Seth Leibsohn, the former radio host who helped defeat Arizona's cannabis legalization measure in 2016, couldn't muster enough valid signatures to qualify for his much-anticipated congressional run in Arizona's 9th District.
Leibsohn submitted more than the required number of petition signatures to qualify for the August 28 Republican primary election ballot, but he quietly withdrew his nomination earlier this month after a lawyer challenged the validity of his signatures.
Republicans see the 9th District, which has a Democratic tilt, as potentially vulnerable this November. Some saw Leibsohn as the right person to challenge former Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton. The seat is now occupied by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who's running for the U.S. Senate.
Leibsohn is a die-hard Trump supporter, friend of Ann Coulter and Dennis Prager, and received a glowing endorsement from Andrew McCarthy, contributing editor of the conservative publication National Review.
Still, Leibsohn first had to win the GOP primary on August 28, and three other Republicans besides Leibsohn turned in the minimum of 1,297 valid CD9 voter signatures to qualify for a spot on the August ballot.
Despite raising $129,000 in donations for his campaign, as of his most recent federal filings, Leibsohn turned in only 1,533 signatures — just 236 above the required number. A challenge was inevitable with such a thin cushion, and, as the Arizona Capitol Times' Yellow Sheet reported earlier this month, local elections attorney Tim La Sota stepped in and forced Leibsohn's withdrawal from the race.
La Sota has several clients in the medical-marijuana industry. Could one of them have sabotaged Leibsohn's run, perhaps still sore over Leibsohn's volunteer work as chair of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the group that sunk Prop 205?
Reached by Phoenix New Times on Monday morning, La Sota said that's not the case. But he declined to say which client spurred the Leibsohn challenge. He sent paperwork to Leibsohn's lawyers at Snell & Willmer in early June, letting them know Leibsohn didn't have enough valid signatures.
On June 7, Leibsohn sent the Arizona Secretary of State's Office a notice that he was withdrawing from the race.
La Sota said that Leibsohn's petitions had signatures from North Scottsdale, Casa Grande, and other places outside of the horseshoe-shaped 9th District that's based in Tempe.
"I don't think he was even close" to having 1,297 valid signatures for his nominating petition, La Sota said. "Sometimes you just wonder how people with these kinds of resources could fail to qualify for the ballot."
Leibsohn didn't respond to phone messages.
It's unclear what Leibsohn will do next. He quit his job on May 29 as the host of The Patriot on 960 AM, a channel that caters to conservative views. He said on the Dennis Prager Show last month that he had to quit because of a federal law that disallows broadcasters from running for federal office.
Leibsohn confirmed for the Yellow Sheet that he hadn't turned in enough valid signatures.
"I sincerely thank my supporters and volunteers from the bottom of my heart for their dedication in helping to spread the conservative message of freedom, and that effort will continue. That is my promise," he reportedly said.
Cannabis legalization advocates and those opposed to harsh drug laws in general should breathe easier with Leibsohn out of the picture. A longtime anti-substance-abuse activist and former chair of NotMYKid, Leibsohn was essentially a one-issue candidate. He said in videos that he planned to make fighting drug abuse his greatest priority if elected.
Other Republican candidates will probably appreciate Leibsohn leaving, too. After all, the Reefer Madness message no longer resonates in politics as most states move toward legalizing marijuana. Leibsohn finds himself on the wrong side of history, and even Trump — who Leibsohn has backed from the beginning — has said he supports a bill that would end federal prohibition in states where cannabis rights have been approved.
Although Leibsohn told the Yellow Sheet that he would soon update the public on his future plans, he's apparently kept his withdrawal quiet so far. The Yellow Sheet is an exclusive publication with limited subscribers. Leibsohn's Twitter and campaign sites still indicate he's running as of Monday.
Seeing Red AZ, a conservative blog, reported on Leibsohn's withdrawal last week, casting it as a big screw-up for Arizona Republicans, and laying the blame squarely on Leibsohn's political consultant, Sean Noble.
"The less than noble Noble not only fell down on this preliminary campaign duty, he is virtually hand-delivering the congressional seat to uber-liberal Democrat Greg Stanton, the well-funded, union-connected, former Phoenix Mayor," Seeing Red wrote on June 11.
Noble also failed to return a message. He's a partner at Compass Strategies, the outfit formerly known as Axiom. It changed its name after founding partner Jim Norton, said to be a friend of Governor Doug Ducey's, was indicted on bribery charges. Norton's trial is ongoing.
Leibsohn's departure leaves another frontrunner GOP candidate in better shape. Steve Ferrara, a former chief medical officer for the U.S. Navy, turned in about 3,000 petition signatures to ensure his spot on the ballot, and has raised about $700,000. Stanton has raised just over $1 million.
Dave Giles, the GOP candidate who lost against Sinema for the CD9 seat in 2016, and Irina Baroness Von Behr are also running in the CD9 primary.
Early on Monday afternoon, Ferrara announced that Leibsohn endorsed him for the CD9 spot.