In many cases, the collapse of a system isn’t a choice; throughout history, many empires and dynasties have fallen. In the late Bronze Age, virtually the entire civilized world fell into ruin. In the 5th century, the last remnants of the Western Roman Empire imploded, sparking the millennia-long Middle Ages. In 1453, the last remnant of the Byzantine Empire fell as Constantinople was conquered. The British Empire gradually faded over the 20th century, shifting the Pax Brittanica to today’s Pax Americana.
What separates the shocking decline of the Arizona Republican Party from these historical collapses is that this really isn’t the fault of a combination of unavoidable factors – for the most part, this was a choice by the party, which seemingly wants to lose. Angered by decades of dominance from so-called RINOs, conservatives seized control of the party in 2019 by electing far-right Kelli Ward – most known for her curiosity towards the chemtrail conspiracy theory – as chairwoman. Since then, Ward has overseen the atrophy of the Arizona GOP into a complete and utter joke of an organization.
After the 2022 elections, it’s clear that the status quo will only lead the Arizona Republican Party into ruin. But it seems fleetingly unlikely that the party will make a course correction anytime soon.
Blake Masters suffers miserable defeat
Most election analysts expected incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly to win a full term, but few expected him to do so by a 5% margin. However, it’s not difficult to see why in hindsight – his opponent, Republican Blake Masters, ran perhaps the worst campaign of any Republican Senate candidate this cycle.
Masters – a political gadfly funded by Peter Thiel and endorsed by Donald Trump – tacked hard to the right in the primary. Masters focused heavily on Trump’s false claims of election fraud, even attending the premiere of 2,000 Mules. His ads routinely showcased Masters walking around cornfields spewing minute-long monologues, with bizarre, apocalyptic music playing in the background. The most bizarre of his ads featured him shooting and fondling a “Bond gun” in the wilderness, repeatedly praising its German manufacturing.
Masters also made substantial gaffes throughout the entirety of the campaign: he praised the Unabomber, blamed gun violence on Black people, called for the privatization of Social Security, and advocated for not just a total ban on abortion but also the overturning of Griswold v. Connecticut, which prohibited states from banning contraception. An attempt by Masters to pivot to the center in the general proved to be both far too late and far less convincing than Martha McSally’s similarly-failed efforts in 2018 and 2020.
In contrast, Kelly ran an aggressively normal and boring campaign. As usual, the former astronaut raised an astronomical amount of money. This war chest was funneled into attack ads, many of which showcased Masters’s bizarre statements and unpopular viewpoints. With this daunting financial firewall, Republicans spent comparatively little in the state. The NRSC was cash-strapped for most of the election, while Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund mostly stayed out of this contest, daring Thiel and Trump to financially support their candidate. Neither ultimately stepped up to the plate, leaving Masters’s campaign to mostly flounder, hoping that Kari Lake could win by a large enough margin to pull him over the edge – something that didn’t even come close to happening.
Kari Lake loses in upset, claims fraud
In his six elections he ran for and won, the late Senator John McCain received no less than 53.7% of the vote in every single one. His tenure as Senator saw the state Republican Party assert dominance over Arizona, routinely dominating federal and statewide races.
Why do I mention McCain here? Because Republican Kari Lake – a Trump-endorsed former news anchor that barely squeaked to victory over a normal Republican in the primary – made it plain and clear that McCain Republicans had no place in her movement. Despite McCain having died years ago, Lake displayed almost a single-minded fixation on him and his supporters.
Ironically, despite declaring that McCain Republicans had delivered “losers”, Lake herself lost the gubernatorial race – something no major election analysis organization predicted. It turns out that telling people not to vote for you is not a winning strategy. Unsurprisingly, Lake is refusing to concede and is instead claiming voter fraud and voter suppression – claims taken straight from the Stacey Abrams playbook.
What makes this feat all the more impressive is how against-the-grain this result was. Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee, ran a campaign that can be described as mediocre at best, while Lake was lauded by far-right conservatives for her oratory abilities. Final polling averages showed Lake up by around 2-4%, and Hobbs led in only one of the last 20 polls – a poll conducted by Marist. Hobbs delivered a “silent majority” of voters, and in hindsight, I’m sure Lake might have preferred those “McCain Republicans” vote for her instead of Hobbs.
Republicans claim 6-3 majority in redrawn House maps
In the first election held under new congressional lines, Republicans managed to secure a 6-3 majority – a gain of two seats, and their most representatives elected since 2004. The new map undoubtably played a large part in this; the previous decade’s redistricting chair, Colleen Mathis, produced a map that skewed far to the left of the state’s median vote. As a result, the map had a tendency to go against the popular vote: Democrats secured 5-4 majorities in 2012 and 2020 despite losing the popular vote by 8.6% and 0.3%, respectively. Democrats even came within 150 votes of carrying a majority in 2014 with only 39.4% of the vote.
The new map provided a much more competitive environment, with the median seats (CD01 and CD06) voting for Joe Biden by 1.5% and 0.1%, respectively. Republican David Schweikert, an incumbent, held CD01 by 0.8%, while Republican Juan Ciscomani flipped CD06 by 1.5%. In the new Republican-leaning, Trump+8 CD02, Eli Crane emerged victorious over incumbent Democrat Tom O’Halleran by 7.7%. Republican hopes of an upset in Phoenix were dashed, however, as Greg Stanton easily prevailed by over 12 percentage points in the new Biden+10 CD04.
While Crane is likely fairly safe, both Schweikert and Ciscomani will likely face strong challengers in 2024, setting up Arizona as one of the key House battleground states. The fact that Democrats almost held AZ-06 despite not even spending there should raise immediate red flags for Arizona Republicans.
Democrats Fontes, Mayes prevail against election deniers
Arizona’s major row offices split down the middle. Two Republicans won statewide: Treasurer Kimberly Yee, an incumbent, normal Republican, and Superintendent-elect Tom Horne, a controversial but longtime elected Republican who had previous served as both Superintendent (2003-11) and Attorney General (2011-15). Yee won by the widest margin of any statewide candidate – 11.4% – while Horne won by less than 0.4%.
In the two other major offices, Democrats prevailed. In the race for Secretary of State, former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes demolished election denier Mark Finchem by a wider-than-expected 4.8% margin. In the race for Attorney General, Kristin Mayes won by just 510 voters over political newcomer and Trump-endorsed election denier Abraham Hamadeh; this margin is unlikely to change in a recount.
A handful of minor row offices were also up for grabs: Mine Inspector Paul Marsh, a Republican, ran unopposed, while Republicans Kevin Thompson and Nick Myers won the two open races on the Corporation Commission. With the defeat of Democrat Sandra Kennedy, Republicans now hold a 4-1 majority on the body.
Legislature remains in Republican hands, but only barely
In one of the few positives for Republicans on election night, they managed to maintain their razor-thin control of the legislature. While the House was no surprise (Democrats failed to recruit enough candidates to have even a theoretical chance at winning it), Republican hopes of gaining seats in the State Senate failed to come to fruition; in both chambers, the status-quo (31-29 majority in the House, 16-14 in the Senate) was upheld).
This very slight majority could well be in danger in 2024 if Democrats are able to win statewide again – or simply recruit enough candidates in the House in order to be competitive. On top of this, a Republican in the House is claiming she’ll refuse to cast any votes unless the election is “redone”, which would reduce Republicans to only a 30-29 majority in the chamber. To say this is tenuous control would be an understatement.