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Arizona Legislature primary: House Speaker Rusty Bowers loses race against Trump-backed opponent

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 8/3/2022 Ray Stern, Arizona Republic

Trump-aligned candidates and their opponents have made Arizona's 2022 legislative primary elections a bellwether election state for "America First" politics.

Ballot results released from 8 p.m. to midnight Tuesday showed Trump-allied Republicans soundly leading their competitors. Results could change as more ballots get counted.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, lost to his Trump-endorsed opponent, former lawmaker David Farnsworth.

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Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, was losing big to former Air Force pilot Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, who raised $3 million for the race.

Trump officially endorsed five Republican legislative candidates, and all five were beating their competitors by substantial margins as votes came in Tuesday. Other GOP candidates who have embraced Trump's leadership also appear well-positioned after the initial vote counts. Many of the GOP races were between like-minded conservatives whose main difference was loyalty to Trump.

On the Democrat side, younger — often female — progressives challenged incumbents in some Democrat-heavy districts. But a strategy of running just one candidate in competitive districts, plus poor odds of taking majority control of the Legislature in this cycle, placed additional importance on the brand of GOP candidates who win the primary.

Election coverage: Live updates across Arizona | Arizona election results

Will Trump's endorsement be decisive?

The Bowers-Farnsworth fight is one of the most prominent statehouse races in the country.

Vote counts released Tuesday put Bowers substantially behind his Trump-endorsed opponent, former lawmaker Farnsworth, who has said he believes the devil interfered directly with the 2020 presidential election.

Bowers, an artist who makes Western-theme sculptures, famously resisted attempts by Trump and his legal team to draw him into a plot to overturn the 2020 election, later giving emotional testimony on the matter before the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. His stance on Trump and issues like LGBT rights produced political enemies, too, and the increasingly hard-right leaders of the Arizona Republican Party censured the longtime conservative in July.

'Politics of thuggery': Stakes high in state Senate race between Bowers, Farnsworth

Farnsworth and Bowers are both dedicated members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and both espouse strong conservative views. They both went to Mesa High School, one year apart. Farnsworth owned and ran car-related businesses for years, has been a Home Depot supervisor and now works in real estate investing.

The open seat is one of 43 in the House and Senate, out of 90, that will be decided in the primary.

Of the 47 Legislative seats left after the Aug. 2 election, 36 are in districts with voters who skew heavily right or left. That leaves only 11 seats that are likely to see competitive races between Republican and Democratic candidates in November.

It all adds up to a primary that will tell much — though not everything — about how much sway Trump still has in Arizona politics and whether that could dim Republican prospects in a general election.

In another battleground, Rogers and Townsend are competing in the new Legislative District 7, which also is getting national attention, mainly because Rogers has become a national icon of the far-right. She's a stalwart Trump supporter since before she won office and has garnered more than $3 million for her reelection bid, mostly from supporters in other states.

Rogers ended Tuesday with a solid lead over Townsend.

Primary voters in the far-flung, Republican-leaning district, which runs from Flagstaff to Apache Junction, were choosing between a star Trump supporter in Rogers and one of the state's most vociferous proponents of baseless election fraud allegations who withdrew from her congressional race this year after Trump denied her an endorsement.

Rogers is in her first term as state senator following a 10-year attempt to get elected to either state or federal office. She was censured by her Republican peers for targeting them with political threats and heavily criticized for her tolerance of racist or antisemitic supporters.

Townsend was in the House for eight years before voters put her in the Senate in 2020. She's no moderate: The Justice Department handed her a subpoena late in the race demanding records related to her role in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Townsend helped gather support from other lawmakers to promote a fake slate of electors from Arizona who would deny Biden his rightful win in the state.


Video: 2020 election deniers win key GOP primaries (CBS News)

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The women, both military veterans, traded barbs frequently on social media before the election.

Democrat and student activist Kyle Nitschke will take on the winner in November.

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Will newcomers topple incumbents?

The redistricting process that wrapped up in January and a mass resignation of lawmakers last year meant a bumper crop of new or newly appointed candidates seeking office. Primary voters had several chances to either stick with familiar faces or try someone new.

