Arizona Lawmaker Blames Trump For Killing Congressional Bid

State Senator Kelly Townsend speaks with attendees at a rally hosted by EZAZ at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix.
State Senator Kelly Townsend speaks with attendees at a rally hosted by EZAZ at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix. Gage Skidmore

Former President Donald Trump double-crossed an Arizona lawmaker, smiting her congressional bid in its infancy.

Arizona State Senator Kelly Townsend announced Friday she was folding the campaign she first floated in January at the urging of Trump and conservative activists at a rally in Florence.

“I was personally encouraged by our president’s words and the expression of support he gave me when he rallied the faithful,” the first-term senator from Mesa said. “However, in spite of repeated assurances, the promised formal endorsement has still not materialized.”

Her bid failed to gain traction with donors. Last year, before the rally, she had raised just $9,300.

Townsend was slated to face the incumbent David Schweikert in Congressional District 1 during the Republican Party primary in August. Schweikert reported raising more than $507,000 in the last cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Townsend's decision to back out leaves her the option of pursuing a second term in the Arizona Senate. With new district boundaries being drawn, she would be pitted against her former colleague in the legislature, Wendy Rogers, who raised 263 times as much money. And that was before the rally.

State candidates have until April 15 to update their campaign finance reports.

Lawmakers this week voted 24-3 to censure Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican, for "conduct unbecoming of a senator.''

A spat with Trump-endorsed Rogers this week “jeopardized” Townsend’s odds of seeing the endorsement come to fruition, she said.

On Thursday, Townsend “emphatically” rejected her colleague’s endorsement after Rogers spoke at known anti-Semite Nick Fuentes’ alt-right conference last week in Orlando, Florida, and embarked on a string of anti-Semitic social media screeds herself.

“I do not wish to accept financial donations that she solicited and will respectfully return them,” Townsend tweeted on Thursday. “I continue to call on her to end her support of an open anti-Semite.”

The longtime legislator representing East Mesa and Apache Junction raised just over $9,300 for her Capitol Hill bid, state records show.

As of her most recent campaign filings, she had more than $13,000 in cash on hand and hadn’t tendered any refunds. She did not respond to questions from Phoenix New Times about whether she planned to reimburse donors amid the campaign’s untimely breakdown.

Rogers, on the other hand, raised nearly $2.5 million for her state bid for re-election and has more than $1.5 million burning a hole in her pocket, according to state records.

It remains unclear if Townsend and Rogers will face off in Arizona’s State Senate District 7, which stretches from north of Flagstaff to south of Apache Junction. She only has four weeks to gather 492 signatures and file the necessary candidacy documents.

“[I] will just focus on my legislative duties,” Townsend said. “I know that I have the job I want and I will happily focus on our state capitol instead of our nation’s capital.”

Townsend came under fire on Thursday when she tweeted an imprudent image of a Jewish family in an effort to pledge her reproof of anti-Semitism in Arizona. She later told a local media outlet that constituents in District 7 deserve “someone who will not discriminate against groups in the district like our good Jewish communities or Mormon communities.”

But New Times this week unearthed a September 2021 tweet in which Townsend callously displayed a Nazi flag, likening coronavirus vaccine mandates to the Holocaust.

She took heat for a slew of other gaffes and inflammatory remarks over the last three years, including telling scantily dressed women they had “no defense” if raped and publicly sympathizing with rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 last year.

But Townsend maintains that Trump’s unfulfilled promise paved the way for the demise of her congressional bid.

"The lack of the endorsement means that instead of being able to unite the field behind a single banner, my presence in the Republican primary will serve only to split the conservative vote even further,'' Townsend said.

So what might she do next? That’s up in the air.

“I haven’t decided what my next move is,” Townsend told New Times. “I have a lot of options. I could go back to the private sector, I could go and get my Ph.D., I could run for re-election in my own Senate seat, there are many options. I will be prayerfully considering what is best forever for my family and myself. Because I consider the people of Arizona part of my family, they will be included in the decision.”
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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss