The Arizona race is the latest test of Republican voters’ priorities, as they decide between a candidate who has built her campaign around Trump’s election lies and one who more closely reflects Pence’s desire to steer the GOP’s focus away from relitigating 2020 and toward conservative policies.
Pence is set to hold two events Friday with Karrin Taylor Robson, the former Arizona Board of Regents member who has become the GOP establishment favorite in the governor’s race and is endorsed by term-limited Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
Pence, Robson and Ducey will visit a Peoria business that manufactures tactical equipment for law enforcement on Friday morning, and later attend a border security briefing at the National Border Patrol Council’s office in Tucson.
Trump, meanwhile, is campaigning with a slate of candidates who have parroted his lies about widespread fraud in the 2020 election — led by Kari Lake, a former local television news anchor who Ducey said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” is “misleading voters with no evidence.”
Also part of that Trump ticket are Senate candidate Blake Masters, who is seeking to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in a race that is crucial in the battle for control of the Senate, as well as secretary of state contender Mark Finchem and attorney general hopeful Abe Hamadeh, all of whom are expected to speak at Friday’s event.
Ducey, though, said in an interview that Pence “brings the imprimatur of a true conservative to this race.”
“He’s an exceptional leader,” Ducey said. “He’s been an invaluable partner to me and my team. When he served as governor of Indiana, he was a great colleague and collaborator with other governors. And as Vice President, he continue[d] to be. So when Mike Pence speaks out on this race, it brings all of that and more.”
The winner of the Republican primary for governor is likely to face Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is widely seen as the frontrunner in the Democratic primary.
If Lake wins the August 2 primary, she would join Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano on the list of GOP gubernatorial nominees in swing states who have embraced lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
Election deniers have won the Republican nod in other key races in battleground states, as well. The Michigan GOP at a convention chose election deniers as their candidates for secretary of state and attorney general, and Nevada Republicans chose an election denier as their secretary of state nominee.
If those election deniers win in November’s midterm elections, they would be poised to control their states’ election machinery or influence its legal process in the 2024 presidential race.
Pence’s escalating clash with Trump
Arizona is the second gubernatorial primary in which Pence has made a move aimed at limiting Trump’s influence.
In Georgia, Pence rallied on the eve of the May primary with Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who easily defeated the Trump-endorsed former Sen. David Perdue in a contest that revolved around Trump’s pledge to punish Kemp for refuting the former President’s lies about fraud in a state President Joe Biden won by 11,779 votes.
Biden defeated Trump in Arizona by 10,457 votes, a reality Trump has also rejected. His lies about fraud led Republicans who control the state Senate to commission a partisan review of the 2020 results in Maricopa County, the home of Phoenix.
Pence in recent weeks has attempted to steer the Republican Party away from Trump’s obsession with the 2020 election and toward the conservative policies that Pence was known for advocating as a congressman and Indiana governor, before he joined Trump’s ticket in 2016.
In a speech Wednesday night at the Florence Baptist Temple in Florence, South Carolina — one of the first states to vote in the GOP’s presidential nominating process — Pence focused on the path for abortion opponents after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade.
He used his remarks to deliver a blueprint of sorts to his fellow Republicans to strengthen abortion restrictions and further limit the federal government’s involvement in the issue. He said Republicans need to back policies that would make adoption easier and less expensive, and urged the party to push for state laws banning abortion.
“As we gather tonight, we must recognize that we’ve only come to the end of the beginning. Standing here in the first days of a post-Roe America, we must resolve that we will not rest, we will not relent until the sanctity of life is restored in the law of every state in the nation,” Pence said.
Trump, meanwhile, remains focused on feuds with state officials over the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
Following a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that declared mail-in ballot drop boxes illegal in future elections, state Assembly Speaker Robin Vox, a Republican who hired a former state Supreme Court justice who had already embraced Trump’s lies about election fraud to search for evidence to support those claims, said that Trump called him last week to urge him to decertify the state’s 2020 results.
CNN’s Mike Warren and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.