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Trump holds first 2022 rally in Arizona as heated GOP Senate primary is underway

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Former President Donald Trump is touching down in Arizona Saturday for his first rally of the midterm election year, bringing the spotlight to a state that will have hotly contested races for governor and the U.S. Senate in November. 

In the governor’s race, Trump has endorsed Kari Lake, a former news anchor who says she wouldn’t have certified the 2020 election. He has not yet picked a Senate candidate to take on incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly.

The Republicans who are vying to challenge Kelly include Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, solar power executive Jim Lamon, venture capitalist Blake Masters and retired Air Force Major General Michael “Mick” McGuire. 

Democrats have won the last two Senate races in Arizona, including the 2020 special election when Kelly defeated former Senator Martha McSally by 2.4 points. Kelly, a retired astronaut, is serving the remainder of the late Arizona Senator John McCain’s term and must run again this year for a full six-year term. 

Trump isn’t expected to endorse anyone Saturday — Arizona’s primary is August 2, and sources familiar with the race believe Trump is waiting to see how the race shapes up before he decides on a candidate. 

His endorsement is powerful, but it doesn’t always clear the field. North Carolina Congressman Ted Budd, for instance, is in a tough race against former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. And in Alabama, Trump-endorsed Congressman Mo Brooks is locked in a a tight contest against Katie Britt, who was retiring Senator Richard Shelby’s chief of staff

Trump remains popular with Arizona Republicans. Though his endorsement failed to carry McSally to victory in the 2018 or 2020, it would be influential in the primary.

“If you’re any candidate in this race for Senate, you want his endorsement,” said Chris DeRose, a lawyer and former Brnovich staffer in the state attorney general’s office. “Do you need it to win? No. But you’d be crazy not to want it.”

In November, Trump attended a fundraiser that Masters held at Mar-a-Lago. Masters, who is the president of billionaire Peter Thiel’s foundation and holds a Stanford law degree, told CBS News that winning the race becomes “a lot harder” without Trump’s endorsement, but he’s sure the former president won’t back any of his opponents. 

Brnovich has been the front runner in the race and his supporters are counting on his record on immigration to help him in the primary. A source familiar with the race said that Trump and Brnovich speak regularly, and Brnovich could visit Mar-a-Lago soon. Over time, Trump has become less pointed in his criticism of Brnovich over Arizona’s election results.

Days after the 2020 election, Brnovich told Fox Business “there is no evidence, there are no facts that would lead anyone to believe that the election results will change” and said Trump had lost because voters split their tickets. Months later, Trump was still not acknowledging his defeat and attacked Brnovich for not trying to prove the election had been stolen from him.  In May, he labeled Brnovich “lackluster” and said he was “nowhere to be found” regarding the 2020 election.  

Lamon, a veteran who launched his candidacy in May, drew attention this week after he released an advertisement this week using the anti-Biden slogan “let’s go Brandon.”

Democrats say Trump is “creating chaos” in the Republican primaries, “elevating deeply flawed GOP candidates, escalating Republicans’ infighting, and forcing their candidates to attack each other over who can suck up to Trump the most,” said Jazmin Vargas, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. 

“A tightrope of floss”

One issue Republicans will have to navigate is the review of the 2020 election that Arizona Senate Republicans ordered in Maricopa County. The review, which was widely criticized by election experts, ultimately showed a wider margin of victory for President Joe Biden

Maricopa County has denied the report’s claims of counting invalid ballots and election administration errors, saying the review was plagued by “faulty analysis, inaccurate claims, misleading conclusions, and a lack of understanding of federal and state election laws.”  

“The audit issue, especially for Republicans on the ticket this year, it’s like walking a tightrope of floss,” said Mike Noble, chief of research at the nonpartisan polling firm OH Predictive Insights. 

Lamon is leaning into the Maricopa review and said it highlighted enough issues “to move that election into President Trump’s column” in Arizona. He and other Republicans sent a document to Congress falsely claiming they were the state’s electors. He told CBS News that he didn’t regret this because slates of electors have to be submitted by a certain date, and he claimed Republicans wanted to be prepared “if in fact this election was decertified.”

Masters said in November that he thinks Trump won the 2020 election.

“Joe Biden is president right now,” Masters told CBS News. “Do I think he won a free and fair election? I don’t. I don’t think we had a free and fair election in 2020. If we did, I strongly suspect, truly believe that President Trump would still be president.” 

He faults mail voting practices expanded by COVID and social media companies for quashing negative stories about the Bidens.

McGuire, the retired major general, told CBS News that “there is no constitutional remedy or dispute about the fact that Joe Biden received more than 270 electoral votes.” When asked if he believed Biden won the election fairly, McGuire said he looks forward to what comes from Brnovich’s review of findings that were turned over to the attorney general’s office. And he’s not the only one in the race targeting primary front runner Brnovich over the 2020 election. 

Lamon rallied outside of Brnovich’s office in December, calling for more action. Masters said Brnovich “needs to hold people accountable where laws were broken” and thinks Brnovich is trying to “kick the can past the primary so that he can pretend to be tough on election integrity.”

“It’s always easy to take cheap shots from the cheap seats,” a Brnovich campaign spokesperson said in a statement. “Attorney General Brnovich remains focused on doing his duly elected job and will present the findings when his office concludes the investigation.”

Brnovich’s allies point to his victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in a case challenging Arizona voting laws about ballots cast in the wrong precinct and a ban on “ballot harvesting” and his office’s demand that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors comply with a subpoena related to the state Senate-ordered review of 2020. 

Views of the audit and 2020 election may impact moderate suburban voters in Arizona who helped carry Democrats to victory in 2020, Noble said, but other issues may be more pressing in November. 

“If people are feeling pain points with the economy, inflation, things of that nature, that’s going to supersede social issues, or an audit is going to feel very distant in the voters’ memories,” Noble said. 

Immigration

Immigration and the economy were the top issues for Republicans in a November poll by OH Predictive Insights. Migrant encounters in the Tucson sector were up 72% in October and November, over the same time period in 2020, while encounters in the Yuma were up by 2,400%, according to Customs and Border Protection data. Encounters along the southern border were very low during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There has always been an issue with lawlessness and misconduct at the border, but I have never seen it like it has been since the 20th of January,” said McGuire, who served as Adjutant General of the Arizona National Guard from 2013-2021. 

Lamon says he supports legal immigration, but worries border patrol agents are struggling to keep up with the spike in border encounters, which he deemed “an invasion.”

“They’re coming from around the world,” Lamon said. “America really needs to understand that. This is a border control issue.”

Masters, who worked with Thiel, wants to see stricter regulations on major technology companies.

“When they control the flow of information in a free society, when they have motive and opportunity to swing elections, I think that’s something we ought to take a look at. Right now the attitude is just complete laissez-faire,” Masters said. 

Lamon was the only candidate to bring up working with his counterpart in the Senate if he wins, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. “We could be a juggernaut, Republican and Democrat, working together,” he said. 

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who has been repeatedly attacked by Trump, has said that he is not interested in running for Senate, but some allies still hope he’ll change his mind. 

“He will never have my endorsement or the support of MAGA Nation!” Trump said in a statement Friday after Politico reported that Ducey is still open to entering the race. 

Trump has also not endorsed in competitive primaries in Missouri or Ohio. And he hasn’t endorsed in Pennsylvania since his preferred candidate, Sean Parnell, suspended his campaign

“Arizona, Ohio, Missouri and Pennsylvania are all states that are a lot more complicated — there’s no clear candidate and you might as well let it play out a little bit,” a Trump adviser said.





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Slain Journalist’s Brother Joins Congress, to Contest Polls

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Pawan Kashyap, brother of journalist Raman Kashyap who was killed in the October 3 violence, has joined the Congress and is likely to contest the elections. Pawan joined the Congress in the presence of senior party members Naseemuddin Siddiqui and Satish Ajmani.

Raman was allegedly mowed down by the convoy of Union Minister Ajay Misra Teni’s son Ashish Misra while he was covering a farmers’ agitation in the Tikunia area in Lakhimpur Kheri on October 3, last year. Pawan is likely to contest the Assembly polls on a Congress ticket from the Nighasan constituency.

Pawan told reporters that he was hopeful that farmers and others would vote for him in the memory of his dead brother.

“We are victims of violence and persecution, and there are many people like us who have lost their loved ones in a similar way. I can feel their pain. If I win, I will focus on law and order and find ways to control violence in the state. I am also a farmer, so I can empathise with them. I will work towards improving their condition,” he stated.

He said that the Congress leaders asked him if he wanted to contest the Nighasan seat and he has given his consent.

It may be recalled that days after the Lakhimpur Kheri violence, a video had gone viral in which Raman can be seen doing his job as a journalist when suddenly a speeding vehicle runs over him along with several farmers. Four farmers were killed along with Raman that day.

The main accused in the case Ashish Misra and 12 others are now in jail for what a special investigation team probing the case said was a ‘pre-planned conspiracy’.

Nighasan is an OBC-dominated constituency where Shashank Verma of the BJP is the sitting MLA.

Ajay Misra Teni was trying hard to get a party ticket for Ashish and there were posters and banners of him everywhere in Nighasan.

Ashish was considered a strong contender for the seat until the Lakhimpur Kheri violence happened.

Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had recently promised to field those candidates who have been victims of violence in the BJP regime and are ‘ready to struggle for justice’.

The Congress has named Asha Singh, the mother of rape victim in Unnao, as its candidate.

