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Wendy Rogers embraced Trump's stolen election lie and watched her star rise

The first-term state senator in Arizona has begun touring nationally as the GOP confronts divisions over Trump’s desire to make future elections about the one he lost.
Wendy Rogers speaks in Washington on Sept. 14, 2018.
Wendy Rogers speaks in Washington on Sept. 14, 2018.Thomas McKinless / CQ-Roll Call via AP file

Wendy Rogers spent 10 years trying to get elected to various state and federal offices in Arizona.

She finally won a state Senate race last fall — and immediately launched a crusade to invalidate the results.

Embracing former President Donald Trump's lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen with nearly unmatched zeal, Rogers, a Republican, has repeatedly called for jailing public officials who oversaw the vote. She has traveled the country, wrongly proclaiming that the election in Arizona and elsewhere can be decertified. Trump and prominent allies have in turn praised and promoted her, and among the sizable pro-Trump election-denial movement, she has become a major draw.

"There is a palpable effort to find [the] truth from 2020 before we move on to 2022," she said to loud cheers at an event this month for Kari Lake, the Trump-backed Republican candidate for governor of Arizona.

At the same event, Rogers called for Mark Brnovich, the state's Republican attorney general, "to do perp walks and arrest those who have shamed us" and asserted, with zero evidence, that widespread fraud was attempted in Virginia's recent elections, in which Republicans retook the governor's mansion and a majority in the state House of Delegates.

Although Rogers' exertions are futile, her relentless promotion of Trump's baseless claims has nonetheless catapulted her from perennial failed candidate to leading voice in the far-right effort to delegitimize President Joe Biden's victory. Her national touring schedule — stumping for conservative candidates and advocating for election investigations and ballot reviews like the one that took place in Arizona, which found no evidence of fraud — is unusual for a first-term state legislator, although in the age of Trump, many of those who echo his lines have become breakout figures.

At an event for Josh Mandel, a Republican Senate contender in Ohio, Rogers got a standing ovation and cheers of "We love you!" Eric Greitens, a Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, brought Rogers to the state to rally supporters and to conduct joint interviews with right-wing media outlets. And in Pennsylvania, her appearance at an "Audit the Vote" rally — organized by the same group that arranged the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the pro-Trump mob attack on the U.S. Capitol — got higher billing than House and gubernatorial candidates running in the state.

Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist and a far-right radio host who has hosted Rogers on his program multiple times, said she is a "breakout star" who is on the "cutting edge" of the "Make America Great Again" movement.

"I think if you don't see her run for high office, you're going to see her in the next Trump administration," said Bannon, who was just indicted by a federal grand jury for contempt of Congress for rebuffing the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. "Rogers is going to have a big role. I think people are looking to her for the future. People are looking for fighters, and she's clearly separating herself from the pack as having no back-down."

Rogers is ascending as the Republican Party confronts uncertainty around how closely candidates in coming elections must stick with Trump to win and divisions over whether the party should dwell on the 2020 presidential election or focus instead on future contests and criticizing the Biden administration.

Her victory last year followed a string of congressional and state Senate defeats in multiple districts from 2010 through 2018. Last fall, Rogers, a longtime resident of Tempe, moved to and ran in a more conservative district, besting a longtime Republican incumbent in a primary before winning the general election.

She raised more than $1.16 million for her campaign last year, which was more than $300,000 more than any other statehouse candidate in Arizona, according to campaign finance reports. Rogers, originally a backer of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2016 primaries, increasingly embraced Trump as he vanquished GOP opponents. Her recent campaigns focused on supporting Trump, gun rights and building a wall on the border with Mexico. While questioning the 2020 results has become her calling card, election issues weren't listed as part of her campaign's published platform.

"The Trump presidency tipped a lot of things politically and tipped her direction," said Stan Barnes, an Arizona Republican political consultant. "And so she fit right in.

"Now there's no filter, when before there may have been a filter," he added. "And it seems to be working for her. So I don't expect she's going to ever filter herself again."

Rogers, who declined to comment, is aligned with the far right on more than just the 2020 election. A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who often wears a flight jacket during political events, Rogers has boasted of her membership in the Oath Keepers "militia" group, some of whose members were convicted in connection with the Jan. 6 riot. Last month, Rogers was one of several lawmakers to speak at a QAnon-linked conference, which she sought to downplay by tweeting "What is a Q?" ahead of the event.

This summer, she was accused of signaling to backers of the white nationalist "great replacement" theory when she tweeted that "we are being replaced and invaded" in response to a story about migrants caught at the U.S.-Mexico border. And she has repeatedly praised Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, including this month, when her message to Virginians preparing to vote was "Make General Lee proud."

"It was clear to me she was going to be the most extreme right-wing elected official in our modern history," said Lauren Kuby, a Democratic City Council member in Tempe who has known Rogers for nearly two decades. "I find her ascendancy disturbing and her unwillingness to try and understand the complexity of the world and her denial of history to be disturbing to the soul."

Democrat David Schapira, who defeated Rogers in a 2010 state Senate race, said, "QAnon and radical Trumpism have sort of given names to where Wendy Rogers has always stood."

Rogers, a first-term member of the Senate who has served for less than a year, has little ability to affect Arizona policy. One of her first gambits in office was to try to get a state highway named for Trump.

Her rise, however, coincides with the state Senate's partisan review of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County, which she promoted extensively on social media, winning a large following. The review, which was conducted by a company that had no experience in Arizona elections and which experts said didn't amount to a legitimate audit, found Biden's margin of victory to be more than 300 votes greater than originally reported. An Associated Press fact-check said the report "tried to paint routine election practices in Maricopa County as errors, irregularities or sinister efforts to deny Donald Trump another term."

That hasn't deterred Rogers, who has also called for such a review in her northern Arizona district. In recent weeks, she has promoted a letter signed by about 2 percent of all state legislators in the U.S. calling for such investigations in all 50 states and for potentially decertifying results, which no state has any legal mechanism to do.

There is no evidence that widespread fraud affected the 2020 election results, and voter fraud in U.S. elections is exceedingly rare. In the year since Biden's victory, swing state votes have been counted, recounted and certified. Officials in both parties and in the Trump administration said the election was secure, and the courts have dismissed dozens of lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies challenging the results.

Rogers has been accused, including by some on the right, of being a "grifter" who is using Arizona's partisan ballot review to gain national attention and raise money.

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates, a Republican, said that he believes Rogers' statements are "very dangerous" and that she is misleading supporters by continuing to suggest that the election can be decertified.

"That's never going to happen," he said. "The election will never be decertified, no matter what Wendy Rogers does. So she's giving people false hope. And I think that's very sad. She's not being honest with her voters, with her constituents. She's getting them whipped up."

Rogers has called for members of Gates' board to be jailed, too, and in an appearance on Bannon's War Room podcast in August, she warned Maricopa County officials: "We're coming for you. You better check your six."

Across the country, election workers and officials in both parties have been inundated with threats from people who deny that Trump lost the election.

"If it relates to normalizing threats of either incarcerating us or threats of violence against us, she's been at the head of the pack," Gates said, adding that there is zero basis for Rogers' claims. "We've done nothing but actually follow the law."

Now, with the Arizona ballot review increasingly in the rearview mirror, Rogers has taken to using her large social media platform to opine on the latest outrages in the news. This month, when the "Sesame Street" character Big Bird tweeted a message explaining the benefit of getting Covid vaccinations to children, Rogers tweeted "Kids need to be listening to Jesus, not Big Bird," and "Big Bird is a communist."

Negative feedback encouraged Rogers, as she made clear in a follow-up.

"Apparently this has triggered many," she wrote. "GOOD."