Arizona Republicans are set to nominate two of America’s most prominent Holocaust deniers as governor and secretary of state, the last in a series of primary competitions with serious consequences for American democracy.
Kari Lake, a former news anchor, and Mark Finchem, a state legislator, are running for governor and secretary of state, respectively. Both built their campaigns around the lie that the 2020 election was stolen. Both are at the front of their races and if elected, they would assume roles with considerable power over how elections are organized and certified in a key battleground state.
Tuesday’s Arizona primary is the latest in a series of contests where candidates who challenged election results stand a strong chance of winning the GOP nomination for statewide office. . It’s a deeply alarming trend, say experts, and one that could pave the way for Republicans to reject the result of a future election.
“It’s a dangerous time for elections because you have a few people who rely on people to vote for them but then turn around and say the electoral system is rigged despite the lack of evidence as such. We’re not talking about politics or anything. It’s all about 2020,” said Barrett Marson, a Republican in-state consultant. “This issue has power, much to my chagrin and to many other people.”
Even at a time when denying election results has become Republican orthodoxy, Lake and Finchem stand out.
Lake said she wouldn’t have certified the 2020 presidential race in Arizona, falsely claimed Joe Biden had lost the state (he won by more than 10,000 votes), and called the election. “corrupt” and “rotten”. At a rally earlier this year, she said about ten times within an hour that the election was stolen. She called for the jailing of Arizona’s top election official for his handling of the 2020 race and the jailing of journalists. Lake wants to end mail-in voting, widely used in Arizona, and she and Finchem have both joined a lawsuit, backed by MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell, to end the use of electronic voting hardware. in Arizona.
Mike Pence and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey have both endorsed Karrin Taylor Robson, a wealthy real estate developer, who is Lake’s most important challenger in the polls for the nomination. In recent days, Lake began to suggest there was fraud underfoot to steal the election from him, but offered no evidence to support his claim.
“We are already detecting fraud. I know none of you are shocked,” she said, according to The Washington Post. “We already detect fraud, and believe me, we have cyber people working with us, we have a lot of lawyers. And I hope we have the sheriffs who will do something about it. We’ll keep you posted.” She, however, recently encouraged her followers to vote by email.
Taylor Robson said the 2020 election was unfair, but refrained from saying it was robbed. Lorna Romero, a Republican state agent who worked for former Gov. Jan Brewer and for John McCain, predicted that the winning primary candidate would be the one who could broaden her message the most. About a third of Arizona voters are unaffiliated with a party and can choose to vote in Democratic or Republican nominating contests.
“It’s populism. It’s just pure populism for populism and its desire to be popular,” said Chuck Coughlin, a Republican consultant in the state. “You have a referendum, if you will, in the gubernatorial race, what part of the party you support. The pragmatic conservative and eager to govern – or Trump. You have an important war going on there.
Finchem is the favorite for the position of Secretary of State for nomination, a position from which he would oversee elections in Arizona.
Finchem was a close ally of Trump in the former president’s bid to overturn the 2020 race. Ali Alexander, a leader of the Stop the Steal movement, credited Finchem with pushing the push in Arizona. “Arizona started with one man: State Rep. Mark Finchem,” Alexander said last year.
Earlier this year, Finchem introduces a resolution to decertify the election, which is not legally possible. He signed a joint resolution of the Arizona Legislature asking Congress to accept a fake Arizona voters list (a plan currently under investigation by the Department of Justice). He hosted Rudy Giuliani at a Phoenix hotel after the election for an event in which the president’s attorney lied and said Biden won the election because he received undocumented votes.
Finchem is also a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia, and was at the Capitol on January 6. He was subpoenaed by the committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. He is a member of a network of candidates who don’t believe in the 2020 election results and who are seeking to be the chief election officer in their state.
“Am I surprised that someone who questions the 2020 election wants to run for Secretary of State? No, not really,” Romero said. “His whole point of view is that he wants to take fraud out of the system, and that’s a good talking point for him for those who think the 2020 election was stolen.”
The secretary of state primaries are usually “dormant” contests that few pay attention to, Romero said. That means Trump’s endorsement will likely be a major boost for Finchem in the race. Still, Romero said she was “disappointed” with the focus on a stolen election because Republicans have an important opportunity to appeal to voters on issues like the economy this year.
The Arizona Secretary of State is responsible for soliciting official statewide election results. Coughlin said he had little doubt Finchem would hold certification for a race.
“He wouldn’t fall in line. He would follow Donald Trump’s script of going out of his way to be a troublemaker if the election outcome was anything but what he wanted. I don’t see any boilerplate in Mark Finchem,” he said.
Until 2020, Finchem had little interest in Arizona election laws and was primarily known for representing issues in his rural district in southern Arizona. “His reputation was not excellent. People didn’t like working with him very much,” Marson said. “He was a backbencher, that’s probably the best way to describe him.”
The political power of election denial was on display earlier this month at a rally in Arizona’s rural Prescott Valley, where Donald Trump came for Lake.
Shawn Callaway, 34, a Republican Party committee member in Surprise, a small town near Phoenix, supports both Lake and Finchem. He supports Lake, he said, because of his efforts to end the use of electronic voting equipment.
“It means a lot to me that she’s ready to fight voter fraud because if our elections aren’t secure, we have nothing,” said Callaway, who won front row seats with his wife and his parents to see Trump.
Callaway, who plans to vote in person, also said he was unimpressed with Finchem’s connection to the extremist Oath Keepers. “The Founding Fathers wanted us to have militias – that’s what keeps us free. As long as they follow the law, that’s fine with me,” he said.
Kelly Ciccone, 58, who moved to Maricopa County from Florida a decade ago, also said she plans to support Finchem and Lake. “It’s a plus that he’s an oath keeper – self-defense is paramount. Guns aren’t bad: lunatics with guns are the problem,” said Ciccone, who also attended the Trump rally. “Kari Lake is pure fire. He’s a dragon, just like Trump.
The race underscores how Arizona continues to be a hotbed of conspiracy theories about the 2020 race.
Last year, the state legislature authorized a unprecedented partisan scrutiny of the 2020 race, championed by Finchem, of the 2020 race in Maricopa County, the largest county in the state. Even though the audit confirmed Biden’s victory, Lake, Finchem and other conspiracy theorists continue to insist that something was wrong. The state’s Republican Party recently censured Rusty Bowers, Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers after he testified before the Jan. 6 committee about Trump’s efforts to pressure him into nullifying the election.
The Guardian also observed a focus group with five Arizona Republicans who voted for Trump in 2020, led in a series by prominent Republican anti-Trump strategist Sarah Longwell. The hour-long session offered insight into how candidates’ opinions varied widely.
A woman who considers herself moderate said she was inclined to support Lake because she grew up watching her deliver the news on television. But for the other self-identified moderate in the group, Lake’s public persona gave him pause. Noting that Trump was also a media figure before turning to politics, she said, “I’m not sure I want to see Arizona go that route.”
Everyone knew that Trump had endorsed Lake, but that wasn’t enough for some.
“I love Trump’s policies but not his rhetoric, and I think Kari Lake would also be divisive when we have to come together,” said Arlene Bright, 81, who attended the Trump rally in the Prescott Valley .
“We have to move on from the last election.”