Last cycle, Democrat Tom O’Halleran won an open seat contest against the extremely scandal-tarred Paul Babeu by a 51-43 margin even as Trump was narrowly carrying Arizona’s 1st Congressional District 48-47. O’Halleran will likely be a top GOP target next cycle, and on Monday, state Sen. Steve Smith announced that he would challenge him. Smith entered the race with endorsements from Reps. Trent Franks and Andy Biggs, who are both members of the far-right Freedom Caucus. It’s unclear if any other notable Republicans are eyeing this huge seat, which includes the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Sedona, parts of the Tucson area, and several Native American reservations.
Smith, who represents part of the Tucson suburbs, has made a name for himself as an immigration hardliner, but he’s not had much success getting his priorities implemented. In 2010, Smith launched a crowd funding effort to pay for a border wall, but he gave up in 2015. Earlier this year, Smith pushed for a bill that would have lengthened minimum prison sentences for undocumented immigrants who commit crimes, but it failed in the GOP-led state Senate. When Smith saw which way the vote was going, he tried to shame his colleagues into voting his way, but to no avail.