Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Alejandra Gomez speaks with supporters in Phoenix before a neighbourhood parade on Nov. 5, 2022. Gomez is co-executive director of Lucha Arizona, a progressive group that has organized people to knock on doors.Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail

They are the “Trump ticket”: Blake Masters, Kari Lake, Mark Finchem and Abraham Hamadeh, the Republican candidates for the top offices of government in Arizona, each a close political follower of the former president.

Perhaps nowhere else in the country is the imprint of Donald Trump, and with him the outlook for U.S. democracy, more closely bound to Tuesday’s midterm elections.

What happens in Arizona stands to shape national politics, with Mr. Masters, the Republican Senate candidate, vying to unseat the Democratic incumbent, Mark Kelly. Republicans need to gain just one Senate seat to assume control of that chamber, with its powers to confirm or deny presidential appointments.

But in a state that both comedian Jon Stewart and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema have panned as “the meth lab of democracy” – where one county spent nearly US$6-million auditing the results of the 2020 election, only to find more votes for Joe Biden, not fewer – the success or failure of the Trump ticket will also measure what hold the former president and his election denialism continue to exert on U.S. politics.

What Mr. Trump did “when he was in the White House are the things they want to emulate,” said Kelli Ward, who chairs Arizona’s Republican Party. Their victory, if it happens, would constitute “a complete and total” affirmation of the “America-first policies that Donald Trump has been a champion for.”

That has made Arizona the object of exuberance for those who believe the former president should still be in the White House. This weekend, the four Trump ticket candidates – all of whom have either denied that Mr. Trump lost or refused to pledge acceptance of Tuesday’s vote results – came together for a campaign bus tour, joined by far-right influencers eager to be a part of it all. Among them was Rogan O’Handley, who goes by the handle “DC Draino.” He woke up before dawn Saturday to fly in from Florida.

“You guys actually have the best ticket in the entire country right now. Full MAGA. Ultra-MAGA,” he said, a reference to Mr. Trump’s favoured “Make America great again” slogan.

Open this photo in gallery:

Democratic candidate for Arizona governor Katie Hobbs comes down a zipline at a Teamsters picnic in Phoenix, Ariz., on Nov. 5.Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail

Among the changes the Trump ticket has pledged are to declare an invasion at the southern border, resume construction of the border wall and change the way elections are done. Mr. Masters’s campaign has paid tens of thousands of dollars to people who were among the “fake electors” who sought to deliver falsified votes showing Mr. Trump won the 2020 vote in Arizona, according to federal election spending records first reported by the Arizona Mirror.

Mr. Finchem was in the crowd surrounding the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Earlier this year, as a Republican in the state House of Representatives, he co-sponsored a bill to end most early voting and require a hand-count of ballots within 24 hours, a light-speed manual count experts say is almost certainly impossible.

The bill failed. But victory for Mr. Finchem as Arizona’s Secretary of State would place him in command of elections in the state. A win for the Trump ticket, critics warn, spells a future in which Arizona can splinter the edifice of U.S. democracy.

Analysis: What does a surge in early voting mean for the U.S. midterm elections?

When Mr. Trump lost in 2020, several Arizona leaders, including Republican Governor Doug Ducey, refused calls to overturn the results of the vote. Replace them with people cast in Mr. Trump’s mould, and “you’re moving the whole country into a new place, a place where the outcome of elections don’t matter,” Arizona Democratic strategist Rodd McLeod said.

Warnings about the potential Arizona threat have come from Mr. Biden and former president Barack Obama. Arizona’s Democratic candidates, too, have sought at every turn to label the Trump ticket a menace.

“I don’t know why people want to believe these falsehoods but they do,” said Katie Hobbs, the candidate for governor running against Ms. Lake. She accused her opponents of “trying to dismantle democracy.” Mr. Masters is “questioning the outcome of the 2022 election,” which hasn’t yet happened, Mr. Kelly added. “It’s undemocratic. And to be honest, it’s dangerous.”

But the dark warnings have been laughed off by the Trump ticket, particularly as they see polls showing neck-and-neck races. The media “claim they are guardians of democracy,” Mr. Hamadeh, the Republican candidate for attorney-general, said this weekend. “They’re the biggest threat to democracy.”

The Trump ticket has pilloried its opposition and pinned blame for long-standing and global problems on the Biden administration. Vote Democrat, Mr. Masters said, “if you like wide open borders and unlimited illegal immigration. If you like fentanyl coming in and killing our kids. If you like double-digit crime increases.”

Among those listening to that message this weekend was Jason Ponder, who served in the Marine Corps before spending 20 years in law enforcement. Mr. Ponder believes a bigger threat to the U.S. lies in an administration that ordered a shambolic retreat from Afghanistan, leaving behind billions of dollars’ worth of weapons for the Taliban to scoop up. “That’s dangerous,” he said. So, too, he argues, was Mr. Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, which could have reduced U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern oil in the current energy turmoil.

Mr. Ponder grew up in Detroit and sees the decay of that city spreading across the country. “The Democrats and some Republicans have Detroit-ed all of America. That’s the way I feel,” he said. It’s time, he feels, to “say enough’s enough. We’re not going to just allow these crazy policies to go on.”

Other Republican supporters find it hard to see danger in candidates whose baseless allegations of a stolen 2020 election they share.

Lawrence Martin: Midterm madness: GOP election deniers could upend democracy

The persistence of those allegations has left Democrats struggling to respond. Lucha Arizona, a progressive group, has organized people to knock on 317,000 doors in the state. Alejandra Gomez, its co-executive director, says Democratic policies are popular. Those include propositions to ensure equal tuition rates for undocumented students and shield more assets from debt collectors. “That’s what our communities are really looking for,” she said.

But those propositions have yet to be passed.

And ultimately, Mr. McLeod said, the voting public is democracy’s umpire. “The people are the arbiters,” he said. “And if the people have stopped being willing to blow the whistle on their own side, then we got a problem.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe