To 'safeguard' elections, Trump endorses some Republicans running for Arizona county seats (2024)

Sasha HupkaArizona Republic

As the election season heats up, former President Donald Trump is lending his stamp of approval to several prominent Arizona Republicans running for pivotal but historically little-known county seats with power over election certification.

Trump endorsed retiring U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko's bid to represent the West Valley on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors last week, hours before he took the stage for a town hall in north Phoenix. The county is the state's most populous, and Lesko faces a contested primary and general election.

He previously lauded state Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli, who is running for a contested seat on the Mohave County Board of Supervisors in northwestern Arizona.

Both instances marked rare presidential endorsem*nts in local races that could have broader implications for elections and democracy in Arizona and are increasingly attracting national attention.

Trump just barely lost Maricopa County to Joe Biden in 2020, and its supervisors stood as a bulwark against his baseless claims of a stolen election. Since then, they have been targets of voting conspiracies and threats. Two supervisors — Republicans Bill Gates of Phoenix and Clint Hickman of Litchfield Park — have declined to run for reelection this year.

Meanwhile, Lesko has developed a close relationship with Trump and has embraced some of his election efforts. On Jan. 6, 2021, she voted against certifying election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania and signed on to an election challenge that was swiftly dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In ultraconservative Mohave County, supervisors have twice considered a hand count of ballots cast in November. The proposal failed both times on a slim 3-2 vote. Republican Supervisor Buster Johnson, who will face Borrelli in the upcoming state primary, repeatedly voted against the idea.

Borrelli has continued to push the proposal, embarking on a statewide tour to convince supervisors in GOP-majority counties to agree to hand count ballots. Trump's endorsem*nt of his county supervisor campaign came days after Borrelli formally asked Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell to investigate what he said was evidence of security gaps in election systems and a rigged race in 2020.

Those two counties aren't the only ones brushing up against voting conspiracies and political pressure around elections.

Supervisors in rural Cochise County, located in the southeastern corner of the state, delayed certification of election results in 2022. The county was ultimately ordered by a court to certify and sent its canvass of results to state officials on Dec. 1 — three days past the deadline enshrined in state statute. Two of its supervisors are now facing felony election interference charges.

In his endorsem*nts of Lesko and Borrelli, Trump directly mentioned election administration. He called Lesko a "great friend of MAGA" and a candidate sure to "safeguard our elections." He said Borrelli had been "on the front line of fighting against corrupt elections since day one."

"It is said that 'all politics is local,' and that is especially true at the county level where elections are run fairly or rigged," Trump wrote in his endorsem*nt of Borrelli.

Are county positions gaining political clout?

Trump has often endorsed candidates running for state and federal office in previous election cycles.

But endorsem*nts for candidates in local races are far rarer. He issued only a handful of formal messages of support to Republicans running for city and county positions in 2020 and 2022.

Longtime county government officials say presidential endorsem*nts are highly unusual in supervisor races.

Hickman, who currently holds the supervisor seat Lesko is pursuing, said he doesn't recall it ever happening before in a Maricopa County contest.

Meanwhile, candidates for competitive Maricopa County offices are amassing unprecedented war chests. Historical campaign finance records show fundraising numbers so far in the cycle are much higher than usual in several county races, even when the dollars are adjusted for inflation.

Big-name politicians are also increasingly interested in county positions. Local leaders, prominent business figures and others have long run for county supervisor positions — for example, Maricopa County's current slate includes a former state lawmaker and two former city council members.

But people in positions of power at the state and federal levels, such as Borrelli and Lesko, have generally not run for such seats. Supervisor spots have historically been coveted as political launching pads and less desired by those who already hold substantial political sway, even though the positions pay more than most other elected offices in the state.

Fallout: How election misinformation, conspiracies led to felony grand jury indictments in rural AZ

Sasha Hupka covers county government and election administration for The Arizona Republic. Reach her atsasha.hupka@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter:@SashaHupka. Follow her on Instagram or Threads:@sashahupkasnaps.

To 'safeguard' elections, Trump endorses some Republicans running for Arizona county seats (2024)

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