In the new Legislative District 3, which covers Anthem in the north down to upper Scottsdale, Fountain Hills and Rio Verde, political newcomer Jan Dubauskas trailed veteran lawmaker and retired Port Authority of New York and New Jersey detective John Kavanagh.

Dubauskas made education a main issue, promoting private school subsidies and criticizing "woke gender indoctrination." Claiming that Kavanagh was out of touch with voters, she began campaigning early, raising more money last year for her campaign than any other candidate except Rogers.

Kavanagh was helped by name recognition and his extensive community contacts he and his wife, Linda, the former Fountain Hills mayor, had garnered in their political careers.

The winner will take on Democrat Thomas Dugger in November.

Elections: The next Arizona Legislature will be shaped mostly by primary election

Competitiveness factor will get tested

Most of the new 30 legislative districts swing toward Republicans or Democrats, but the Independent Redistricting Commission made five districts competitive between the parties. Data on past elections show that four of the five lean slightly Republican, except for west Mesa's Legislative District 9, which leans slightly Democrat. The primary election will reveal where these districts really stand.

The key race in this category, not surprisingly, is in Legislative District 9, where Trump-supported candidate Robert Scantlebury took a large lead against incumbent Sen. Tyler Pace.

Pace, a managing partner of a health care and hospice firm, has taken less strident stands on hard-right issues of some of his peers in his two terms of office. This year, for instance, he opposed a bill that would have banned transgender youth from receiving hormone therapy, though he later voted to ban underage genital reassignment surgery.

Scantlebury's a retired Mesa police sergeant who has mimicked Trump's in-your-face style in his insults of Pace and attacks on what he calls the "radical left."

The race was flooded with outside spending on Scantlebury from a local conservative PAC, Securing Arizona, and on Pace by bipartisan and conservative environmental groups, education groups and others.

Democrat and nurse Eva Burch has raised more than $135,000 in preparation for the coming general election race.

In the new Legislative District 29 in the West Valley, Tuesday's results had two-term incumbent Rep. Joanne Osborne trailing Trump-endorsed nurse Janae Shamp.

Redistricting helped put Osborne, who owns a jewelry store with her husband, Ken, in a tough primary race with Shamp and security business owner Ryan Eldridge. Osborne decided last year to run for Senate in the new district, avoiding a crowded GOP House race with four other candidates.

Osborne has come down on the wrong side of several issues in the eyes of hardliners. Maricopa County Republicans censured Osborne and two other GOP lawmakers in December for voting against an expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account program that provides subsidies for private schools.

Yet Osborne later supported this year's historic voucher expansion law signed by Gov. Doug Ducey. The other two lawmakers censured with Osborne: Reps. Michelle Udall, who ran for secretary of state, and Joel John, who ran for reelection, were both losing their races Tuesday. 

Shamp, a registered nurse, had teamed up with other Trump-picked candidates including gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, making her loyalty to the former president her main brand.

Eldridge ran far behind both women in the first returns.

Will progressive movement gain?

Democrats may be unlikely to take control of the Legislature after November, but their internal power balance could change after the primary.

Progressives could make inroads in some districts against more establishment-oriented Democrats and voters could toss out several incumbents. 

Tuesday's count showed two incumbent House members in central Phoenix’s new Legislative District, Amish Shah and Jen Longdon, with a healthy lead against a fellow incumbent and two hopeful candidates who haven’t yet held office.

Redistricting forced four incumbents to compete for two House seats in the Democrat-heavy district. One, Kelli Butler, dropped out. That left three incumbents competing for the seats: finance specialist Sarah Liguori (who was appointed to the House last year after Aaron Lieberman dropped out for his unsuccessful gubernatorial race), disability activist Longdon and emergency room doctor Shah.

Longdon and Shah raised the most money in the race, with Longdon benefiting from $53,000 in outside funding by the Arizona Progress Fund.

Transgender activist Brianna Westbrook, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018, and military veteran Aaron Marquez trailed the pack.

Reach the reporter at rstern@arizonarepublic.com or 480-276-3237. Follow him on Twitter @raystern.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Legislature primary: House Speaker Rusty Bowers loses race against Trump-backed opponent

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