Apr 18, 2024 - News

Arizona GOP Rep. Austin Smith ends campaign amid forgery allegations

Illustration of an elephant walking through an exit door.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Arizona Republicans will have to rely on a write-in campaign to hold a state House seat after first-term incumbent Rep. Austin Smith (R-Surprise) ended his campaign following allegations that signatures on his nominating petitions were forged.

Why it matters: The GOP is trying to maintain its one-vote House majority this year, and it can't afford to concede any safe districts.

Zoom in: Each district elects two at-large representatives. Only two Republicans — Smith and fellow incumbent Rep. Steve Montenegro — filed to run in the West Valley-based Legislative District 29.

  • Two Democrats are also in the race for the overwhelmingly Republican district.
  • In his announcement, Smith said James Taylor, a lifelong Republican who worked at the Palo Verde Generating Station for nearly 30 years, has agreed to run as a write-in.

Catch up quick: Democrats filed a legal challenge to Smith's candidacy this week alleging a number of his petition sheets contain signatures "that appear to have been written by the same person" and that many "bear a striking resemblance" to Smith's own handwriting.

  • The complaint included affidavits from two voters stating they didn't sign Smith's petition, even though their names appear on it.
  • State law mandates that all petitions submitted by a candidate found guilty of forgery shall be disqualified, and that the candidate is ineligible to run for office for five years.

Threat level: If Taylor or another write-in Republican doesn't receive enough primary votes, the GOP won't be able to win both safe seats.

  • Write-in primary candidates must get a number of votes equal to or greater than the number of signatures they would've needed to normally qualify for the ballot.
  • For Republicans in District 29, that number is 527.

What he's saying: In a statement on X, Smith on Thursday denied forging signatures and called the complaint part of an "intense effort" by the Democrats to "get me."

  • He said some allegedly forged signatures were for Democratic voters, and questioned why anyone would forge the signatures of Democrats not eligible to sign Republican petitions.
  • But rather than spend thousands on legal fees and risk a judge falsely finding that he'd committed forgery, he said, he's ending his campaign.
  • "I might be confident of victory, but all it would take is a judge believing any one person, and all would be lost," he said.

Context: Smith is a member of the far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus and a top official at Turning Point Action, the campaign arm of the campus conservative organization Turning Point USA.

What's next: Secretary of State Adrian Fontes has referred the complaint to the attorney general for forgery or fraud allegations, spokesperson Aaron Thacker told Axios.

The other side: Democrats are facing a similar situation in a safely blue district.

  • Rep. Melody Hernandez (D-Tempe) ended her state Senate campaign Monday after a Republican complaint alleged she didn't qualify because she didn't have enough valid signatures and had too many outstanding campaign finance fines.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the news of Smith's resignation from Turning Point Action.

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