With only 5 competitive districts out of the 30 legislative districts in Arizona, the primary contests of August 2nd are tantamount to election in most districts. With the vote count now all but complete across the state, there are clear winners and losers emerging from the primary battlefield.
While several establishment lawmakers remain, it is obvious that the establishment itself took a substantial beating in nearly every competitive Republican primary. A number of outside groups also invested heavily, and saw little to no return for their substantial investments. And new friends of the conservative movement emerged, helping several candidates win their races.
Figuring largely in four right-left races was the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, whose endorsed candidates won handily over their establishment rivals.
- David Farnworth beat Rusty Bowers 65% – 35%
- Janae Shamp beat Joanne Osborne 53% – 31% (a third candidate Ryan Eldridge got the remaining votes)
- Robert Scantlebury beat Tyler Pace 67% – 33%
- Anthony Kern beat Jamie Kelly 68% – 32%
Trump’s endorsement of Wendy Rogers also figured into her win over fellow State Senator Kelly Townsend, as the endorsement was featured prominently in Rogers’ robust ad buys. Rogers won that primary 59% – 41% after outspending Townsend by nearly $2 million.
In the case of the four right-left contests, only Scantlebury has a competitive general election ahead of him, and speaking with several political consultants, both on and off the record, the difference the winners will make cannot be understated.
“Republicans should pick up seats overall, and other than TJ Shope, there isn’t a moderate left in the Republican caucus. Frankly, with Sean Bowie gone from the Democratic caucus, there may not be a moderate left in the entire legislature. Every Senate Republican on the left just got wiped out.” said one consultant.
“Conservatives had a good night… A very good night!” said Constantin Querard, whose firm helped run the campaigns for Farnsworth, Shamp, Scantlebury, Kern and Townsend, adding that “Voters didn’t mumble in 2022, they spoke very clearly, and they want real conservatives who will keep their promises, and if you aren’t one they will replace you without hesitation.”
Querard pointed out that in almost every case, the conservative candidates were heavily outspent. Setting aside the Rogers/Townsend matchup that featured two conservatives and a nearly 20-1 spending advantage for Rogers, Querard noted that while Shamp only received a reported $45,000 in positive expenditures from outside groups (IEs), Osborne received $263,000 in such help. Kelly received $55,000 to Kern’s $22,000. Bowers received $265,000 to Farnsworth’s $140,000 (although Querard noted that Bowers was on the receiving end of more negative ads as well).
One additional Senate shakeup was the likely next Senate Majority Leader Vince Leach losing a three-way contest to Justine Wadsack. While Leach was considered conservative, Wadsack is more strongly affiliated with the Patriot Party and is expected to be an even more strident right-wing ideologue.
The House also moved to the right, although there were fewer high profile races. The lone loss for conservatives was incumbent Judy Burges losing her primary to Selina Bliss, but Bliss has pledged to vote conservatively so it remains to be seen how much of a shift to the left that district will experience. Other than that race, the wins were clearly in favor of the conservatives, most notably with high-profile races in new districts 25 and 29.
In LD25, incumbent Joel John received nearly $200,000 in outside support but was soundly beaten by former district chairman Michael Carbone by 11%. In LD29, 2018 candidate Trey Terry, in spite of more than $117,000 worth of assistance, was defeated by former legislator Steve Montenegro and Arizona State Young Republican Chairman Austin Smith, by 18 and 12 points respectively.
The other high-profile incumbent to lose was State Rep John Fillmore, who was a darling of the Patriot Party, but who angered term limits supporters and lost to newcomer David Marshall. Fellow incumbent David Cook led the field in that race. Fillmore and Marshall are both considered conservatives, so the loss does not seem likely to shift the House ideologically.
“Bliss, Gress, and maybe Cook depending on the issue are the only Republicans you could even imagine aren’t going to be hard right on almost everything.” said the consultant, who pointed out that “…with increased margins for Republicans, most of the time two or three more moderate voices won’t be enough to stop anything regardless.”
For his part, Querard agrees the State House will also see a shift to the right. “To be fair, we’re leaving behind a two-year period where thanks to the smallest possible majorities, any single member right or left could play King For A Day on any bill, and that’s not going to be the case in 2023. So the biggest shift will be that the liberal Republicans are gone and anyone who wants to try to kill bills the way they did won’t have the same ability to do so. That is good news for conservative ideas that now have a good shot at debate and passage.”
Other winners and losers include the groups that dug deep into their pockets for the primaries. Left-leaning groups like Solutions for Arizona, which spent heavily for Rusty Bowers, Joanne Osborne, Joel John, and long-shot Suzanne Lunt, saw virtually no return for their investments, as every one of those candidates got hammered in their primaries. Solutions raised $100,000 and now shows nearly $60,000 in debt thanks to a last minute $65,000 ad buy they played to try to save Joel John in his House primary.
Committee for Arizona Leadership, which was led by the liberal Neil Giuliano and was funded in large part by Greater Phoenix Leadership ($500k) also invested heavily in losing liberal candidates, with their lone exception being Matt Gress, Governor Ducey’s budget director, who won the second spot in his House primary thanks in large part to hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside help.
EDF Action Votes was a DC-based effort that tried to help Rusty Bowers, Trey Terry, Joanne Osborne, Tyler Pace, and Joel John, all of whom lost badly. Nor were their defeats limited to the GOP side of the aisle. They also tried to help liberal Democrats like Espinoza, Contreras, and Sierra. Contreras and Espinoza won, while Sierra lost.
Among the right-leaning groups that backed candidates who often failed to cross the finish line first was the Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, which endorsed Karrin Robson Taylor for Governor and a number of the most liberal lawmakers in the GOP caucus, including Osborne and John.
Conservative candidates did gain some notable new friends in the 2022 campaign, specifically Securing Arizona ($445k), Arizona First Project ($180k), Make Liberty Win Arizona ($180k), Term Limits Action Arizona ($120k), and Turning Point PAC ($50k). Many are funded by larger national sources that have historically helped conservatives, but the largest of them, Securing Arizona, was reportedly funded by Yellow Dog Sales, which has an address in Las Vegas, Nevada. However, no such company can be located at that address or can be found registered on the Secretary of State of Nevada’s website, so the source of that funding remains as yet unknown.
“The probability of a Republican gain of one or two seats in each chamber is supported by two statistics. One is the number of seats for which a party did not field a candidate, and the other is the number of House seats for which a party fielded only one candidate, even though two are allowed,” said Jose Borrajero, director of the Arizona People’s Lobbyist. “The Republicans have a slight overall advantage in this area. In this era of highly polarized electorates, a slight advantage could mean a significant gain.”
Do groups that back the wrong candidates pay a price for it in the next legislative session? At least one lobbyist says yes. “If you target a newcomer and lose, you have a chance to fix things because you can always claim you didn’t know how great they would turn out to be, and you can become their friend. But if you target incumbents and lose, you have burned a bridge forever. And a number of these groups that invested heavily and lost will absolutely pay a price for it.”