Why Arizona Republicans Are Targeting Maricopa County Again


At first glance, the brouhaha in Arizona’s Maricopa County appears to be very specifically focused on issues that surfaced at the polls during the midterm elections earlier this month. Outgoing Attorney General’s Office Mark Brnovich (R) wrote a letter to county officials asking a number of largely mechanical questions about printer settings and voter processing procedures, the kinds of things that could usually be items somewhere near the bottom of a committee meeting in a municipal government office.

But this letter and the broader effort to undermine confidence in the results in this particular county are neither inherently procedural nor limited in scope. Instead, the county is once again the target of widespread Republican backlash, primarily because the county, once again, is the reason a particularly aggressive state Republican party suffered unexpected electoral losses.

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To some extent, the fact that in the aftermath of the midterm elections saw a Republican campaign aggressively challenge county officials — to the point that officials perceived a lawyer’s comments as a veiled threat — is simply a foreseeable evolution of what is happening in the state. After Arizona voted for Joe Biden in 2020, the state party, led by far-right President Kelli Ward, embraced conspiracy theories about the results. When a leader of the “Stop the Steal” movement said he was “ready to lay down his life” for this effort in December 2020, the State Party shared a message with his Twitter followers: “He is. Are you?” The riot at the Capitol came less than a month later.

But that was by no means the extent of the effort. A lengthy, costly, and futile “audit” of the Maricopa County results didn’t change any results, but sparked more speculation (quickly debunked) about allegedly suspicious irregularities in the voting. The ground was fertile for candidates who viewed the 2020 results as suspect of doing well in the party primaries and, of course, the 2022 Republican candidate slate for state reps was a who’s who of people who claimed that the 2020 results were suspect. Kari Lake for governor. Blake Masters for the Senate. Mark Finchem as Secretary of State. Abe Hamadeh for the Attorney General.

And then, having won their primaries in part on their loyalty to the idea that 2020 was corrupt, each has either lost their general election candidacy or been trailed by margins that will be difficult to overcome. And in each case, they lost Maricopa County.

It’s important to recognize how Maricopa County specifically drove GOP failures in recent years. For decades, Arizona has voted Republican in presidential contests, usually because the largest county in the state voted Republican (Maricopa has provided the state’s majority of votes in every presidential contest for the past 60 years) and because the rest of the state did too. When there was a break between Maricopa and other counties in the state before 2020, it was usually because Maricopa was more Republican than the rest of Arizona.

Get Maricopa out of the mix and Donald Trump wins Arizona in 2020. Get Maricopa out of the mix and Kari Lake wins the race for governor. So: why not try taking Maricopa County out of the mix? Why not push legal resources and executive power, if necessary, into the breach?

Interestingly, Maricopa is not responsible for everything midterm GOP failures. In the race for the Senate, where incumbent Senator Mark Kelly (D) won re-election, and in the race for secretary of state, the rest of Arizona also voted for the Democrat. That suggests the Masters and Finchem campaigns were rejected more widely than by Arizona’s 3 in 5 voters who live in Maricopa County. The county was not hostile to the Republicans either: the candidate for state treasurer, Kimberly Yee, won easily.

There wasn’t even much of a stall in Yee’s run. In other words, it wasn’t just Yee winning in Maricopa County because the Democrats who turned out to reject Lake and Finchem didn’t bother to vote in the race for treasurer. It was people voting Democrat and then Republican when it came to a Republican who, in this case, was not determined to reject the 2020 election results.

That is: the results in Maricopa County! This is an important context here. It was not just a rejection of Holocaust deniers, as the term implies. It was a rejection by voters in a county where Holocaust deniers had explicitly sought to have presidential votes thrown out.

That Maricopa County is bluer than the rest of the state isn’t really surprising. It is the only large urban county in Arizona that is consistently correlated with a strongly Democratic vote. Conspiracy theories often focus on Democratic cities partly thanks to the subtext of race and class, but also because Democratic dominance is often alien elsewhere. It’s hardly surprising that county residents across the state find it baffling that Maricopa County came so close when their own results skewed Republicans so heavily. In 2020, the average margin outside of Maricopa County was 28 points, the highest since 1960.

When asked earlier this year if he would certify a Democratic victory in 2024 if he won the election for Secretary of State, Finchem insisted that would not happen, in part because he didn’t know anyone who had voted for Biden in the first place. . To him and others in his party, the idea of ​​Maricopa being in blue fashion just seems impossible. And if you consider that impossible, you may think there’s fraud – and, conveniently, if you reject his votes for fraud, you win.

And that, in a nutshell, is why Maricopa County once again finds itself defending its election against candidates rejected by its voters.


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