PHOENIX (CN) — Arizona’s August primary election is playing out like so many others, pitting traditional Republicans against candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Election integrity, border security and fentanyl trafficking are key issues Republicans hope to address in the state come November. Each candidate seemingly reflects a similar party line in their stance. However, subtleties are driving the campaign approach.
Topping Trump's list in the race for governor is Kari Lake. The former broadcast journalist has a penchant for controversial remarks while advocating for hardline issues, like battling drug trafficking over the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The narco-terrorists are in control of our border, it’s unacceptable,” she said in a rally in March. “The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is sending up fentanyl into our communities to kill our children and to weaken America, and we have had enough. We’re done.”
Her messaging resonates with a zealous GOP base disillusioned by the perception of rising crime and drug-related activity. Arizona has seen its share of a national increase in recent years.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 2,006 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses in 2021, up 117% from 923 in 2017. Data from the National Institute of Health shows an increase of 47% nationally in that same period.
Trump’s endorsement comes with excellent support but also carries a significant burden for the recipient. Lake pulls no punches in airing Trump's election fraud allegations.
During a debate in June, Lake told the moderator that President Joe Biden wasn’t legitimately elected and asked other candidates running on the Republican ticket to confirm their thoughts.
“He lost the election, and he shouldn't be in the White House,” she said. “We had a corrupt election. I'd actually like to ask everybody on this stage, if they would agree, [that] we had a corrupt, stolen election. Raise your hand.”
Of the four candidates, Lake’s closest competitor, Karrin Taylor Robson, was the only one not to raise a hand, and there may be a good reason.
Thomas Volgy, a political science professor at the University of Arizona, suggests election deniers could disillusion voters who don’t see the benefit of it.
“Election deniers have credibility within the GOP primaries, but they don't appear to have much credibility when it comes to Democratic or independent voters,” he said. “In a state like Arizona where the primary comes close to the general election, this likely means that it will be difficult for these candidates to pivot back to the center on this issue.”
In the same debate, Robson stopped short of perpetuating fraud claims, instead opting for a more subtle take.
“I didn't have the evidence in front of me,” she said. “I'm a lawyer … it's like acting on a piece of legislation that I haven't read. I wasn't sitting there. I was not privy to the [governor’s] information.”
Outside election fraud claims, Robson shares Lake’s sentiments about the border, drugs, protecting the Second Amendment, and even finishing Trump’s border wall.
Volgy believes issues like the border and different copy-and-paste GOP stances won’t make a candidate stand out.
“Border issues will not make much of a difference in the primary since almost all the GOP candidates appear to have some very far-right positions,” he said. “It is particularly strange that they would want to use Arizona resources for border issues since state actions appear to be grandstanding more than having an actual impact on the problem. This is more likely to be an issue for candidates for federal rather than state office.”
According to a recent survey by OH Predictive Insights, polling suggests Robson may have an advantage with traditionalist undecided Republicans over the populist Trump-driven conservative.