In closing pitch, GOP makes Arizona a hotbed for far-right politics

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QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. — Abe Hamadeh, the Republican candidate for attorney general in Arizona, was flaying the media at a farm southeast of Phoenix when he paused to single out a newspaper column suggesting that authoritarianism was coming to this state, prompting a woman in the back of the crowd to shout, “Good!”

Blake Masters, the GOP pick for Senate, argued onstage that Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease doctor, “deserves to see the inside of a prison cell.”

And Kari Lake, the former television news anchor and Republican nominee for governor, asked the audience to applaud for a state senator, Wendy Rogers, who has promoted white nationalists as “patriots” and called for executing her political adversaries, remarking, “We need to build more gallows.”

After the event, Rogers said she was gratified by the praise, calling Lake a friend.

This chorus of far-right messaging came at a rally on Sunday night. It captures how Republicans in Arizona are playing to their base in the final hours of campaigning, rather than calibrating their message to win over independents in a state, once solidly red, that has become distinctly purple.

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President Biden’s poor favorability ratings and the pain of high prices have put Democrats on defense and emboldened Republicans to sharpen their rhetoric, which has tapped into cultural divisions not just in Arizona but in close contests across the country.

Nowhere is the hard move to the right more apparent than in Arizona, however, where all the top GOP candidates have spread specious claims about the 2020 presidential election. Campaigning as a group — often at rollicking events that draw crowds unusual for midterm contests — the candidates amp each other up.

They have made a studied decision not to jettison the more extreme messaging honed during the GOP primary, said a top Republican strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy. The bet is that Arizona voters, long drawn to mavericks, will reward that stance.

Among the speakers at Sunday’s rally was Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House adviser and radio host, who once tried to stitch together nationalist movements in Europe. Now, he argues, the world’s attention is on Arizona. “The media’s here from all over the world, you know why?” he asked the audience. “Because they understand the future is here on Tuesday.”

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Democrats campaigning for the state’s top jobs share that view, though the agreement ends there. They have focused their pitch in the closing days on painting their opponents as radical and agents of chaos.

“American democracy runs through the state of Arizona in 2022,” Kris Mayes, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, told voters at a union picnic over the weekend in Phoenix, asking them to keep election deniers out of office.

Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for governor, told a crowd gathered to see former president Barack Obama last week that she offered the state “real solutions, not finger-pointing or conspiracy theories.” The race for governor, she said, was a “choice between sanity and chaos.”

But voters who attended Sunday’s GOP rally southeast of Phoenix said their lives were already chaotic — and they blamed Democratic policies. Lauren, the 31-year-old who responded to the mention of authoritarianism with a call of, “Good!” and declined to give her last name, said she lost her job in the service industry because of the pandemic. The Republican governor, Doug Ducey, imposed restrictions on businesses in 2020, though some Democrats in the state argued he didn’t go far enough.

“The country has gone completely backwards,” said Leah Gumm, 51, who runs a local pest control business. She can no longer afford the cost of basic operations, she lamented, citing the increased cost of gas.

She enthused about the bare-knuckled messaging from the GOP slate of candidates. “This ticket is amazing,” she said.

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