AZ State Senate, WI State Assembly: Arizona state House Speaker Rusty Bowers badly lost his bid to return to the state Senate on Tuesday a few weeks after he detailed Donald Trump's attempts to steal the election before the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol, but he’s not the only Republican legislative leader the GOP’s master is trying to purge this month.
Trump put out a statement just hours before polls closed in the Grand Canyon State in which he denounced Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos for refusing to carry out “a full cyber forensic audit of the 2020 election” and endorsed his opponent, Adam Steen, in next week’s primary. The offensive came after Vos said that Trump had recently called him and urged him to retroactively decertify Joe Biden’s victory in the state—a move the speaker said was legally impossible.
Trump's war on his perceived enemies in the GOP has typically focused on candidates for statewide office or Congress, but his rage has now extended further down the ballot. In Arizona, Bowers, who was termed-out of the state House, was trying to remain in the legislature by campaigning for the upper chamber. (He previously served a stint in the state Senate from 1997 to 2003.)
But Bowers was already distrusted in far-right circles for refusing to support the infamous Cyber Ninjas “audit” of the 2020 results and for killing a bill that would have allowed the legislature to overturn elections. His detractors soon turned to former state Sen. David Farnsworth to beat him; Farnsworth was only too happy to take up their banner, telling Insider, “I have no doubt in my mind that the election was stolen.”
But while Bowers tried to appeal to conservatives by proclaiming that he’d “passed 38 bills on election integrity stuff,” his biggest moment in the spotlight came in June when he testified before the Jan. 6 committee. The speaker told Congress that Trump’s disgraced attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had pressured him to overturn Biden’s win in the state, but says he responded, "Look, you are asking me to do something that is counter to my oath when I swore to the Constitution to uphold it, and I also swore to the Constitution and the laws of the state of Arizona." Trump, predictably, retaliated by endorsing Farnsworth.
Bowers enjoyed a big spending edge over his rival, though a right-wing PAC called Securing Arizona got involved in beating the speaker: The group was ostensibly funded by a California-based business, but its owners insisted they’d never made any contributions to the group, saying that “[s]omebody's just impersonating us for the purposes of making a donation, figuring it would fly." Bowers himself acknowledged he was in trouble electorally, saying, “If I pull this off, it’s going to be a miracle.” He didn’t get that miracle: Farnsworth won 64-36, and he faces no general election opposition in this very red seat in the Mesa area.
The dynamics are different in Wisconsin, where legislators aren’t subject to term limits. Vos himself took over as speaker in 2013, and he’s used his gerrymandered majority to repeatedly frustrate Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ agenda. Vos even responded to Biden’s win by launching a taxpayer-funded review of the contest, but that wasn’t good enough for the nation’s most prominent Republican.
On Tuesday, Trump trashed Vos for using an old photo of the two of them together in his campaign literature as he endorsed the previously little-known Steen. “Speaker Vos had 17 years to prove to Wisconsin residents that he has their best interest in mind,” Trump said, “but even in his own campaign efforts, Vos has tried to mislead his constituents, sending out mailers that feature a picture he took with me—trying to make voters believe I am a Vos supporter, which I am not.” The speaker responded, “As a conservative, I believe in upholding the constitution. That's why I won't take the impossible step to overturn the 2020 election.”
Steen, like Farnsworth, is more than willing to spread the Big Lie. “I would have voted to pull back our electors because fraud vitiates everything,” the challenger told the New York Times, adding, “When you’re looking at the fact that we have an election that has lots of questions, I’d say, ‘Why, why?’ Could you tell me why Robin doesn’t want to look at it? I don’t know.” Just like in Arizona, the winner of the GOP primary for this seat in the Racine area will not face any Democratic opposition in November.