Former President Donald Trump is touching down in Arizona Saturday for his first rally of the midterm election year, bringing the spotlight to a state that will have hotly contested races for governor and the U.S. Senate in November.

In the governor’s race, Trump has endorsed Kari Lake, a former news anchor who says she wouldn’t have certified the 2020 election. He has not yet picked a Senate candidate to take on incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly.

The Republicans who are vying to challenge Kelly include Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, solar power executive Jim Lamon, venture capitalist Blake Masters and retired Air Force Major General Michael “Mick” McGuire.

Democrats have won the last two Senate races in Arizona, including the 2020 special election when Kelly defeated former Senator Martha McSally by 2.4 points. Kelly, a retired astronaut, is serving the remainder of the late Arizona Senator John McCain’s term and must run again this year for a full six-year term.

Trump isn’t expected to endorse anyone Saturday — Arizona’s primary is August 2, and sources familiar with the race believe Trump is waiting to see how the race shapes up before he decides on a candidate.
His endorsement is powerful, but it doesn’t always clear the field. North Carolina Congressman Ted Budd, for instance, is in a tough race against former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. And in Alabama, Trump-endorsed Congressman Mo Brooks is locked in a a tight contest against Katie Britt, who was retiring Senator Richard Shelby’s chief of staff.

Trump remains popular with Arizona Republicans. Though his endorsement failed to carry McSally to victory in the 2018 or 2020, it would be influential in the primary.

“If you’re any candidate in this race for Senate, you want his endorsement,” said Chris DeRose, a lawyer and former Brnovich staffer in the state attorney general’s office. “Do you need it to win? No. But you’d be crazy not to want it.”

In November, Trump attended a fundraiser that Masters held at Mar-a-Lago. Masters, who is the president of billionaire Peter Thiel’s foundation and holds a Stanford law degree, told CBS News that winning the race becomes “a lot harder” without Trump’s endorsement, but he’s sure the former president won’t back any of his opponents.

Brnovich has been the front runner in the race and his supporters are counting on his record on immigration to help him in the primary. A source familiar with the race said that Trump and Brnovich speak regularly, and Brnovich could visit Mar-a-Lago soon. Over time, Trump has become less pointed in his criticism of Brnovich over Arizona’s election results.

Days after the 2020 election, Brnovich told Fox Business “there is no evidence, there are no facts that would lead anyone to believe that the election results will change” and said Trump had lost because voters split their tickets. Months later, Trump was still not acknowledging his defeat and attacked Brnovich for not trying to prove the election had been stolen from him.  In May, he labeled Brnovich “lackluster” and said he was “nowhere to be found” regarding the 2020 election.

Lamon, a veteran who launched his candidacy in May, drew attention this week after he released an advertisement this week using the anti-Biden slogan “let’s go Brandon.”

Democrats say Trump is “creating chaos” in the Republican primaries, “elevating deeply flawed GOP candidates, escalating Republicans’ infighting, and forcing their candidates to attack each other over who can suck up to Trump the most,” said Jazmin Vargas, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“A tightrope of floss”

One issue Republicans will have to navigate is the review of the 2020 election that Arizona Senate Republicans ordered in Maricopa County. The review, which was widely criticized by election experts, ultimately showed a wider margin of victory for President Joe Biden.

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