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On Monday evening, Donald Trump decided to completely upend Arizona’s Republican Senate primary. The Grand Canyon State is central to the sometime president’s Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. While most people outside the state might associate Arizona with the “maverick” attitude of John McCain or the more libertarian conservatism of Barry Goldwater – the 1964 GOP nominee and the father of the modern conservative movement – the state is now home to a Trumpist variant of anti-immigrant, election-denying extremism.
Kelli Ward, who challenged McCain for the Senate nomination in 2016, is now chairwoman of the Arizona GOP, while Congressmen Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar have been central to promoting the idea that the election was stolen. Maricopa County has become a focal point for true believers, with pro-Trump conspiracy theory collective Cyber Ninjas conducting an audit of the county in hopes of exposing massive electoral fraud. (It found nothing.)
Trump’s false allegations of voter fraud have scrambled Republicans’ hopes of winning back the Senate seat McCain held for decades. In 2020, Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and the husband of former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, defenestrated Senator Martha McSally, who was appointed the seat following McCain’s death (after she lost her 2018 race to Kyrsten Sinema.) This time around, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell worked hard to recruit outgoing Governor Doug Ducey to take Kelly on – but the former president has already made his virulent dislike of Ducey abundantly clear, and he has declined to run.
Now, the Big Lie has come for Arizona Republicans’ second-best hope in the race, state Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Last week, Brnovich released an interim report that, while it stated his concerns about irregularities in Maricopa County’s election in 2020, did not prove instances of widespread voter fraud. But that wasn’t enough for Trump, who threw a bomb at Brnovich in a characteristically long-winded screed.
“He wants to be politically correct,” Trump crowed. “Because of the amount of time that it took him to do the report, which was endless, his poll numbers have been rapidly sinking. Now, people are upset with the fact that while he states the problem, he seems to be doing nothing about it – he doesn’t give the answers.”
Trump said he would endorse a Senate candidate soon, and it’s extremely unlikely that Brnovich will be the beneficiary. Last week, OH Predictive Insights released a poll showing that the attorney general had a slight lead against his opponents, but that 44 percent of Republican primary voters were undecided. Arizona has its primary relatively late on August 2nd, and a Trump endorsement could hold massive sway.
All the while, the endangered Kelly can keep on building his massive warchest. He raised the $11.35 million the first three months of 2022 and now has $23.2 million in the bank.