PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. — As Shardé Walter’s family scaled back everything from camping trips to Eggo waffles to balance their inflation-strained budget this summer, they grew increasingly fed up with the Republicans who have ruled Arizona ever since. more than a decade.
“You have these hoity-toity Republicans, and then you have like me — just trying to live,” Ms. Walter, 36, said as she waited for former President Donald J. Trump to arrive at a Friday rally to his slate of candidates in the hard-fought Republican primaries in Arizona.
“We’re busting our asses,” she continued, “but broke for no reason.”
The Aug. 2 Republican primary in Arizona has been billed as a party-defining contest between mainstream Republicans and Trump loyalists, with the power to reshape a political battleground at the heart of fights for voting rights and fair elections. . Several prominent Republican candidates in Arizona for governor, secretary of state, attorney general and the U.S. Senate have made lies about the “stolen” 2020 election a centerpiece of their campaigns.
But the choice between mainstream conservatives and Trump-backed firebrands also taps into working-class conservatives’ frustrations with a state economic and political system firmly controlled by Republicans, underscoring the gap between voters who have benefited of rising Arizona home values and tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy, and those who feel left out and are eager to punish the Republican establishment at the ballot box.
“It’s like ‘The Great Gatsby’ – old versus new,” said Mike Noble, the head of research at Phoenix-based polling firm OH Predictive Insights. “This is a very telling moment for the GOP. Are they going the MAGA path, or the conservative McCain-Goldwater path that gave them dominance over the state?”
National surveys of Republicans show that voters’ views of Mr. Trump and the 2020 election are fracturing based on education.
A New York Times/Siena College poll released this month found that 64 percent of Republican primary voters without a college degree believed Mr. Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election. a bachelor’s degree or higher declared Mr. Trump the winner.
Mr Trump was still the clear favorite of Republican voters with a high school diploma or less, with 62% saying they would vote for him in the 2024 Republican presidential primary if the election were held today today. Less than 30% of Republican primary voters with college degrees said they would vote for Mr. Trump.
In Arizona, the Republican establishment has coalesced around Karrin Taylor Robson, a wealthy real estate developer who has portrayed herself as a capable and reliably conservative leader since her days as a Reagan White House staffer.
The party’s Trump wing is locked behind Kari Lake, a former Trump-endorsed news anchor who fueled an anti-establishment rebellion fueled by lies about the 2020 election and provocations like vowing to bomb smuggling tunnels in the southern border.
Ms Robson slashed Ms Lake’s early lead in the polls, but recent polls suggest Ms Lake is still ahead.
An upcoming poll of 650 Republican primary voters in Arizona by Alloy Analytics has found a 10-point lead for Ms Lake, largely on her strength with working-class voters, although other surveys show a much tighter race. Ms. Lake had a 15-point advantage with voters whose families earn less than $50,000 a year. Republicans earning more than $200,000 a year backed Ms. Robson by a 14-point margin.
Ms. Robson loaned her campaign $15 million and covered local television with advertisements. She has amassed a long list of backers from law enforcement groups, Arizona’s three living Republican governors, and prominent national Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence and former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Both women present themselves as anti-abortion, pro-gun and pro-wall conservatives who are committed to mobilizing law enforcement to deal with what they call a migrant invasion. Neither misses an opportunity to urge President Biden and the Democrats for inflation, crime, or culture war flashpoints like critical race theory.
Each has attempted to claim the mantle of the race’s only true curator. During a debate, Ms Lake attacked Ms Robson for refusing to join other candidates by raising her hand and saying – falsely – that the 2020 election had been stolen. In an interview, Ms Robson said Ms Lake’s posture as a conservative “has no basis in truth”, and her campaign attacked Ms Lake for once supporting former President Barack Obama.
“She’s a very good actress,” Ms. Robson said. “We have real issues to deal with, from water to housing to inflation.”
Ms. Lake’s populist homilies and story of a Trump-era political awakening resonate with non-mainstream conservatives who say they feel left out of mainstream Republican politics. Ms. Lake’s campaign did not grant an interview.
