, the Republican Party has moved further to the right. Now, whether these voters turn out in force for the party this year will help determine the future of many elections to come.
What to read this weekend about democracy
postcard from DALLAS
Seven hours at CPAC
Is there such a thing as a heat index in Texas? Outside the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, the temperature was 105 degrees Thursday.
But inside the cavernous hotel, the air conditioning was on full blast as Mike Lindell, the election-denying pillow tycoon who has branched out into coffee and slippers, moved through the media line at a Conservative Political Action Conference rally . He was approached by a swarm of Republicans, looking for selfies and handshakes as they applauded his efforts and spending to swing the 2020 presidential election.
Past the conservative media booths, each one looking like a Fox News set, I wandered into a marketplace of “Make America Pro-Life Again” merchandise. My N95 mask made me stand out, but every person I asked to interview obliged.
There was Jeffrey Lord, who was fired from CNN in 2017 for invoking — mockingly, he said at the time — a Nazi slogan in a convoluted exchange on Twitter. He told me he had just attended a private gathering with Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister who is admired by many American conservatives. Orbán is misunderstood, Lord told me, noting that Ronald Reagan was once accused of being a warmonger. I asked if conservatives like Lord would put Orban in a similar category to Reagan.
“As far as freedom, and all that, I do,” he said. “It’s an issue with President Trump.”
In the media area inside the hotel’s main ballroom, right-wing news outlets had pendant status. A prime front row seat was reserved for One America News, the pro-Trump network. Two seats to my right, a woman with media credentials was eating pulled pork out of a Ziploc bag.
Seven hours later, I walked out of the hotel, putting down my N95, which left an imprint on my face. It was only 99 degrees.
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you next week.
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