With the last of the petition challenges settled, ballots for the August 2nd primaries are now set, and Republicans in the Grand Canyon state have no shortage of exciting matchups to watch. Tens of millions of dollars will be spent in the races for the United States Senate and Governor, but fascinating matchups exist both a short way down the ballot in races for Congress, Attorney General and Secretary of State, as well as much further down the ballot, where numerous state legislative contests will determine the makeup of Arizona’s next legislature, just in time to resolve generationally important issues like abortion and election integrity. While a great deal of coverage will be given to statewide and federal offices, these are the state districts that feature the most critical matchups:
Former State Representative Noel Campbell recently withdrew from the State Senate race, leaving newly arrived California transplant Steve Zipperman and former State Senate President Ken Bennett to face off in this very Republican district. Zipperman claims to be the most conservative candidate running but Bennett has a solid voting record to offer voters, and Bennett just played a key leadership role in the Maricopa County Audit, which is bound to be a major plus to GOP voters concerned about election integrity issues. On the House side, two of Arizona’s most conservative legislators, Quang Nguyen and Judy Burges, face a rematch with the more moderate Selina Bliss and newcomer Ryan Cadigan.
The wealthiest district in Arizona doesn’t just have a lot of money, it has a lot of House candidates. State Senator Nancy Barto is unopposed in the August primary as she readies for her showdown with Democratic State Senator Christine Marsh, but the field counts five quality candidates campaigning for the two State House seats. And with only one Democrat filed to run for the State House in the district, winning in August means at least a 50/50 shot at a seat when the Legislature reconvenes in 2023. Former State Representative Maria Syms is running again, as part of a team with Barto. Syms lost a re-election bid in the blue wave year of 2018 following unusual drama, lawsuits, and party infighting. Joining the Barto team is newcomer and MAGA Mom Vera Gebran, a conservative, pro-Trump political newcomer with an accomplished past that included international business and a family that is a fixture in the Valley’s restaurant scene. John Arnold is a financial advisor and father of four running on a strong conservative platform, Jana Jackson ran previously for County School Superintendent and has made opposing Critical Race Theory (CRT) a central part of her platform, and Matt Gress currently serves as Governor Doug Ducey’s budget director. Gress’ Ducey connections have him in the lead financially, as he raised nearly $200,000 according to his last report, far ahead of the $100,000 raised by 2nd place finisher Arnold. Syms and Gebran both have personal money they can lean into, so this race is expected to get as expensive as the district that is hosting it.
Fireworks are guaranteed in the State Senate showdown between incumbents Kelly Townsend and Wendy Rogers. ADI has already written extensively about this race [HERE] and [HERE] but voters in this rural district can expect no punches to be pulled when these two pro-Trump heavyweights square off. On the House side, the departure of Brenda Barton from the race leaves three candidates for two seats. Incumbents David Cook and John Fillmore are joined by David Marshall in this lively primary. Cook is one of rural Arizona’s stronger voices at the Capitol, and his expertise on ranching, water, and forest health issues has made him an important player in the Legislature. Fillmore fancies himself as more of a Libertarian than a Republican and has a voting record that is best described as unpredictable. He had launched a primary challenge to Wendy Rogers early in the year but bailed out after Rogers posted campaign finance reports showing she had raised $1.7 Million. Marshall is the newest candidate, and he is making a play for establishment support while sounding conservative talking points. A charismatic candidate, he is trying to follow the Walt Blackman model into office. There are no Democrats running in this district, so the winner of the primary will be able to start measuring for drapes right away.
One of the more “under the radar” races may also be one of the most important ones, as State Senator Tyler Pace, a moderate voice in the State Senate, is being challenged in the primary by conservative Robert Scantlebury, a retired Mesa police officer. Pace is finishing his second term in office but has never faced a real primary challenge before. Four years ago he got into the race along with incumbent Bob Worsley, but shortly after the filing deadline, Worsley announced he would not run, leaving Pace the seat without having to campaign. As a Senator, Pace has killed a significant number of Republican bills, sometimes working with Democrats to do so. But Pace has both significant personal wealth and healthy campaign coffers, making it important that Scantlebury converts his grassroots support into a competitive war chest and an aggressive ground campaign if he hopes to compete. Scantlebury offers voters a reliable conservative who will keep his promises, and he supports Republican principles like border security, election integrity, tax relief, support for law enforcement, and more. This is a very competitive district, so the winner of this primary will need to reload quickly for a general election that Democrats will be targeting.
