Arizona Republican extremists debate in race for Congressional seat | Phoenix New Times

Circle of Jerks: Arizona’s biggest GOP extremists had a House debate

MAGA rivals Blake Masters and Abe Hamadeh debated each other and right-wing lawmakers Ben Toma and Anthony Kern on Tuesday.
Four of Arizona's biggest MAGA fans squared debated each other in the GOP primary race for the U.S. House seat in Congressional District 8, though they mostly played nice.
Four of Arizona's biggest MAGA fans squared debated each other in the GOP primary race for the U.S. House seat in Congressional District 8, though they mostly played nice. Screenshot via YouTube
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With Blake Masters and Abe Hamadeh slinging campaign ad mud at each other in the crowded primary battle for a Northwest Valley seat in Congress, one might have expected Tuesday’s debate to be a melee-style free-for-all.

But a month out from the July 30 primary, not one of the five candidates who participated in the 8th Congressional District debate was willing to leave his bubble and throw barbs at the others. In fact, the candidates agreed on nearly everything. No voices were raised and the whole program was like a calm MAGA book club spent stoking the fires of fear and conjuring conspiracy theories.

They are good at that, though. Masters and Hamadeh are two of the biggest names running in Arizona’s wackiest and most chaotic congressional primary, two failed candidates for statewide office in 2022 who have had trouble letting that election go. Their neighbors on stage at the Citizens Clean Elections Commission debate on Tuesday are MAGA fanatics, too.

One was Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma, who led a failed push to keep an 1864 near-total abortion ban on the books and passed laws that subsidized private education. Another was state Sen. Anthony Kern, a Christian nationalist bulldog who was at the Jan. 6 insurrection and has been indicted as a fake elector. Political newcomer Pat Briody rounded out the dais.

Also in the race is disgraced former U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, who resigned in 2017 after asking two female staffers to have his children as surrogate mothers, though Franks was not at the event.

Even if the debate turned into a boring regurgitation of words and ideas, it’s still worth parsing. Here are the impressions each of the five candidates left on viewers.

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After the debate, Abe Hamadeh told a reporter "Maybe I'll unblock you if you're nicer to me."
TJ L'Heureux

Abe Hamadeh

Hamadeh has one of the most valuable cards in the game: an endorsement from convicted felon and former President Donald Trump.

Just as Hamadeh has railed against his own 2022 loss for Arizona attorney general, he raged Tuesday against the many lawsuits brought against Trump in recent years, including civil suits won by writer E. Jean Carroll for sexual abuse and defamation.

In that regard, though, Hamadeh had a lot of company on stage. So much of the night was spent praising the Republican Party’s ruling king, there were few actual disagreements among the debating candidates.

Hamadeh did find one lane, ironically positioning himself slightly to the left of his fellow right-wing extremists. While other candidates supported the idea of creating federal laws restricting abortion, Hamadeh was the only candidate who stuck with what Trump and U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake have suggested: that abortion laws should be left to the states.

Don’t count on them to stick by that view. Both Trump and Lake are well-known flip-floppers who have regularly changed their views when politically advantageous. If Hamadeh goes where they go, expect him to do the same.

His debate performance offered some tonal whiplash. In one of the event’s funniest moments, Hamadeh delivered an intense, stone-faced description of the United States in a full-blown crisis. He then immediately broke out a big smile while labeling himself a “happy warrior.” Our favorite quote of the night came in his closing statement: “I’ve never talked more about transgenders ever in my life.”

After the debate, Hamadeh approached the press for questions, stopping to insult a reporter he recognized.

“Maybe I’ll unblock you if you’re nicer to me,” Hamadeh said.

The reporter was unbothered.

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Blake Masters was the only candidate who skipped talking to the press after the debate.
Screenshot via YouTube

Blake Masters

Masters, who lost to Democrat U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly in the 2022 Senate race, stuck out as the oddest of the crowd.

His extreme, far-right rhetoric mirrored his willingness to write extreme libertarian perspectives while in college at Stanford. As a Hamadeh ad pointed out, a young Masters said American military and immigration officials were “heroes” for smuggling cocaine into the U.S. and imagined a world in which immigration was regulated not by borders, but by the free market.

Nowadays, Masters is riding the MAGA wave when it comes to immigration.

“I literally think that Joe Biden has committed treason by throwing open our southern border,” Masters said at the debate. “When you send me to D.C., I will be the most conservative, most right-wing anti-immigration member of Congress. We need to deport 20 to 30 million illegals, 'cause if we don’t, we’re not gonna have a country.”

