Aug 11, 2022 - Politics

Arizona's primary election was rough for incumbent lawmakers

Data: Arizona Secretary of State; Chart: Skye Witley/Axios

An unusually high number of incumbent state legislators were defeated in last week's primary election, or they are currently losing their races. That follows a nationwide trend, at least on the Republican side of the aisle.

By the numbers: Nine incumbents lost or are losing their reelection campaigns in the primary.

  • Sens. Vince Leach (R), Tyler Pace (R) and Kelly Townsend (R), and Reps. Judy Burges (R), John Fillmore (R), Joel John (R), Sarah Liguori (D), Lorenzo Sierra (D) and Christian Solorio (D).
  • From 2010 to 2020, the highest number of incumbents who were not reelected in the primary was four.

The big picture: According to The Associated Press, 7.1% of Republican incumbent legislators and 2.8% of Democrats who sought reelection nationwide this year have lost in primaries.

  • In the preceding decade, the highest number was the 4.4% who lost their GOP primary elections in 2012.
  • Of note: The AP's figures are only through Aug. 1, so they don't include Arizona.

Context: In many cases, the AP said Republican lawmakers are losing to Trump-aligned challengers who accuse them of not being conservative enough.

That phenomenon was at least partially at play in Arizona, where some of the GOP incumbents who lost were viewed as less conservative or running against opponents endorsed by Trump.

  • Pace has long been considered one of the more moderate Republicans in the legislature, and Trump endorsed his primary opponent, Robert Scantlebury.
  • Townsend is known as very conservative, but also ran against a Trump-backed opponent after she and fellow Sen. Wendy Rogers were drawn into the same district in redistricting last year.
  • Some incumbent House members who ran for Senate seats in their districts also lost to opponents who had Trump's support, including Speaker Rusty Bowers, who was trounced by former Sen. David Farnsworth.

Yes, but: Former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham says Trump was a factor, but not the only reason so many incumbents fell short.

  • Graham says the factors that fueled Trump's rise were more responsible than the former president himself.
  • "People are just dissatisfied with the way they're being represented," he tells Axios Phoenix.

What he's saying: "Yes, the extremes successfully kept fanning the flames of doubt and overlooked the incredible accomplishments of so many who put the state first. But I believe they have overlooked many who are tired of it all," Bowers said in a text message to Axios Phoenix.

  • Joel John says the parties have become more polarized and because of that some people have a mentality that if you're not 100% with the party, you're against it.
  • "If you dare go against the party or the caucus, then you're a target. And I would prefer to be a yes-man for my district and my community than a yes-man for my party," he tells Axios Phoenix.

The other side: Only three Democratic incumbents were not, but that's still more than most years in the past decade.

  • Sierra tells Axios Phoenix that in some races Democrats faced a similar phenomenon as the Republicans, with lawmakers who were viewed as more centrist like himself and Rep. Cesar Chavez, who lost a primary for an open Senate seat, being defeated.
  • But Sierra says each race has its own unique circumstances that must be taken into consideration.
  • For example, Liguori was largely a victim of redistricting after being drawn in with two other incumbent Democrats who sought re-election.

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