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Clown car: Meet the extremists running for a House seat in the Valley

The candidates in the chaotic race for Arizona’s 8th District include a carpetbagger, a fake elector, a singer and even a Capitol rioter.
The clown car of candidates in the race for Arizona's 8th Congressional District include, clockwise from left, Abe Hamadeh, Blake Masters, Rollie Stevens, Trent Franks, Anthony Kern, Ben Toma, Jacob Chansley and Debbie Lesko.
The clown car of candidates in the race for Arizona's 8th Congressional District include, clockwise from left, Abe Hamadeh, Blake Masters, Rollie Stevens, Trent Franks, Anthony Kern, Ben Toma, Jacob Chansley and Debbie Lesko. Ward Sutton
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After Rep. Debbie Lesko announced she won’t run for reelection, a power vacuum opened for the Republican’s northwest Valley seat in the U.S. House, sucking in desperate, disgruntled and even disgraced Republicans from around Arizona.

How disgraced? Former Rep. Trent Franks has joined the race for Arizona's 8th Congressional District. He once represented the seat but resigned in 2017 after reports surfaced of him repeatedly asking two female staffers to have his children as surrogate mothers.

How desperate? Blake Masters and Abe Hamadeh — the defeated MAGA candidates in the 2022 U.S. Senate and Arizona attorney general races, respectively — are in, too.

How disgruntled? Even Jacob Chansley, popularly known as the QAnon Shaman who stormed the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, is out of prison and in the race, though he’s running as a Libertarian.

At least five notable candidates have entered the Republican primary, which will take place on Aug. 6. With the seat in a relatively safe Republican district, the primary is shaping up to be a competition of whose campaign rhetoric can be the most extreme.

“In order to win a Republican primary, you just say a bunch of shit you don’t believe,” political consultant Chuck Coughlin said. “Twenty percent of Republican voters turn out in the primary.

"That’s the problem," he added.

Coughlin was one of Arizona’s foremost Republican political consultants until 2017, when he left the party after former President Donald Trump disparaged then-Sen. John McCain as the party moved to the extreme right. Now, Coughlin is leading Make Elections Fair AZ, a bipartisan group working to pass a ballot initiative that would make Arizona an open primary state.

“Anything’s better than what we have right now,” Coughlin said, adding that in an open primary, candidates would be less likely to win on extreme stances before moving to the general election.

Both Coughlin and Republican political consultant Marcus Dell’Artino said the key issues for voters in the District 8 race are going to be immigration, the economy and inflation. But a huge factor could be a candidate’s subservience and connection to Trump, whose grip on the Republican base has remained constant even as he faces four indictments.

Dell’Artino worked on both of McCain’s presidential campaigns. He now is focused on lobbying, government relations and ballot initiatives at FirstStrategic Communications and Public Affairs.

“The big question on everyone’s mind is: Does Donald Trump make an endorsement?” Dell’Artino said. “You’re courting an older population of voters that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.”
click to enlarge District 8 map
Turnout in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District race next year will likely be highest in Sun City and Sun City West, according to political pundits.
Emma Randall

‘Whose tinfoil hat is the shiniest’

District 8 covers Sun City, Sun City West, large swaths of Glendale and Peoria, portions of Phoenix and a chunk of land north of the Valley following Interstate 17 and nearly reaching Black Canyon City.

“Your highest turnout voters are probably going to come from Sun City and Sun City West,” Dell’Artino said.

The population of the northwest Valley has grown substantially since the coronavirus pandemic, a factor that Democratic political consultant Stacy Pearson said will impact the general election.

Pearson said U.S. census data shows that new residents are coming from California, the Pacific Northwest and the Rust Belt and are registering as Independents in large droves. She said they’ll be the “wild card” in the November 2024 election, since less is known about their political preferences.

“We have small cities in these new developments. On a typical campaign, you would not market to those folks because they’ve never voted before. But for this race, those new residents are going to be critical,” Pearson explained.

District 8 is historically a safe Republican seat, but Pearson said it could be more competitive in 2024. She said even if the Democrat is bound to lose, the race could draw national investments to boost Democratic votes for other races.

