Democrats are making a strong effort this fall to flip the Arizona state Senate, where Republicans hold a small 17-13 majority, and Tuesday’s primary results gave Team Blue some potentially great news. Veteran Republican state Sen. Sylvia Allen lost renomination 59-41 to perennial candidate Wendy Rogers in Legislative District 6, a competitive seat located in the Flagstaff area in the northern part of the state, and GOP leaders are very much afraid that they’ll now lose control of the district in November.
This seat backed Donald Trump 52-42, but Republican Martha McSally defeated Democrat Kyrsten Sinema just 49-48 here two years later; Allen also won re-election in 2018 by a close 51-49 margin. Republicans already were in for a tough race this fall against Democrat Felicia French, who has been a strong fundraiser, but Rogers’ victory complicates things even further.
Rogers, who is an Air Force veteran, has unsuccessfully run for office every cycle beginning in 2010 when she sought a state Senate seat based around Tempe, which is located about 150 miles south of Flagstaff. Rogers then waged two campaigns for the 9th Congressional District, which includes all of Tempe, before she announced in 2016 that she’d run from her other home in Flagstaff for the more competitive 1st Congressional District.
Rogers lost that year’s primary but won Team Red’s nomination in 2018 to face Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran. National Democrats took Rogers seriously and spent $1 million against her, but stopped a month before Election Day in an apparent sign of confidence. O’Halleran ended up beating Rogers 54-46 in a seat that Trump had carried 48-47 in 2016. After that loss, Rogers soon announced that she’d challenge Allen rather than run for Congress again.
Allen herself was far from a moderate, and she made news last year for a racist speech where she lamented how the “Browning of America” would make the United States “look like South American countries very quickly.” However, the Arizona Republic’s Andrew Oxford writes that Rogers managed to campaign far to Allen’s right, which could make it easier for French to appeal to independent voters.
Rogers’ victorious primary bid has indeed left Republicans feeling both angry and uneasy about their prospects against French. Julia Shumway reports in the Arizona Capitol Times that Rogers’ nomination has left some Republicans so dispirited that they’re ready to “write off the Senate seat as a lost cause.”
Local state Rep. Walt Blackman was also upset over Allen’s loss and told Shumway that, while he wouldn’t vote for French, he didn’t plan to support Rogers at the moment. Blackman said of his party’s nominee, “When she went to my neighbors, people I go to church with, people that I serve as a sitting representative and lied about their endorsements, it’s really hard for me to hitch on to someone’s wagon and really effectively campaign with them.” He added, “If I don’t agree with the type of representation that she is going to give, based on her history, then, I’m not going to vote for her either,” and, “The main goal for Wendy Rogers is to get to Congress, and you can put that in your paper.”
Blackman also talked about allegations that Rogers actually still lives in Tempe and the party’s fears that French could successfully challenge Rogers residency in the district court and get her thrown off the ballot. (Arizona requires state legislative candidates to live in the county they’d represent for at least a year, and Tempe and Flagstaff are in different counties.) He even said that some local Republicans are “actively engaged” in going to court first so that, if Rogers is found not to be a Flagstaff resident, the party will have time to pick a new nominee.
However, the courts have been very reluctant to disqualify legislative candidates over residency issues in the past, so this may be a longshot move for either party. Still, Blackman added, “If the residency was not a question and we knew that we were going to get the proper type of representation at the Senate from Rogers, I don’t think there’d be groups out there challenging … But since that is an issue and the majority of the people in the district understand what her motives are, she’s gonna get challenged.”
Not all Republicans are ready to write off Rogers, though. She has raised a credible amount of money so far, and the seat is conservative enough that even a weak Republican can still hold it.
However, if Republicans do lose LD-06 in the end, it could have serious implications for the fall. Last cycle, Sinema beat McSally in 16 of the 30 legislative districts, and Republicans will have a difficult time maintaining their majority without all their McSally seats.
P.S. There’s a realistic chance that neither party will control the Senate next year. Arizona is one of five states that doesn’t have a lieutenant governor, and if the chamber is deadlocked 15-15, there would be no one to break ties for either party. If this outcome came about, then the two parties would presumably work out some sort of power sharing agreement.
Want more great elections coverage like this? Sign up for our free daily newsletter, the Morning Digest.