When Arizona state lawmaker Mark Finchem, a 2020 election denier who deals in fringe legal theories, won the Republican nomination for secretary of state earlier this month, many of his GOP colleagues in the state Legislature couldn’t believe it.
To be clear, they knew he would win — he had Donald Trump’s endorsement — but they were still stunned. Mark Finchem. Him.
A back-bench lawmaker best known locally for his over-the-top drugstore cowboy get-ups and extreme ideas, Finchem would be in charge of the state’s elections should he win in November. That would also put him first in the line of succession for the governorship since Arizona doesn’t have a lieutenant governor.
“It’s basically from political gadfly within the Republican caucus to potentially the number two person in the state of Arizona,” says Arizona Republican Sen. T.J. Shope. “It’s a meteoric rise.”
“Never in a million years” would Paul Boyer, a fellow GOP state legislator, have imagined that Finchem would crush a field of qualified candidates and win a nomination to statewide office.
“Mark is known as the guy that’s probably the dumbest — well, there’s a long list, but one of the dumbest — legislators in the state House,” he says. (Finchem’s retort: Boyer is an “utter disgrace.”)
But Finchem’s rise makes sense in light of the broader shift within the Arizona Republican Party. Trump’s slate of political insurgents swept the GOP nomination for every state office in which he offered his blessing, from the U.S. Senate down to state Senate races.
After decades of civil war, the Arizona primaries mark a decisive swing in the state GOP’s balance of power. The center-right, pro-business wing of the party led by the late Sen. John McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey has been defeated, at least for now. Finchem and other far-right outsiders — the original tea party activists and the new Trumpist hard-liners — have taken over.
“We drove a stake through the heart of the McCain machine,” Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake bragged, while making a stabbing motion, at a CPAC event following the primary. “We threw together a rag-tag team of nonpolitical people to run the most exciting campaign in the country. And we won.”
Lake, a former TV news anchor, fended off more than $20 million in spending against her to narrowly capture the nomination, despite her opponent’s backing from Ducey, former GOP Gov. Jan Brewer and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Blake Masters, a 36-year-old acolyte of billionaire tech entrepreneur and Trump donor Peter Thiel, surged from behind in the U.S. Senate primary after earning Trump’s nod. Abraham Hamadeh, a 31-year-old lawyer who has spent fewer days in a courtroom than many petty criminals, was rocketed out of obscurity to win the primary for state attorney general after snagging Trump’s endorsement.
None have any political experience. But they have the main qualification that matters to the former president: They repeat the lie that the Arizona election was rigged against him. Every winning Republican candidate said they wouldn’t have certified the 2020 election. That means that as Trump gears up for a possible third run for the presidency, Arizona is facing the prospect of a slate of statewide officials who could steal the election for him. (Indeed, another victim of a Trump-backed primary was Rusty Bowers, the soft-spoken leader of the Arizona House who rebuffed Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the state’s 2020 election results and testified to the January 6 committee.)