He also honed in on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants — despite the fact studies show American citizens are more likely to commit crimes — and used the word “gangbangers” several times to describe migrants. To close, he used a white supremacist dog whistle to describe immigration trends: “If you import the third world, you get the third world.”

The former tech bro and erstwhile nudist Vegan commune member then stoked right-wing election conspiracies by saying Democrats, “know they can’t beat Trump at the ballot box, which is why they’re trying to take him out with all this bogus lawfare.”

Masters, the district’s biggest carpetbagger, lives in Pima County and was the only debate participant who did not take questions from the press after the event.

“It’s a long drive home to Tucson,” joked one of the reporters in the scrum.

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State House Speaker Ben Toma struck a more reasonable tone on some issues but has spent the last two years successfully passing far-right bills.
TJ L'Heureux

Ben Toma

Ben Toma is one of the least inflammatory candidates in the race. He speaks softly in a droning monotone, like Eeyore.

Compared to his rivals, Toma also has proven himself the most effective at passing legislation. In his two sessions as speaker, he’s helped broker major deals and also pushed through extreme legislation funneling money to parents of private school students. Those laws have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars, including a $1 million of public money spent by parents on Legos.

While he said he wanted to make elections more secure, Toma sounded like an adult when he said Republicans “need to be looking forward to this election” and not relitigating the last two.

But even Toma could not resist talking about the last election. Like Masters, Toma said one of the key reasons Biden beat Trump in 2020 was because Big Tech altered its algorithms. He claimed there were significant illegal acts that impacted the last election.

He also called Trump’s indictments and convictions a “sham” and said humans will reap punishments from God for allowing any abortions. A Romanian refugee whose family immigrated to the U.S. in 1986, Toma also gloated about coming to the country “the right way.”

After the debate, Toma told Phoenix New Times that he supported mail-in voting, noting that many elderly people in the district prefer it. In 2020, nearly 90% of ballots were cast by mail, according to the Arizona Mirror. Yet in March, Toma joined all House Republicans in approving a bill to end no-excuse early voting by mail. The bill died in the Senate.

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State Sen. Anthony Kern, who was at the Jan. 6 insurrection and has been indicted as a fake elector, talked a lot about Jesus.
TJ L'Heureux

Anthony Kern

Viewers might have thought Kern was running for deacon of a Pentecostal church, not a seat in Congress. He spent much of his speaking time framing politics in a religious light and quoting the Bible.

He railed against Democrats and the uni-party — the notion that Washington lawmakers from both parties are in cahoots with each other — and said he wanted to “deport all illegals back to Mexico and then they can find their way back to their home country.”

He also believes the 2020 election was stolen. “There’s enough evidence to choke a horse,” he said, blaming “spineless judges that refuse to look at the evidence and rule because they don’t want to be targeted by the media.” Kern also mentioned he was a reserve deputy marshal in Tombstone, though he omitted that he was fired from the El Mirage Police Department for lying.

As for his participation in the Jan. 6 attack and his indictment as a fake elector, Kern essentially said only God can judge him. And maybe Trump.

“I know that Jesus Christ has my back and I know that I did nothing wrong and I know that our government is weaponized against the American citizens,” Kern said. "I am honored to be that person that is a target of the FBI, the DOJ and the attorney general just as Trump is because he is appointed for such a time as is. I’m here for such a time as is.”

click to enlarge Pat Briody
Political outsider Pat Briody was the only candidate at the debate who didn't come off as rehearsed and insincere.
TJ L'Heureux

Pat Briody

Briody came off as a rambling, sometimes nonsensical and self-effacing newcomer whose pet issue is enacting term limits. Amid a lineup of trained, poison-tongued vipers, he made for an odd and entertaining presence. Amusingly, his campaign website is

Briody was the lone man on stage to express complex thoughts and emotions rather than razor-honed talking points that painted a dark, apocalyptic picture of the U.S. He said he was happy to go anywhere and talk to anyone in the district, no matter their faith. He was a perfect foil for the other candidates, unrehearsed and genuine.

After Toma touted several major endorsements — from U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, former Gov. Jan Brewer and former Sen. Jon Kyl — Briody delivered his closing remarks.

“I’m endorsed by no one,” he began.

Briody’s point was he’s beholden to no one. Still, one reporter in the press room joked that they wanted to give Briody a hug.
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