Arizona’s Top Races Await Final Results in a Tension-Filled Election

PHOENIX — With Senate control in the balance and the clash for governor on a knife’s edge, Arizona’s major races crept toward a dramatic conclusion on Friday in a state that has established itself as one of the nation’s most fiercely contested battlegrounds.

In the Senate race, Mark Kelly, the Democratic incumbent, is leading his Republican rival, Blake Masters, by more than five percentage points with 82 percent of the vote counted. Mr. Kelly’s advantage is expected to shrink, but he is seen as the clear favorite. If he prevails, Democrats would be one seat away from maintaining Senate control, with votes still being counted in Nevada and Georgia’s race heading to a runoff in December.

In Arizona’s race for governor, Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, holds a narrow lead of just over a percentage point against Kari Lake, her Republican opponent. The contest is expected to tighten and appears to be a true tossup.

The slim margins have heightened the stakes in this onetime conservative stronghold, which has become a hotbed of election conspiracy theories and distrust since President Biden’s close victory here in 2020. Already, all four of the top Republicans in uncalled races this year — Ms. Lake, Mr. Masters, Abraham Hamadeh, the nominee for attorney general, and Mark Finchem, the nominee for secretary of state — have baselessly suggested that election officials are incompetent and hinted at malfeasance.

The ultimate outcome of these contests will reveal the political direction of a critical presidential swing state and could either recharge or diminish the no-holds-barred brand of Trumpian politics that Republicans are now publicly scrutinizing across the country.

The four Republicans all ran under the banner of former President Donald J. Trump. The most prominent is Ms. Lake, a longtime news anchor who turned the press into her foil, promised to declare an “invasion” at the nation’s southern border and hounded Ms. Hobbs as “weak” and a “coward” for declining to take part in a debate.

If Ms. Lake emerges victorious, she will become the most powerful elected official in a battleground state to have embraced Mr. Trump’s false “stop the steal” narrative.

Further down the ballot is Mr. Hamadeh, who also railed against the news media and is locked in a seesawing race for attorney general against Kris Mayes, a Democrat. And in the race for secretary of state, Mr. Finchem, a Trump-backed conspiracy theorist who has identified himself as a member of the Oath Keepers militia group in the past, is trailing Adrian Fontes, a Democrat and the former recorder of the state’s largest county, Maricopa.

On Twitter, Ms. Lake and Mr. Masters have projected victory. Ms. Lake told Fox News on Thursday that she had “absolute 100 percent confidence that I will be the next governor of Arizona.” Mr. Hamadeh, after taking a small lead in his uncalled race, posted a photo on Twitter of himself at a rally and seemed to claim victory, writing, “I want to thank the people of Arizona for entrusting me with this great responsibility.” He has since lost ground and is slightly trailing.

In an email to supporters on Thursday, the Masters campaign said it had seen “troubling” issues during the election and asked for contributions: “We’re expecting a contested road forward and legal battles to come.”

On Twitter, Mr. Finchem, jokingly asked his followers to “make sure” Ms. Hobbs and Mr. Fontes weren’t “in the back room with ballots in Pima or Maricopa.” Mr. Fontes fired back, writing, “Stop with this conspiracy garbage.”

Both Ms. Hobbs and Mr. Fontes have called on supporters to respect the vote-counting process. “Despite what my election-denying opponent is trying to spin, the pattern and cadence of incoming votes are exactly what we expected,” Ms. Hobbs wrote on Twitter.

In the final stretch of the campaign, top Democratic candidates and their surrogates — including former President Barack Obama and Jill Biden, the first lady — cast the state’s elections as vital to preserving the nation’s democracy. They called Ms. Lake and the other top Republican candidates in Arizona divisive and dangerous, and described the midterms as a referendum on election deniers whose ascension to the state’s highest public offices would have dire implications for how elections are run and how power is transferred.

“It is a choice between truth and fiction,” Mr. Fontes told reporters this week in front of the Arizona State Capitol.

Ms. Lake and the other Republicans embraced the criticism, pitching themselves as a tight band of outsiders taking on the news media, the left and their own party’s establishment.

At events, they welcomed far-right guest speakers. Those included Richard Grenell, a former acting director of national intelligence under Mr. Trump who spread debunked claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election, and Steve Bannon, the radio host and former Trump adviser. Like Democrats, Mr. Bannon viewed Arizona as hugely important.

“The media’s here from all over the world. You know why?” he asked the crowd at a barn in Queen Creek over the weekend as he stumped with candidates. “Because they understand the future is here on Tuesday.”

As time ticks on, the mood grows tenser.

Voters in both parties have been incessantly refreshing election results and consuming television news. Conservatives in particular have raised concerns over the vote count after problems with dozens of voting machines affected about 20 percent of election sites across the county. Republican officials in Maricopa County emphasized on Tuesday that there had been no fraud or foul play, and said that voters were still able to drop off their ballots in a secure box so they could be counted later.

That has not stopped Darrell Cate, 56, from feeling upset since he encountered an hourlong line and broken ballot-counting machines when he went to vote at a church near his home in north Phoenix. “I’m furious as hell that it takes this long,” Mr. Cate said of the count. “This is a county that can’t seem to get it done in a week. I can’t understand that. It irritates me to no end.”

Over the past few days, calls for people to stay patient have come from Republican election officials holding news conferences in Maricopa County, Democratic candidates blasting out emails to supporters and television journalists beaming into homes across the Phoenix metro area. This year, a record-breaking 290,000 ballots were dropped off on Election Day — a 70 percent increase from just two years earlier.

For months, election officials have been under immense scrutiny from promoters of the myth of a stolen 2020 election, which has hinged in part on false claims about nefariousness in Maricopa County.

Right-wing groups organized members to work the polls in this year’s elections, challenge ballots and station observers at sites where votes are counted. A federal judge curtailed the activities of an election-monitoring group after some of its members followed and photographed voters in Maricopa County. In some cases, the activists wore military-style protective gear and masks.

Hours after polls closed at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Maricopa County began reporting its first results, gleaned from early ballots and in-person Election Day votes.

But since then, the new results reported by the county have slowed to about 60,000 to 80,000 votes a day as workers slog through verifying, opening and counting hundreds of thousands of ballots.

Every day since Tuesday, two top Republican officials overseeing the election in Maricopa County have appeared before dozens of reporters camped out in the stuffy lobby of the vote-counting headquarters to make the case that the election system is fair and doing its job. They make a plea for patience and explain the byzantine process of counting votes in Arizona’s biggest county.

The messaging from Republican candidates spurred a visibly exasperated Bill Gates, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa board of Supervisors, to urge Ms. Lake to stop fanning fears about the election as workers, visible behind plate glass, forged ahead with their counting.

“Quite frankly, it’s offensive for Kari Lake to say that these people behind me are slow-rolling this when they’re working 14 to 18 hours,” said Mr. Gates, a former election lawyer. “Everyone needs to calm down a little bit, tone the rhetoric down — that’s the problem with what’s going on in our country right now.

Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting.



Sumber: www.nytimes.com

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