The Daily Agenda: RINOs in revolt
Kelli Ward isn't winning races for Republicans ... Cochise County keeps the hand count hits coming ... And a bit of GOP introspection.
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After a record of bruising losses for the Arizona Republican Party, mainstream and moderate Republicans are calling for AZGOP Chair Kelli Ward to resign, just as Ward herself publicly called on her fellow Republicans, Bill Gates and Stephen Richer, to resign.
It’s just the latest battle in the ongoing Republican civil war, where the state party has veered far right, embracing Trumpism and eschewing Republicans who don’t align with those values. While she didn’t explicitly endorse in the primaries, she certainly played favorites, propping up candidates like Kari Lake, David Farnsworth and others.
In short, she’s made a lot of enemies of the Republicans whose votes, donations and voices have been critical parts of the conservative cause in Arizona. Or, as she calls seemingly any Republican who disagrees with her, “Republicans in Name Only.”
Ward molded the party after Trump, and her way of running it mirrored the former president’s penchant for childish name-calling and distractions. Trump himself announced he would run for president again in 2024, undeterred by the significant losses his election-denying allies saw this month.
Back in July, we talked to Republicans who worried Ward sowed divisions that would end up helping Democrats, much as national Republicans worry about Trump running again. And those Republicans were right — the state party, with Ward at the helm, lost several key statewide races, including the governorship and U.S. Senate.
“That is my biggest concern: Do we turn the election over to the Democrats?” Jonathan Lines, a former state party chair, told us in July. “I mean, if we’re very fractured, how will she bring everybody together? I can’t imagine everybody getting on a bus (after the primary) singing kumbaya and driving around the state.”
Perhaps the most consistent example of Ward and her allies’ war on RINOs was the repeated bashing of the late Sen. John McCain, who Ward lost to in the 2016 primary. Lake often derided the “McCain machine,” an influential sector of mainstream GOP politics in the state. She assumed, wrongly, that all other Republicans felt the same — and that, among many other missteps, cost Republicans the election.
Now, with further proof that Ward’s strategies, if you can call them that, have backfired, there are renewed calls for her resignation. And the most prominent one so far came yesterday from Karrin Taylor Robson, Lake’s primary challenger. Robson released a lengthy statement calling for Ward to step down, calling Ward’s leadership “an unmitigated disaster.”
“Ward had every opportunity to succeed. And yet, she failed. And failed. And failed again. … On Ward’s watch, the Arizona GOP allowed our state to vote Democrat for President for the first time in a generation, lost two U.S. Senate races, and now the Governor’s office. More concerned with stoking division and settling old scores, Kelli Ward has led our party into a deep morass with no real plan for the future,” Robson wrote.
Ward may not be running for reelection anyway, once her term expires in early 2023. One of her allies, Turning Point USA’s Tyler Bowyer, tweeted that if Robson was involved in Republican politics, “she’d already know Ward isn't even running.” Ward didn’t return our text asking if she plans to run again.
Democrats, on the other hand, will rejoice if Ward remains in control. She’s been an asset to their ability to win elections. And the more Republicans duke it out with each other, the less they focus on beating Democrats in general elections.
It’d be a mistake, though, to assume that Ward herself is the only problem with the state party. It will continue to be mired in a MAGA vs RINO dynamic as long as the party itself stays divided on big issues like Trump and elections. While the Republic’s editorial board notes that the defeat of MAGA candidates shows an end is near for election denialism, narrow defeats do not equal repudiation.
The party tends to be farther right than the Republican electorate: The precinct committeemen who vote for party leaders are often Republican activists, not moderates who dabble in politics. If Ward were to resign, or if she chooses not to run again, a similarly far-right, MAGA party chair could just as easily take over. With the way the party has been in lockstep with groups like Turning Point USA, it’d be shocking to see an embrace of establishment, big tent politics.
Ward carries a toxic baggage with her that stems from her actions against her own party. Republicans would be wise to root that out, if they want to start winning big elections again. Otherwise, the state party will continue to be a gift to Democrats.
Race updates: As of Tuesday night, the intensely close races for attorney general and superintendent of public instruction remain too close to call. Democrat Kris Mayes is less than 800 votes ahead of Republican Abe Hamadeh for AG, while Republican Tom Horne now leads by less than 9,000 votes over Democratic SPI Kathy Hoffman. Both races seem poised to head to recounts. And the governor’s race tightened as well, with GOP contender Kari Lake gaining a little yesterday, though that race was already projected for Democrat Katie Hobbs, who leads by more than 17,000 votes.