Moderates say they just want a reliable Republican to fill the governorship, and are reassured by Ms. Robson’s tons of endorsements and policy plans.
On Friday, divisions between the two candidates deepened at competing rallies where Ms. Robson was cheered on by Mr. Pence, and Mr. Trump appeared alongside Ms. Lake.
In Peoria, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix, the rally for Ms. Robson was like an oversized Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Hundreds of voters in Casual Friday polo shirts and summer blouses sat eating barbecue at a factory that makes military-style tactical gear as Mr. Pence and Governor Doug Ducey gave speeches endorsing Ms. Robson as a loyal curator.
Later that evening, at the Trump event, Ms. Lake mocked Mr. Ducey, calling him “weak” on border security and “doing nothing about Ducey.” Mr Ducey has earned Mr Trump’s ire for certifying Mr Biden’s 10,000-vote victory in Arizona, even as he signed a new voter ID law that Democrats oppose and supported right-wing fringe politicians like State Senator Wendy Rogers.
Ms Robson’s supporters said they, too, felt hurt by the price hike but, more urgently, they wanted their next governor to be an elected Tory instead of a bomb-throwing heir to Mr Trump.
“The things that worry him, we worry,” said Barb Leonard, 55, who works in software and lives in Scottsdale. “The border, the economy, the police.”
Some voters said they hadn’t bought into the lies about voter fraud that Mr. Trump and Ms. Lake had been peddling for months. Others said they want Republicans to stop focusing on the 2020 election and instead focus on border security, school funding and bipartisan legislation to deal with the worsening drought, water shortages and wildfires in Arizona.
Political analysts in Arizona said some voters appeared to side with Ms Robson as the least controversial choice for the general election. Democrats are expected to nominate Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who has defended Arizona’s electoral system against attacks from Mr Trump and his allies.
“I don’t want to raise kids in a country that hates itself,” said Derek Weech, 23, a Brigham Young University student and supporter of Ms Robson who is working on setting up his own business. “Focusing on the last election will not lead us to victory.”
So far, this year’s Republican primaries have been a mixed bag for Trump-endorsed candidates running on election denial. JD Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy”, won his US Senate primary in Ohio. Doug Mastriano won the Republican gubernatorial primary in Pennsylvania after leading efforts to overturn the 2020 election results there.
But last month in Colorado, Republican voters nominated a businessman who accepted the 2020 election results in a competitive race for the U.S. Senate. In Georgia, voters inflicted a crushing defeat on Mr. Trump by overwhelmingly backing the Republican incumbent governor and secretary of state who both refused to overturn the results of the 2020 election there.
In Prescott Valley, the anti-establishment message and an appearance by Mr. Trump were enough to draw thousands of supporters through the doors.
They flocked to an arena wearing their defiance and frustration on T-shirts that read “Trump Won”, “Jihadi Joe” and “Let’s Go Brandon”, thinly veiled profanity towards Mr Biden.
As Ms. Lake spoke to the crowd, she received enthusiastic applause with each dig at Mr. Biden and called for the border wall to be completed. But one of the biggest cheers came when she mentioned her plans to let high schoolers focus on learning trades after their sophomore year.
This idea immediately won over Bruce Laughlin, a retired automotive technician, and his wife, Cheryl, a dental assistant.
“None of us went to college,” Ms Laughlin said.
“We need carpenters. We need plumbers,” her husband said. “They were totally ignored.”
Janet Olson, 50, said soaring gas, electric and grocery bills made it look like she didn’t share in Arizona’s prosperity. He has just enough left over each month for an indulgence; On Friday, she pumped her last $9.95 into her truck and drove from outside Phoenix to the mountains to see Ms. Lake and Mr. Trump.
“Every month it gets harder,” Ms Olson said.
She said she felt alienated from the mainline Republican Party in Arizona, but at home with people waiting with her in lines to buy $4.50 bottled water and $5 nachos.
“We don’t want bow ties and caviar,” Ms Olson said. “We want corn dogs and funnel cakes. And Lake Kari.
Will Davis contributed reporting.