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‘This is our last stand’: Conspiracy-steeped voters power Trump allies’ wins in Arizona

“We are not going to take our election systems being this messed up,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake told her supporters Tuesday night in Scottsdale, Ariz.Justin Sullivan/Getty

MESA, Ariz. — Robin Hyde burst out of the low-slung church that served as her polling place on Tuesday, showing ordinary-looking pen marks on her hand to anyone who would look.

“Look at the ink, those aren’t ink pens,” Hyde said, as she unlocked her sedan and rustled around, searching for a ballpoint pen of her own. “I said, ‘I’m not comfortable with this, I’m going to get myself a pen.’ ”

Hyde, 67, was worried her vote for candidates favored by former president Donald Trump could be stolen if she used the quick-drying pen provided by poll workers here — a conspiracy theory that first surfaced after the 2020 election and was recently stoked again. It’s just the latest in a litany of false election claims that has gripped the Republican base here and helped power a slate of Trump-endorsed, election-denying candidates to victory, or close to it, during the state’s primary elections Tuesday. If they succeed in November, the candidates would have control over parts of the key swing state’s election apparatus in 2024.

The group includes conspiracy theorist Mark Finchem, who is now the GOP’s nominee to be secretary of state; Blake Masters, the winner of a crowded Senate primary who said he would not have voted to certify the 2020 election; and the former television anchor Kari Lake, a candidate who has already claimed without evidence that there is “some stealing going on” in her primary and who held a narrow lead over a more moderate rival on Wednesday.


“We are not going to take our election systems being this messed up,” Lake said in a Scottsdale resort ballroom Tuesday night, suggesting that the time-consuming work of counting Election Day ballots, which have broken overwhelmingly in her favor, was a plot to blunt her momentum on the way to a victory.


“They want to try to take the air out of this movement. They don’t want us celebrating,” Lake said.

Nationally, these Arizona candidates join a group of election-denying Republican candidates whose potential to control their swing states’ election machinery has alarmed democracy experts. They include Doug Mastriano, the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, and secretary of state candidates Kristina Karamo and Jim Marchant, whom Republicans have put forward in Michigan and Nevada, respectively. The extreme candidates, who some Democrats believe will be easier to beat in the fall elections than their more establishment foes, will run in a political environment that is expected to be favorable to Republicans.

Although some candidates in this mold have lost their primaries, most prominently in Georgia, their overall rise shows just how deeply Trump’s falsehoods have animated the Republican base — a theme that emerged frequently over 20 interviews with Arizona Republicans conducted Tuesday.

“Have you seen the movie ‘2,000 Mules’ ?” asked Hilton Harrison, 81, a Republican in the front row at Lake’s election night party who once knocked on doors for the late Senator John McCain, referring to a film that makes baseless claims about voter fraud.

“Why is there not a Senate hearing on that?” said Karl Stone, 53, a Scottsdale voter who also mentioned the film, which Lake and Trump have promoted, in a separate interview. His wife, Kim, who once voted for Democrat Michael Dukakis for president, volunteered to help with the massive audit of the 2020 vote last year that was pushed by Trump allies; now, the couple viewed Lake’s candidacy as their “last hope” in a state where Democrats like Senators Mark Kelly and Krysten Sinema, plus President Biden, have notched statewide wins after years of GOP domination.


“This is our last stand. Otherwise, our state’s gone,” Stone said, adding that he believes immigrants are coming over the border from Mexico to “change our demographics”— a comment that evokes the “white replacement” conspiracy theory promoted by some right-wing pundits.

The ascension of Trump’s hand-picked election-denying candidates marks a swift transformation of a state that until recently was represented by McCain, a moderate Republican. It was just four years ago that Arizona’s establishment Republican Governor Doug Ducey handily won reelection. Now, voters have overwhelmingly rejected his pick for secretary of state, while his pick for governor, Karrin Taylor Robson, is trailing Lake with ballots still being counted.

“Many Arizona Republican voters have glommed on to the nonexistent fraud, the claims of fraud that are so easily debunked, yet they refuse to listen,” said Barrett Marson, a GOP strategist who described the trend as “concerning.”

“Arizona has long been home to conspiracy theorists and the far-right fringe,” he said. “Now they’re on the verge of maybe being the majority of primary voters.”

The embrace of conspiracy theories extended from the candidates to their backers Tuesday night at Lake’s event, where Finchem, who has called himself a member of the far-right Oath Keepers group, posed for photos with revelers in sparkly dresses and cast doubt on the integrity of the 2020 election, as well as the one he had just won.


“I want the people to be satisfied that they have a secure and fair election,” he said. “I don’t know that they feel that way.”

Out in Mesa, a conservative city just east of Phoenix, many certainly did not.

Paul Kranich, 64, cast a vote for Lake and said he thought it might be necessary for her to refuse to certify Arizona’s 2024 results in the presidential election if she becomes governor — something many GOP activists wish Ducey had done in 2020. Kranich, a former Democrat who said he was not very involved in politics until Trump became president, also backed Finchem.

“I’m one of a group that spent a lot of time looking at the whole Mike Lindell stuff,” Kranich said, referring to the MyPillowGuy founder who has become one of the country’s foremost promoters of election disinformation.

“The 2,000 mules, that wasn’t as big a factor as state data being sent to Italy and to Frankfurt,” he said, without explaining what he meant.

Susan Thomas, who arrived at the polls in a pickup truck with a sticker referencing the Qanon conspiracy plastered on the back window, cheerfully declared herself to be “one of the crazy conspiracy theorists” before she went inside to cast votes for Lake and Finchem, among others.

In another sign of Trump’s grip on the GOP base, voters in Mesa soundly rejected House Speaker Rusty Bowers, the Republican who testified before the Jan. 6 committee about withstanding Trump’s pressure to gum up the certification of Biden’s narrow win in 2020. Bowers, who was term-limited and running for a state Senate seat, trailed a Trump-backed rival by nearly 30 percentage points.


“You’re a public servant, you should be doing what the people want,” said Lars Evans, a structural steel estimator who was angry that Bowers had dismissed claims of fraud in the 2020 election for lack of evidence.

Evans said his wife was working inside the polls. He pointed out her car, which had a bumper sticker promoting the Alex Jones-owned conspiracy site InfoWars and a message written across the back window: “Bowers is a lobbyist’s prostitute.”

Some voters went to the polls fearful about the impact that Trump and conspiracy theories are having on their state’s politics. Bryan Anderson, an accountant and an independent voter, made a point of voting for Bowers — and against the rest of Trump’s endorsed candidates, too.

“What he’s trying to do to the country right now, it’s just an embarrassment,” Anderson said.

In Scottsdale, Bob Wogan voted for Robson, who won an endorsement from former vice president Mike Pence as well as Ducey, and then backed Finchem and Masters, hoping those candidates would be easier for Democrats to defeat.

“This state is full of crazy people,” said Wogan, a moderate Republican, shaking his head. “It’s a virus, it’s spreading.”

Jess Bidgood can be reached at Follow her @jessbidgood.