Cure that ballot: Today at 5 p.m. is the deadline to cure your ballot, and with several races still very close, each vote matters. Both Democrats and Republicans are trying to get all their voters to address these last remaining ballots. To see if your ballot needs to be cured because your signature wasn’t matching, you can log on to BeBallotReady.Vote and look under “My Ballot Status.” You also should have received calls, emails or texts from election workers trying to let you know you need to fix your signature. If your ballot status shows an issue in Maricopa County, you can call 602-506-1511 or text “Maricopa” to 28683.
The twists and turns of this story: The Cochise County hand count debacle continues, with two county supervisors filing a lawsuit against the county’s elections director, Lisa Marra. Supervisors Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby want Marra to turn over ballots to Recorder David Stevens, who would be conducting the theoretical 100% hand count that the courts have said the county cannot legally do, Votebeat’s Jen Fifield reports. The county attorney has advised Marra not to comply with the expanded hand count because of its illegality, but the courts could compel her to, the supervisors said in their filing. The supervisors still haven’t figured out who will pay their attorney, though, with an item relating to the cost of outside attorney fees failing, the Republic’s Ryan Randazzo reports. Judd and Crosby had previously said they’d pay the attorney fees rather than the county. And, as the Associated Press’ Bob Christie points out, time is ticking. Counties are required to send certified results to the state by Nov. 28, meaning the hand count shenanigans could derail certification, not just in Cochise, but statewide.
Today in concessions: GOP U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters conceded to U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, saying “there were obviously a lot of problems with this election, but there is no path forward in my race.” Kirsten Engel, the Democratic candidate in CD6, offered her “sincere congratulations” to Republican Juan Ciscomani in his win in the competitive district. And State Sen. Nancy Barto congratulated her opponent, Democratic Sen. Christine Marsh, on her win, calling their race “hard-fought” and “focused on the issues.”
Today in not-a-concession news: Democratic governor-elect Katie Hobbs delivered a victory speech to a crowd of excited supporters on Tuesday, saying “Arizonans chose solving our problems over conspiracy theories,” the Arizona Mirror’s Caitlin Sievers reports. Kari Lake has not conceded, though she hasn’t tweeted anything about her own race since her comment about “Arizonans knowing BS” on Tuesday. (She did break her blissful online silence, however, to endorse Trump’s third presidential run.) Her war room account continues to push for voters to cure their ballots and share stories about what they experienced at the polls, likely gearing up for a potential lawsuit.
Third Arizona execution this year: Murray Hooper, convicted of murdering two people in Phoenix in 1980, is set to be executed by the state today. The Phoenix New Times’ Katya Schwenk runs through the case against Hooper, including claims of misconduct by the prosecution, and his failed effort to seek clemency.
Biggs loses bigly: U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs lost his bid to become House Speaker to Kevin McCarthy. While the vote was secret, CNN reports that McCarthy won 188-31. Even though Biggs lost, he remains a quasi-leader of the far-right flank of the House, now in Republicans’ hands again. And McCarthy still needs 218 votes to officially become speaker in January, so he’ll have to win back support from more Republicans. Biggs was the leader of the Arizona Senate before running for Congress. He also once won $10 million from Publishers Clearing House.
New House leadership team just dropped: In the state House of Representatives, Rep. Ben Toma won the race for speaker over Rep. Joseph Chaplik. Toma was majority leader under House Speaker Rusty Bowers, while Chaplik was the Turning Point pick for speaker. Rep. Leo Biasiucci will be majority leader, with Rep. Teresa Martinez as majority whip.
One-on-one: The Arizona Daily Star’s Danyelle Khmara snagged an interview with the recently resigned head of Customs and Border Protection, Chris Magnus. Magnus told the paper that he didn’t align with leadership in the Department of Homeland Security, and that he was asked to resign but didn’t want to.
“I want to push back significantly on this narrative that was being spun that somehow I was disengaged, especially being described in that way by anonymous sources,” Magnus said. “It was patently false, and people may not agree with what I was trying to do, but disengaged? No.”
Survey says: The Republic’s Corina Vanek compares Maricopa County, the fourth most populous county in the country, to the other largest counties to see how our voting processes and counting compare.
This clip of Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk and State Sen. Wendy Rogers talking about how Republicans possibly could have lost shows some rare signs of self-reflection. Kirk says he’s “shocked” by the election results because the “vibe on the ground was totally different than this.”
"We wonder now if we were in an echo chamber,” Rogers responds. “I don't know. I'm just beginning to get some perspective."