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Primaries in key swing states test Trump's influence, endurance of false 2020 claims

Crucial GOP contests in Arizona and Michigan featured candidates who have embraced Trump's stolen election lie. Meanwhile, Kansas voters overwhelmingly supported keeping protections for abortion rights enshrined in the state Constitution.

Republican primaries up and down the ballot in Arizona on Tuesday tested former President Donald Trump's influence over the future of the GOP and the endurance of his stolen election lie.

By early Wednesday morning, most contests in the presidential swing state that delivered President Joe Biden his slimmest margin of victory in 2020 had winners, according to NBC News' projections. Voters in Michigan, Missouri, Washington and Kansas also settled marquee statewide races as well as general election match-ups critical to control of Congress.

Leading candidates in the Arizona GOP contests for Senate, governor, secretary of state and attorney general nearly universally echoed Trump’s election conspiracies, earning his endorsement. In the primary for governor, Kari Lake, a longtime local news anchor backed by Trump and a number of MAGA influencers, has called Biden "illegitimate," bashed Republican Gov. Doug Ducey as "do nothing Ducey" and suggested she won't accept the results of her election should her opponent prevail.

Her opponent Karrin Taylor Robson, a real estate developer who worked in the Reagan White House and is backed by Ducey, former Vice President Mike Pence and other GOP officials, has called the 2020 election "unfair" but refrained from saying it was stolen and has refused to commit to certifying the next presidential election. (Ducey, who is term limited from running again, earned Trump’s ire when he certified Biden’s victory.)

As of 9:34a.m. ET Wednesday, Lake led Taylor Robson by fewer than 2 percentage points with nearly 80% of the expected vote counted.

There is no evidence that the 2020 vote in Arizona, or any other state, did not reflect the will of voters. In Arizona, ballot reviews, including a partisan undertaking blessed by the GOP-led state Senate, only affirmed Biden’s win. Earlier this year, Arizona’s Republican attorney general released a report finding no mass fraud in Maricopa County, where Trump and allies focused their efforts and allegations.

On Monday, GOP Attorney General Mark Brnovich said his office had looked into claims that 282 dead voters had cast ballots in Maricopa County and found that just one of those voters was actually dead at the time of the 2020 election. Those allegations stemmed from the conspiracy-laden, partisan review of Maricopa County ballots led by the now-shuttered company Cyber Ninjas.

"Our agents investigated all individuals that Cyber Ninjas reported as dead, and many were very surprised to learn they were allegedly deceased," Brnovich, who is running in the Senate primary, wrote in a letter to state Senate President Karen Fann, who signed off on the unorthodox Cyber Ninjas review.

Image:
Arizona Democratic candidate for governor Katie Hobbs speaks to the media before dropping off her primary election ballot in Scottsdale on July 21.Ross D. Franklin / AP file

On the Democratic side, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs won her party's primary for governor, NBC News projected. As the state's top elections official, she has been a target of stolen election conspiracy theories and was harassed and threatened for her work and defense of the state’s system in 2020.

Recent polling had suggested an extremely tight race between the Lake and Taylor Robson, well within the margin of error. Surveys found Lake leading among younger Republicans while Taylor Robson did better with older voters.

Both candidates focused intensely on the influx of migrants crossing the southern border.

"Ducey laid down like a doormat to the cartels," Lake said at a Tucson rally last month. "I’m tired of having a doormat running the show in Arizona."

In an interview with NBC News after a campaign event in Queen Creek in July, Taylor Robson predicted she would win because "Arizona is looking forward" and Lake is "really focused in the rearview mirror and unfocused on the windshield."

Taylor Robson compared Lake to Evan Mecham, a former Republican governor of Arizona who in the late 1980s simultaneously faced impeachment, a recall election and a felony indictment.

Mecham's tenure "led to … years and years of difficulty for the state of Arizona, our reputation and everything else," she said. "And Kari Lake will be Evan Mecham on steroids. I believe she will be a disaster for this state."

The Lake-Taylor Robson clash wasn't the only one in the state drawing national attention. In the state's GOP Senate primary, Trump's preferred candidate, Blake Masters, a protege of tech billionaire and Republican megadonor Peter Thiel, prevailed over a field that included businessman Jim Lamon and Brnovich, NBC News projected. He will take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly this fall.

Heading into Election Day in the battle for secretary of state, state Rep. Mark Finchem, a close ally of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and an early adopter of election lies, pulled out a victory. Ducey has endorsed Finchem's chief rival, businessman Beau Lane, who has not said the last election was stolen.

Then there's the race for attorney general, where NBC News projected that Abe Hamadeh, a former Maricopa County prosecutor with Trump's endorsement, won amid a large field of opponents. Hamadeh has boosted Trump's stolen election rhetoric.

Democracy advocates have for months zeroed in on the Arizona races as critical for the future of honest elections. Finchem, for example, co-sponsored a bill in the state House that would have given the Legislature the ability to overturn election results.

Tuesday featured several high-profile races elsewhere. Tudor Dixon, a former conservative commentator and actor, won Michigan’s Republican primary for governor. She capitalized on chaos-inducing stumbles by her rivals while earning the support of powerful backers like the family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, one of the most powerful in Michigan GOP politics — and finally Trump's endorsement last week.

Now set to face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this fall, Dixon dispatched a field that included Kevin Rinke, a self-funding former car dealer whose name is familiar to Detroit-area voters; Garrett Soldano, a chiropractor who gained a grassroots following on the right by protesting Whitmer’s Covid policies; and Ryan Kelley, a real estate broker who has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he was part of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters aiming to stop the certification of the 2020 election.

In Missouri, Attorney General Eric Schmitt won a bitterly contested Senate primary that also featured disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, and Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long, NBC News projected. On Monday, Trump said in a statement he endorsed "ERIC," opting not to make a pick between Schmitt and Greitens. (There was a third Eric in the race, too — the little-known Eric McElroy.)

Meanwhile, a trio of House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year faced primary voters — Reps. Peter Meijer of Michigan, and Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse, both of Washington. Meijer lost his bid, NBC News projected early Wednesday morning. At the same time, it was still undecided whether Beutler or Newhouse would advance the general election under Washington state's top-two primary system.

Democrats had few contested primaries of note on Tuesday. In Michigan, NBC News projected that Rep. Haley Stevens bested Rep. Andy Levin in an incumbent vs. incumbent primary in the Detroit suburbs, the result of a redistricting process that drew them into the same boundaries. And in Missouri, NBC News projected that Anheuser-Busch heir Trudy Busch Valentine defeated self-proclaimed "populist" Lucas Kunce and others for the state's Democratic Senate nomination.

In Kansas, voters chose not to remove language protecting abortion rights from the state’s Constitution as part of a ballot referendum that would have handed power to the GOP-controlled Legislature to decide the issue.

Roughly 60% of voters cast "no" ballots while about 40% backed "yes," according to vote tallies as of 9:39 a.m. ET Wednesday morning. In some Kansas counties that Trump won overwhelmingly, a significant majority of voters opted not to strip the language protecting abortion rights from the state's Constitution.

The vote may have significant consequences ahead of this fall's elections as it was the first time since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade that U.S. voters cast ballots on the issue of abortion rights.