“Arizona is so critical to the control of the U.S. Senate and the White House,” Pearson said. “When we’ve got races this tight at the top of the ticket, those investments are extraordinarily important.”

But before that, the Republican primary candidates will have to duke it out to win a crowded primary.

“It appears at this point, they’re trying to figure out whose tinfoil hat is the shiniest,” Pearson said. “And that is just bad for Arizona.”

Here’s a rundown of the circus clowns in the 8th District.
click to enlarge Abe Hamadeh
Abe Hamadeh lost a close race for Arizona Attorney General in 2022.
TJ L'Heureux

The Trump Kid: Abe Hamadeh

The 32 year old with no experience in an elected office lost the attorney general race last year to Kris Mayes by a mere 280 votes. Hamadeh only had about three years of experience in law before running to be the chief legal officer in the state, but his public devotion to Trump and the former president’s endorsement delivered him a win in the Republican primary.

Hamadeh also is still trying to overturn the results of the 2022 election while simultaneously running for Congress. He has almost all of these things in common with his pal Kari Lake, whose Senate campaign launch he spoke at in October. “For too long, our system has benefited the few at the expense of the many,” Hamadeh said at the event, which was held at the headquarters of a magazine that bragged about being read by the top 1% of wealth owners.

Hamadeh tweeted his campaign announcement on Oct. 17, with a central campaign message that read: “President Trump is under attack. He needs back up — and I’m ready to help him Make America Great Again.”

Expect Hamadeh to play up his loyalty to Trump, the golden idol the Republican primary voter base just cannot give up.
Blake Masters
Blake Masters lives in Tucson but wants to represent a northwest Valley district.
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

The Carpetbagger: Blake Masters

The loser of the U.S. Senate race in 2022 wants this seat so bad he’s running for it from Tucson where he lives — some 120 miles away from District 8.

“He doesn’t live in the district and has never lived in the district,” Dell’Artino said, adding that being from out of town could be a red flag for many voters. “They (voters in the district) are cognizant of carpetbaggers. They do like somebody that’s been there and knows and understands the area and, most importantly, understands their issues.”

The 37 year old won the GOP primary for U.S. Senate with a huge boost from his former employer, billionaire investor Peter Thiel, who donated $15 million to a Masters super PAC.

The pocket change Thiel spent on his protege didn’t pay off: Arizona voters didn’t buy Master’s candidacy. He lost to Sen. Mark Kelly, with one Republican operative reportedly claiming Masters “had scored the worst focus group results of any candidate he had ever seen.”

Masters took hard, conservative stances on issues such as abortion until it hurt his candidacy after the end of Roe v. Wade. And while chatting with conservatives at a Phoenix IHOP, he promoted the conspiracy theory that the FBI was behind the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Masters is likely to have plenty of money behind him from Thiel, but he is far less likely to have Trump’s backing this time around.
click to enlarge Ben Toma
Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma has represented Peoria in the legislature since 2017.
Katya Schwenk

The Speaker: Ben Toma

Suprisingly, one of the highest-ranking public officials in Arizona finds himself as just another hopeful among the motley crew vying for the Republic nomination. And he even has the endorsement of Lesko, the district’s current representative.

Toma is the current speaker of the Arizona House and has represented Peoria in the legislature since 2017.

Though most political insiders would say he is the least extreme of the pack of District 8 candidates, he is far from moderate. His time as speaker has overlapped with that of Gov. Katie Hobbs, during which the governor has vetoed a substantial number of bills passed by Toma’s House. One of Toma's major accomplishments was expanding school vouchers programs, which critics argue is weakening public education and increasing Arizona’s deficit.

“Toma’s liability is being a current legislator,” Dell’Artino said. “You don’t know how long session is going to go, and you don’t know what issues are going to pop up during session.”

But Dell’Artino noted that Toma has advantages in that he lives in the district and was endorsed by Lesko, whose organizing machine will help Toma reach voters.

