Two Donald Trump loyalists who spun baseless conspiracy theories about the last presidential election moved one step closer Tuesday night to overseeing the next one in a key battleground state.
Mark Finchem, who has identified himself as a member of the Oath Keepers, marched to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, pushed for a fruitless partisan review of the presidential ballots in Arizona’s Maricopa County, and has vowed to radically reshape voting rights in the state, won Arizona’s Republican primary for Secretary of State, a position which serves as the state’s chief election officer.
Meanwhile, Kari Lake, a former TV news anchor who said she would not have certified the 2020 election results and falsely called the election “stolen,” leads the GOP gubernatorial primary over Karrin Taylor Robson, a more mainstream conservative, with some 80% of the primary vote counted.
Finchem’s win is the latest victory for the America First Secretary of State Coalition, a group formed in the aftermath of the 2020 election in order to install Trump backers who rejected the 2020 presidential results as top state election officials. More than half of the 2022 secretary of state races have included a prominent election denier, according to a tally by States United Action. The coalition’s founder, Jim Marchant, won the Republican secretary of state nomination in Nevada, while Kristina Karamo, an election conspiracy theorist who suggested without evidence that voting software was flipping votes toward Joe Biden, is on track to be the Republican Secretary of State nominee in Michigan. In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, who organized busses to the Stop the Steal rally on January 6, is the GOP nominee for Governor.
The effort to install 2020 election-deniers as top state election officials in 2022 has motivated both sides to pour money into typically sleepy secretary of state races nationwide. Candidates from both parties have raised more than $16 million in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Wisconsin, with more than $7 million going towards candidates who deny the results of the 2020 presidential election, according to a report from the nonpartisan Brennan Center.
Victories for Finchem and Lake would be big wins for the Make America Great Again conspiracy theorists who believe the election was stolen. “There’s a lot at stake in terms of what this means for the future of democracy in Arizona, and frankly what it means nationally,” says Tory Gavito, president of Way to Win, an national donor network which plans to pour $9 million into Arizona to help elect Democrats for Secretary of State and other statewide offices. “On the Republican side, they’ve made clear they don’t believe in systems that count every vote.”
While that’s a bad omen for democracy, it could be a good outcome for Democrats hoping to maintain control of the battleground state, according to Arizona strategists from both parties.
It’s the “worst f—ing case scenario” for Arizona Republicans, says Chuck Coughlin, an unaffiliated Arizona political strategist who runs a firm that represents Republican candidates. “Those types of election denialists are not capable of commanding a majority of the electorate.” The outcome, Coughlin adds, is proof that the GOP is “living in an electoral cul-de-sac that’s no bigger than Donald Trump’s ego.”
While hard-right candidates might win a Republican primary, they’re unlikely to draw big margins with the independent voters who tend to decide Arizona elections. “Election denialism shouldn’t be one of their primary things to run on in the general election if they’re hoping to sway those middle of the road voters,” says Mike Noble, chief of research at nonpartisan OH Predictive Insights, an Arizona firm. According to a poll conducted by Noble’s firm, 66% of Arizona voters agree with state and federal election officials that there was no credible voter fraud that would have changed the outcome of the 2020 elections. Only 25% of moderate Republicans say they lack confidence in Arizona elections.
“A lot of people outside the Trump base don’t believe that the election was stolen in Arizona,” says Lorna Romero, a Republican consultant who has worked with the late Senator John McCain and former GOP Governor Jan Brewer. “We’ve had audit after audit, and it’s been nightly news since the election, so a lot of folks have been exposed to the information that there wasn’t any wrongdoing. Folks are sick and tired of hearing about it.”