An epic showdown looms in this district, where former state senator David Farnsworth is being challenged by current State House Speaker Rusty Bowers for the State Senate seat. Bowers, who has spent parts of four different decades in the legislature, has angered most conservatives in the district with a variety of betrayals on everything from election integrity to illegal immigration, to pushing for special rights for Arizona’s LGBTQ+ population, and more. Farnsworth was a top-ranked conservative when he served previously and has tremendous grassroots support, but Bowers has piles of campaign cash and a lot of lobbyists and special interests who are ready to spend to keep him in power. The House race is already over as Justin Heap and Barbara Parker are the only two Republicans running. Both conservatives as well, they have teamed with Farnsworth to try to stop Bowers from extending his political career.
The Senate race is already over, as incumbent State Senator Sine Kerr faces no primary or general election competition, but the House race will make a huge difference in the ideological tilt of the GOP caucus in 2023. Yuma State Representative Tim Dunn is considered a shoo-in for election, but the race for second place will be a donnybrook between incumbent Joel John and challenger Michael Carbone. Joel John may be the most liberal Republican in the entire Legislature, and he votes regularly with the Democrats to defeat Republican efforts on everything from fighting illegal immigration to election integrity and school choice. John was censured earlier this year by the Republican Party for working with Democrats to kill a major school choice expansion. Carbone, originally from Chicago, hails from the party’s conservative wing and served as chairman of the legislative district for four years. John is approaching the race in his newly drawn, and far more Republican district, with a degree of fatalistic humor, telling Republicans at the Verrado GOP Club that if they vote him out, they’ll be doing him a favor. Carbone ran a large get out the vote operation to help the Trump campaign and AZ GOP efforts, so while he is likely to be outspent by moderate outside groups who would prefer the status quo with John, he is counting on a strong grassroots effort to put him over the top.
Not every race features a more liberal incumbent being primaried by a conservative challenger. In several districts, conservative incumbents like Ben Toma and Kevin Payne are being challenged despite having very conservative records. Toma authored the largest tax cuts in Arizona history while Payne has been a strong advocate for veterans and law-enforcement. But they are being challenged by Jay Griffin and Brian Morris. And Trump-endorsed conservative Anthony Kern attracted a last-minute primary challenge for the State Senate seat from Jaime Kelly, who is expected to attract a great deal of support from Capitol lobbyists and special interest groups keen on electing a more moderate alternative to Kern. Kern’s conservative record and the endorsement from President Donald J Trump nevertheless has him the favorite to win.
This is another district where conservatives are being challenged. State Representative Frank Carroll is running for the State Senate and is being primaried by perennial fringe candidate Clair Van Steenwyk, who has lost countless races for state and federal losses. Van Steenwyk appears to have a grudge against conservative Republicans as he regularly seeks out the most conservative candidates to run against. Van Steenwyk’s running mate in the House race is newcomer Susan Black, who is challenging conservative State Representative Beverly Pingerelli and State Senator David Livingston, who themselves are running as a team with Carroll. Van Steenwyk is given no chance to win his race against Carroll, but Black has attracted financial support that gives her hope that she can keep up with Pingerelli and Livingston and defeat one of them in this winner-take-all primary.
The old adage about politics making strange bedfellows certainly applies to this district, where strategy has trumped ideology for several candidates. Three candidates for State Senate and four candidates for State House have coalesced into distinct and contradictory teams. Conservative Janae Shamp is battling for the State Senate seat with State Representative Joanne Osborne, one of the most liberal Republicans in the entire Legislature. Osborne routinely votes with Democrats on high-profile issues like school choice and illegal immigration and, like Joel John, was censured by the Republican Party for her role in killing school choice expansion. Also running is Ryan Eldridge, who describes himself as a constitutional conservative. Shamp is teamed with two other conservatives, Austin Smith, who is very involved with Turning Point USA and played a large role in the Trump campaign, and Steve Montenegro, a pastor and former legislator who wrote the American Civics Act and the ban on Affirmative Action. Montenegro was also very active in the Maricopa County Election Audit. Osborne has teamed up with Trey Terry, who has run for office several times before, and for the legislature most recently in 2018 when he ran against Osborne. In that race, Terry campaigned against Osborne’s liberal record and warned voters not to trust her, but Terry has changed his tune and now defends her, even while campaigning as a conservative. Terry has been vocal on social media, attacking both former President Trump and election integrity efforts, which would seem at odds with voters in the district, but he may receive support from Maricopa County Recorder Steven Richer’s PAC, which has promised to help candidates who will defend the 2020 election as accurate and exceptionally well done. Hop Nguyen is the fourth candidate in the House race and, while he is campaigning with Eldridge, and they both speak fondly of President Trump, he has endorsed the anti-Trump Trey Terry for the second seat over the more conservative Montenegro and Smith. Confused yet? Voters will need to sort it out for themselves because the winners of these primaries are virtually certain to be elected in this heavily Republican district.