Choose Your Fighter, Trump Might Just Pick the Winner in this Arizona Senate Race

Kelly Townsend speaks at Donald Trump's January rally in Florence, Arizona. Townsend claims that at the time, the Trump campaign promised her an endorsement which never happened.
Kelly Townsend speaks at Donald Trump's January rally in Florence, Arizona. Townsend claims that at the time, the Trump campaign promised her an endorsement which never happened. Jacob Tyler Dunn
Two firebrand Republican lawmakers have entered the ring for a fight to claim Arizona’s most hotly-contested Senate seat, in a race some liken to a televised World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. bout for the GOP voters.

And just like showy WWE fight matches full of theatrics and drama, there’s always one person behind the scenes in trying to pick the winner.

Former President Donald Trump once worked as a WrestleMania promoter who was eventually inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

After folding her congressional bid on Friday, Republican State Senator Kelly Townsend has filed for re-election in the newly-drawn Legislative District 7, which stretches from north of Flagstaff to south of Apache Junction.

Townsend is pitted against her "frenemy" and Trump-endorsed State Senator Wendy Rogers, a prized political jewel for the Trump campaign.

Lawmakers last week voted 24-3 to censure Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican, for "conduct unbecoming of a senator,'' after recent inflammatory remarks.

That led Townsend to “emphatically” reject an endorsement from Rogers, despite a critical need for cash and notoriety, after Trump's promised endorsement never materialized for Townsend. But that doesn’t matter, now that the former friends are duking it out for the District 7 seat.

“The most recent actions of Wendy Rogers and those she supports are so very concerning,” Townsend told Phoenix New Times. “The way they condone the hate is beyond comprehension.”

The flashy, often polarizing antics of these two Republican women may sound familiar for any conservative voter.
click to enlarge Republican State Senator Wendy Rogers - ARIZONA LEGISLATURE
Republican State Senator Wendy Rogers
Arizona Legislature

Townsend and Rogers are both “Freedom First” candidates, a common moniker of Trump loyalists. The politicians attempt to woo the same constituency and freely speak their minds on social media.

Sometimes, political strategists would argue, silence might be a more beneficial move for their respective campaigns.

“From a policy perspective, there is no daylight between the two,” said Barrett Marson, a Phoenix-based political strategist who predominately represents Republicans.

Right now the major difference between the two campaigns is Trump’s blessing. And with it comes cash and a whole lot of it.

“Townsend has never been a fundraising juggernaut and that will be painfully obvious over the next five months,” Marson said. “Wendy Rogers will swamp Kelly Townsend with hundreds of thousands of dollars in resources.”

Rogers has raised nearly $2.5 million for her re-election bid and has more than $1.6 million in cash on hand, according to filings with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office.

Townsend, on the other hand, has raised less than $10,000, state records show.

Still, Townsend, who blamed Trump for sabotaging her Capitol Hill bid, is hell-bent on stifling Rogers’ flush campaign.

Rogers has more cash than most Arizona candidates for U.S. Senate and leads state senate campaigns in funding. Phoenix public relations consultant and progressive political advocate Stacey Champion was the first to compare the District 7 race to a WWE fight.

“It has become theatrical,” Champion said. “They may as well start wearing masks and capes. It’s this absurd show of who can get more body slams.”

Themes like payback and spoiled friendships are evocative of the flamboyantly scripted Monday night wrestling showcases.

The soap-opera-style storyline in District 7 offers entertainment value to voters but delegitimizes the political work being done, strategists agree.

“Politics shouldn’t be entertainment,” Champion said. “Politics should be boring. It shouldn’t be this.”

Townsend says she’s not intimidated by Rogers’ campaign riches. Even though Trump’s endorsement has garnered Rogers $269 for every Townsend dollar.

Townsend, who lives in Mesa, hopes her opponent’s recent slapdown by her colleagues is enough to tip the scales back in her favor.

District 7 leans far to the right, meaning whoever wins the Republican Primary is a shoo-in for the senator’s seat. Based on the 2016 and 2020 elections, the district is 21 percent more Republican than the national average.

“I consider the people of Arizona part of my family,” Townsend said.
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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