Elections 2022: What We Learned About Arizona Politics (Candidate Edition)

As of writing on Wednesday night, there are STILL a few votes trickling in and waiting to be counted. In what would likely be the single tightest election for Arizona state races in our state’s history (and if we’re wrong, please show us where), there is almost certainly one race that is going in for a recount, and perhaps two. So even though we do not have complete and definitive outcomes, there are still a few pieces of info that we can glean from what just happened to our dear state.

1. Trump is Dead Weight to the Republican Party

Much has been said nationally about the loss of “Trumpy” candidates, but Arizona may have been the brightest of spotlights for both the rapid ascent of those who jumped on the Trump Train as well as the rapid decline. None was as pronounced as the media personality who was expert at getting earned media while dissing the media, who eschewed traditional politics in the name of going against the political grain. That, of course, is Kari Lake, so well formed in his likeness that a Trump/Lake ticket was already being widely talked about. In what would have been a slam dunk win for Karrin Taylor-Robson after what could VERY politely be called a timid and uninspiring candidacy from Katie Hobbs, the door was wide open for a Republican win. Bombast without experience wasn’t enough to win over the McCain Republicans though, especially not after insulting John McCain.

Few kissed the ring as hard as Mark Finchem, who was actually in DC for January 6th. No race epitomized Trump’s desire to disseminate his “stop the steal” dishonesty far and wide. While Adrian Fontes has made his fair share of enemies on the left, few could say that he wasn’t better prepared for the job than Finchem, and many saw the risk of giving the Head of Elections job to someone whose allegiance seemed to be more with a former President (and future candidate) than the Arizona people.

Blake Masters and Abe Hamedeh both seemed to be relatively Trump-adjacent, in that they said and did what they needed to in order to get the endorsement. All of that was enough for the nod, but not enough to win. And while Masters, checkered background and all, offered the potential to win his race, Trump’s endorsement of Hamedeh was truly head-scratching. A very young man with very little legal experience and little leadership experience vaulting to the top of the race because of a strong family Rolodex and an endorsement instead of being most viable. Trump could have rode a winner, but instead he perplexingly put his money on an underdog and might lose as a result.

Lastly, perhaps the biggest loser: Kelli Ward. The AZ Republican Chairwoman will not be running for re-election, so her legacy is now one of kissing Trump’s butt, having her records subpoenaed, and then losing the state bigly. Yikes.


2. The Quality of Independent Expenditures Matters

As always, there was quite a bit of outside money that came in looking to impact our elections, and while some seemed to largely cancel each other out, there are a couple examples that we think stand out about how to do it and how not to do it. What’s effective and what’s not.

First, for the effective…the massive haul brought in in favor of Adrian Fontes and against Mark Finchem. First of all, the list of different independent expenditure groups was truly impressive, meaning that there was much less risk of one group with poor marketing taking up all the airwaves with mediocrity. Moreover, it seemed as though they generally all stayed to a very common theme and subthemes: about protecting our democracy, how Mark Finchem will be a danger to it and how Adrian Fontes will fight for it. In a race that is as narrow in scope as SoS, it’s perhaps easier for this than other races. They did not fall into traps and stayed focused however.

But we can compare that to the Corporation Commission race; in a race typically dominated by Republicans getting gigantic IE support from Pinnacle West (APS’s parent company), it was the Dems who got major IE support this time. Sandra Kennedy and Lauren Kuby got about $1.5 million in support between them. However, dominating these expenditures, outside of a very last second bailout attempt for Kennedy by a group named “Arizonans for Lower Energy Bills” (creative name, y’all), was the group Chispa, a local wing of the League of Conservative Voters. They consistently spend a lot of money in the Corporation Commission races for Dems, and a large amount of their expenditures seemed to be Spanish-language communications about how Kennedy and Kuby would fight for clean energy. While the Republicans got de minimis IE support and they were all on even fundraising footing due to the Clean Elections system, the GOP candidates finished #1 and #2. Chispa’s spending was at best pointless, and perhaps gave a false sense of security to the candidates.

3. What’s the Point of Being an Incumbent if You Won’t Tout What You’ve Done?

Easily one of the most head-scratching performances this cycle was that of Kathy Hoffman. While education turned into more of a flashpoint subject in the last few years for the Republicans than it was during her shocking win in 2018, the Republicans didn’t truly capitalize; instead they voted in a man with a laundry list of ethical and legal issues in his past, a man who could stand up to Joe Biden in a geriatric anti-charisma contest, Tom Horne. But Tom Horne can fundraise, and he did so in this race, bringing in nearly one million total. That said, Horne spent most of that to get through his primary, leaving Hoffman with a significant financial edge after the primary when she received her second Clean Elections check.
However, it’s how she used it that’s so perplexing. As an incumbent, she had four long years to build her resume of accomplishments for this moment: to tout what she’s done in order to make the case to re-elect her and let her finish the job. Along with name ID and fundraising, it’s one of the main benefits about being an incumbent.

Yet when reviewing all of her digital ads on Facebook, Instagram, Google and YouTube…every single one of them in the final 6 weeks of the campaign was vaguely negative, inviting people to learn about Tom Horne at “therealtomhorne.com”. ZERO mention of what she’s done, ZERO mention of what she will do, just hoping that people want to find out about the “real Tom Horne”. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t.
Her campaign had success attacking David Schapira in the 2018 primary, so perhaps that is what she snapped back to. That is poor political consulting and instincts though; while it is always fair game to bring up salient points about your opponent’s ethics, if it’s coming from the campaign as opposed to an IE it should ALWAYS be paired with how you’re better. People want to vote FOR somebody; she had $180K worth of dedicated general election money to tell voters why they should vote for her, and yet she chose not to. In such a close race, that likely made the difference.

A Democrat running for Treasurer is always a campaign of quixotism, but this Superintendent race was the real unforced error on the part of Dems in an otherwise surprisingly positive election.

4. What We Haven’t Learned Yet: Will the AG Make Hobbs’s Life Hell?

As of now, the AG race is still too close to call. We are loathe to comment too much as a result, but perhaps the person who should be paying the most attention is Katie Hobbs. If Abe Hamedeh wins, he could hypothetically make her term rather difficult with an extra level of legal scrutiny on every single thing she does, every appointee she makes, or could essentially work as the legal arm of the GOP legislative majorities. Obviously, a Mayes win will mean much smoother sailing for Hobbs.

While the Governor’s race and the Secretary of State race are rightfully placed at #1 and #2 of importance in Arizona, a lot of people will be sweating the likely recount in the Attorney General’s race, and for good reason.