"Deeply troubling": Trump-backed GOP conspiracists just moved closer to control of Arizona elections

Election deniers who have threatened to reject election results they don't like poised to sweep state's primaries

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published August 3, 2022 9:27AM (EDT)

Republican candidate for Arizona Governor Kari Lake holds up a sledgehammer as she speaks to supporters that are waiting around as ballots continue to be counted during her primary election night gathering at the Double Tree Hotel on August 03, 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican candidate for Arizona Governor Kari Lake holds up a sledgehammer as she speaks to supporters that are waiting around as ballots continue to be counted during her primary election night gathering at the Double Tree Hotel on August 03, 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Republican election conspiracists endorsed by former President Donald Trump appear likely to sweep the Arizona Republican primaries, putting them closer to positions that would allow them to oversee the state's elections.

Former news anchor Kari Lake, who was endorsed by Trump after saying it was "disqualifying" for Republicans to reject "stolen" election claims, on Tuesday declared premature victory over Karrin Taylor Robson, an ally of Trump foe Gov. Doug Ducey. The race is still too close to call but Lake leads Robson by about 12,000 votes with 80% of the votes counted. The winner will face Democratic nominee Katie Hobbs, the current secretary of state, in a race that could determine whether the next election is actually certified by the state. Ducey famously drew Trump's ire after refusing to help his effort to somehow reverse his election loss.

Lake said at a debate last month that she would not have certified President Joe Biden's win in 2020, falsely claiming that "he lost the election and he shouldn't be in the White House."

State Rep. Mark Finchem, one of the loudest election conspiracists who attended Trump's Jan. 6 rally and sponsored bills to "decertify" 2020 election results over debunked fraud claims, easily won the nomination for secretary of state in a split four-way race. Finchem is a longtime member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right group whose members have been charged with sedition conspiracy related to the Capitol riot, and he participated in the Trump campaign's "fake elector" scheme, which other GOP officials described as "treasonous," and has since come under scrutiny by the federal and state prosecutors.

"He's communicated the fact he will not certify an election that Donald Trump does not win," Adrian Fontes, who leads a too-close-to-call race for the Democratic nomination, told HuffPost. "He has no integrity. He has no honor. He has no intention of executing the office, under the oath that he will falsely swear to. So there's really no question in my mind. He just won't do the job."

Other Trump-backed conspiracists also won up and down the Arizona GOP ballot on Tuesday.

Blake Masters, whose bid was heavily boosted by Trump's endorsement and about $15 million from his mentor Peter Thiel, won the GOP Senate nomination. Masters, who echoed Trump's false claims about the election, also made a number of controversial comments on the campaign trail, calling to privatize Social Security, blaming gun violence on Black people, and declaring support for a national abortion and contraception ban. He has echoed the baseless "great replacement" conspiracy theory, claiming that Democrats are trying to "replace Americans who were born here." Masters will face Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., in November.

Former Maricopa County prosecutor Abraham Hamadeh, a Trump-backed election denier, appears to be headed for a win over attorney Rodney Glassman, another pro-Trump election denier, in the GOP attorney general race. Former state Sen. David Farnsworth, who was endorsed by Trump, easily defeated Arizona State House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who was labeled a "RINO coward" by the former president after he testified publicly in the House Jan. 6 hearings.

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The statewide candidates would gain significant influence over the state's elections if they win in November, as will election deniers in local county offices, some of whom have already sought to influence elections by refusing to certify primary results or refusing to count certain votes.

Finchem, who could be the state's next election chief, is one of a growing number of election deniers to win the GOP nomination. Election deniers have also won secretary of state primaries in Alabama, Indiana, Nevada and New Mexico and the Michigan GOP nominated election denier Kristina Karamo earlier this year.

Lake would also join a growing number of Republican election conspiracists to win the gubernatorial nomination, along with Pennsylvania's Doug Mastriano, Maryland's Dan Cox, and Michigan's Tudor Dixon.

Tammy Patrick, a former Arizona election official who is now a senior adviser at Democracy Fund, called the trend of election deniers winning primaries "deeply troubling."

"We can debate policy issues, like what's the right timeline for voter registration or proper security protocols," she told NPR. "But I never thought we would be talking about individuals governing our election system … who felt that they should put their fingers on the scale."

While Republican officials like Ducey and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger pushed back on Trump's attempts to steal the 2020 election, every win by an election denier moves the country closer to potential chaos in 2024.

"If somebody else had been in that position and had been willing to go along with that, we might have seen a different outcome," Joanna Lydgate, the CEO of the nonpartisan States United Action, told NPR. "The truth is that a single election denier in a single state could throw our elections into chaos, could put our democracy at risk."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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2022 Elections Aggregate Blake Masters Donald Trump Kari Lake Mark Finchem Politics