“What he (Toma) needs to concentrate most on right now is fundraising. Between Masters and Franks, I expect millions upon millions to be spent on this race,” Dell’Artino said. “Toma is going to have to get his message out that he’s a homegrown candidate and a homegrown conservative to be able to punch through into that top tier.”
Trent Franks
Trent Franks resigned the House seat in 2017.
Gage Skidmore / flickr

The Creepy Rich Dude: Trent Franks

The wealthy former lawmaker resigned in 2017 after he repeatedly harassed two female staffers by asking them to serve as surrogates for a baby, even offering one $5 million.

But now Trent Franks is back, running for the same district he once represented.

The Phoenix New Times put together a list of Franks’ greatest hits when he resigned, which include saying abortion was “genocide,” claiming African Americans were better off under slavery and calling gay marriage “literally a threat to the nation’s survival.”

Coughlin said Franks likely won't benefit from previously representing the district. He said for the transient population, name recognition fades after a cycle or two.

“Think of what Peoria was when he was a congressman,” Coughlin said. “There’s just giant communities grown up around there that have no recollection really of who Trent Franks was.”

Franks, who is heavily invested in the oil and gas industry, is expected to spend serious coin on his own campaign.
click to enlarge Jacob Chansley
Jacob Chansley, a Moon Valley High School graduate, took part in the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.
Win McNamee / Getty Images

The QAnon Shaman: Jacob Chansley

You know him as the iconic QAnon Shaman who breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 and was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison. His mother knows him as Jacob Chansley, a sensitive boy and picky eater.

Chansley, a 35-year-old graduate of Moon Valley High School in Phoenix, has filed paperwork to jump into the District 8 race, indicating that he will run as a Libertarian and not compete with the crowded field of Republicans.

Dell’Artino said he suspects the shaman is running as a Libertarian because it requires fewer signatures to get on the ballot.

It’s unlikely Chansley would have an impact on the general election, possibly taking a small number of votes from the Republican nominee.

Chansley was released from a halfway house in May. He has more than 100,000 followers on X, formerly known as Twitter, where his bio notes that the nickname QAnon Shaman “is a straw man they (the media) created in an attempt to control the narrative & destroy my public image.”

Ok, Jacob.
click to enlarge Anthony Kern
State Sen. Anthony Kern has spent his time in the Arizona legislature attacking LGBTQ+ people.
Elias Weiss

The Fake Elector: Anthony Kern

The other state legislator running for the seat is Anthony Kern, a Jan. 6, 2021, rioter who participated in a plot to overthrow the 2020 election by serving as a fake elector.

Kern served six years in the Arizona House but in 2020 was the only Republican lawmaker to lose. He was elected to the Arizona Senate in 2022.

Kern is among the most extreme of Arizona legislators and a fanatical Trump worshipper. Most recently, he called for his colleagues to defund Arizona State University in what amounts to little more than an unserious political tantrum.

Previously, he was fired from the El Mirage Police Department for lying to a supervisor, and as a legislator has tried to remove his name from a list of Maricopa County law enforcement officers with a history of misconduct.

He also repeatedly targeted drag queens and LGBTQ+ people during the 2023 legislative session. In 2019, he also claimed — to a dozen people at a Denny’s no less — that allowing LGBTQ+ equality meant that kindergarten teachers would start showing their students pornography.

One can only hope someone was there to respond, "Sir, this is a Denny’s."
click to enlarge Rollie Stevens
Rollie Stevens pledged to sing after every campaign speech.
Rollie Stevens

The Songbird: Rollie Stevens

A little-known singer/songwriter and retired firefighter named Rollie Stevens is the last passenger to make it aboard District 8’s clown car, but he brings some much-needed musical relief.

As the author of such ditties as “We’re America,” “Daddy's Little Girl's Little Girl” and “Beer Drinking Women,” Stevens may not be the Bob Dylan of his generation. And his campaign website bio uses innovative changes of narrative perspective, including the gem, “I am a retired firefighter for the Phoenix Fire Dept. He served there for 25+ years.”

That said, Stevens also details his views on key issues in greater detail on his campaign site than the other candidates do on theirs. And he pledged to perform a concert after every campaign speech.

We at New Times advocate strongly for District 8 debates to include a sing-off or original composition element, which will surely allow voters to see into the souls of each of the jesters.
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