How Arizona became an abyss of election conspiracy theories

Of the roughly three dozen states that have held primary elections this year, Arizona is where Donald Trump’s conspiracy fantasies about the 2020 election seem to have gained the most grip.

This week, Arizona Republicans nominated candidates from top to bottom of the ballot who focused their campaigns on fueling baseless conspiracy theories around 2020, when Democrats won the state presidential election for only the second time since the 1940s.

Joe Biden beat Trump in Arizona by less than 11,000 votes — a thin margin that spawned endless efforts to scrutinize and overturn the results, despite election officials’ repeated and adamant insistence that very little fraud occurred.

They are joined by Blake Masters, a hardcore venture capitalist who is running to oust Senator Mark Kelly, the soft-spoken former astronaut who entered politics after his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, was seriously injured by a gunman in 2011.

There’s also Abraham Hamadeh, the Republican nominee for attorney general, as well as several candidates for state legislature who are almost certain to win their races. They’re pretty much election deniers to the hilt.

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 cancel the electionwas easily defeated in his bid for a state senate seat.

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 expertise on many of the political issues driving elections in the state. . Our conversation, slightly edited for length and clarity, is below.

You’ve been reporting on Arizona for years. Why are many democracy watchers so alarmed by the primary election results there?

It’s quite simple: If these candidates win in November, they have promised to do things like ban the use of electronic voting machines and get rid of the hugely popular and long-established mail-in voting system.

It is also easy to imagine a scenario similar to the 2020 presidential election but with very different results. Lake and Finchem have repeatedly said they would not have certified Biden’s victory.

Some might say it’s just partisan politics or posturing – that Finchem, Lake and Masters just said what they think they have to say to win the primary. What does your report show? Is their election denial just gossip, or are there indications that they really believe what they’re saying?

There’s no reason to think these candidates won’t at least try to implement the kinds of plans they’ve been promoting.

No doubt they would 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 denial theories. And they fueled those false beliefs among large numbers of voters, which helped propel their victories on Tuesday.

We saw proof of that this week with the surge of Republicans going to the polls in person on Election Day instead of voting by mail, as they have done for years, after repeatedly hearing baseless claims. that mail-in ballots are prone to fraud. This was especially true of lake funders.

There’s no way to know what these contestants really believe in their hearts, but they left no room to doubt their intentions.

What do you think of these Republicans’ ability to pivot to the center for the general election? And what if they did?

We haven’t seen much, if any, evidence that these candidates intend to pivot to the center, aside from minor tweaks to some terms in the Masters TV ads.

They have spent months denouncing party members whom they consider to be RINO (“Republicans in name only”, in case you forgot). In Arizona, that list included Gov. Doug Ducey, who refused to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, as Trump demanded, and the now deceased Senator John McCain, who angered many conservatives and Trump supporters by voting against repealing the Affordable Care Act. .

So even if these candidates try to veer to the center, expect their Democratic opponents to point to these statements and other past comments to portray them as right-wing extremists.

I wonder how hard Republicans will continue to focus on the 2020 election in the home stretch of this year’s campaign. More moderate Republican officials and strategists I’ve spoken to in Arizona have repeatedly said they fear it will weaken the party’s chances in the state, where independent voters make up about a third of the electorate.

Do Katie Hobbs, the Secretary of State who won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and Senator Mark Kelly, the Democrat who is up for re-election in the fall, talk a lot about refusing the election or the 6 January when they go out with voters?

Hobbs rose to prominence in the days following the 2020 election when she appeared on national television around the clock, assuring voters that all ballots would be counted fairly. and accurate, no matter how long it takes. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that his own fate is deeply linked to the rise of electoral denialism.

But even though her closest supporters promoted Hobbs as a guardian of democracy — and she benefited from that in her fundraising — it’s not a central part of her day-to-day campaign. Many Democratic strategists in the state say they think she 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 who is willing to upset other members of his party.

In March, for example, Kelly called the surge in asylum seekers crossing the border a “crisis,” language Biden resisted. Kelly also supported part of a border wall, a position most Democrats adamantly oppose.

As a political issue, how does election denial play out with voters in relation to, say, jobs or the price of gas and groceries?

We don’t know the answer yet, but whether voters view candidates who decline the 2020 election as disqualifying is one of the biggest and most interesting questions this fall.

I’ve spoken to dozens of people in Arizona over the past few months — Democrats, Republicans and independents — and few are single-issue voters. They’re all concerned about things like jobs, gas prices, inflation, and abortion, but they’re also very concerned about democracy and what many Republicans call “election integrity.” But their understanding of what these terms mean is very different depending on their political outlook.

Is there any aspect of these candidates’ appeal that people outside of Arizona might miss?

Each of the winning Republican candidates we discussed 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 the Democrats in the last two elections: white suburban women and young Latinos. As the state has turned more purple, the Republican Party is moving further to the right. Now that those voters show up in force for the party this year will help determine the future of many elections to come.

DALLAS postcard

Is there a heat index in Texas? Outside the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas, it was 105 degrees on Thursday.

But inside the cavernous hotel, the air conditioning was cranked up as Mike Lindell, the election-denying pillow mogul who branched out into coffee and slippers, moved down the row of media at a rally at the Conservative Political Action Conference. A swarm of Republicans approached, seeking selfies and handshakes as they expressed their approval of his efforts and spending to nullify the 2020 presidential election.

Past the conservative media booths, each resembling a set of Fox News, I wandered into a store of “Trump won” and “Make America Pro-Life Again” merchandise. My N95 mask got me noticed, but every person I asked for an interview had to.

There was Jeffrey Lord, who was fired by CNN in 2017 for bringing up — mockingly, he said at the time — a Nazi slogan in a convoluted exchange on Twitter. He told me that he had just attended a private meeting with Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister revered by many American conservatives. Orban 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 category similar to Reagan.

“In terms of freedom, and all of that, I do,” he said. “It’s a theme with President Trump.”

In the media area inside the hotel’s main ballroom, right-wing news outlets had medallion status. A prominent 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 pork rinds from a Ziploc bag.

Seven hours later, I walked out of the hotel, removing my N95, which left an imprint on my face. It was only 99 degrees.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next week.

— Blake

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