Ritu Singh, who was allegedly disrobed during the panchayat elections, is the Congress candidate from Mohammadi, and Poonam Pandey, who was beaten with shoes in front of the chief minister, is the party candidate in Shahjahanpur.

Sadaf Jafar, who was jailed for participating in anti-CAA protests, is the Congress candidate in Lucknow.

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After Sacking Harak Singh Rawat, BJP May Drop More Names in Uttarakhand. Three Factors Could Decide Who Goes

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After terminating senior legislator Harak Singh Rawat as minister from the Pushkar Singh Dhami government and also from the primary membership of the party on Sunday night, the ruling BJP in poll-bound Uttarakhand has indicated that it is not going to tolerate “indiscipline” and pressure politics.

Continuing with the hard stand, the party has also indicated that in the run-up to the Uttarakhand elections 2022 due on February 14, the party is mulling dropping more legislators who face “strong” anti-incumbency in their respective constituencies. Party insiders suggest between 10 to 15 legislators could be axed.

The BJP’s central leadership is giving final touches to the candidates’ list. Earlier, the party’s election in-charge and Union minister Prahlad Joshi held deliberations for every single seat with CM Dhami, state BJP president Madan Kaushik and state in-charge Dushyant Gautam in Dehradun.

Weak Links

“We have held discussions for every single seat. It’s part of the regular election drill. At this moment, I cannot clearly say (on denial of tickets),” Madan Kaushik told News18.com.

However, those privy to developments said the party has analysed different survey reports and individual inputs on the performance of the legislators. The “inactiveness” of some of the MLAs, coupled with issues like price rise and joblessness, has reportedly led to discontent among voters, especially the youth.

In the 2017 elections, BJP had polled 47% of the total votes, the highest ever for any political party in the state since its formation in 2001.

“Retaining 47% vote share is an uphill task. The party’s strategy is to make whatever corrections needed, including dropping unpopular and poor performers, so it can secure no less than 40% vote share,” said a senior organisational leader.

Factors in Play

The BJP’s senior leadership is of the view that the party should not go soft on those who failed on the disciplinary front and remained inactive throughout their tenure. BJP insiders reveal that three major points have been considered on deciding the fate of the legislators — popularity among cadre and voters, activeness and a clean image.

Going by these factors, more than a dozen MLAs have failed to match up. For instance, a legislator in Pauri district was found to be immensely unpopular among workers and was also alleged to have taken a ‘cut’ in development schemes.

Another legislator in Udham Singh Nagar district often received bad press for his conduct in public and has been accused of “bullying” his own party workers. Similarly, an MLA from the Haridwar district has been cause for embarrassment for the party, having even moved the court in defiance of party instructions.

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Cong Tries to Buy Peace with Tickets, AAP Goes for Winnability, BJP-Captain Search for New Narrative

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Let’s keep everyone happy. This seemed to be the underlying message of the first Congress list of 86 candidates declared for Punjab on Saturday. Being publicly abrasive for state chief Navjot Singh Sidhu or seen loyal to former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh or facing a corruption charge — nothing seemed to have mattered.

It is not as if things are rosier in the camp of the other leading contender in Punjab — the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Here, over 50 seats have been given to leaders who joined the AAP from other parties, sparking a mini-rebellion of sorts in the ranks, but AAP seems focussed on winnability rather than just pure loyalty. The party also fears the two farmer political outfits eating into its votes. AAP’s chief ministerial face could finally surface this week after a referendum. In the Congress camp though, no CM face is expected to be declared.

Congress Battle

Increasingly, Punjab seems a direct contest between the ruling Congress and the main challenger, AAP. The Congress list of candidates leaves little to imagination that the party’s high command has decided to ebb the bitter fight in its ranks by giving tickets to all factions.

No chief ministerial face may be declared, though there are claimants officially through public statements now in sitting Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and party’s state chief Navjot Singh Sidhu — both have projected their own ‘Punjab Model’ for the next five years.

Sample the Congress candidate list. Channi, Sidhu and former state party chief Partap Singh Bajwa are all candidates from their traditional seats.

But it is not so that those averse to Sidhu haven’t got tickets. Minister Rana Gurjeet Singh, who publicly took on Sidhu and called him a “political mercenary” and “unstable and eccentric”, has got a ticket. So have at least five loyalists of former CM Captain Amarinder Singh like Sadhu Singh Dharamsot who was removed as minister after Channi took over and also faces allegations in a scholarship scam.

Sukhpal Khaira, who Captain brought from the AAP to the Congress, is in Patiala jail in a money laundering case but he has got a ticket too.

It is this approach of placating all and ensuring that there is no exodus to the Captain camp that is expected to stop the Congress from also going into the election with a declared CM face.

Sidhu took a cue to say he was not fighting for any post. The party is already on the back-foot as it could not act against the Badals in the sacrilege cases over five years and its move to book Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia in the drugs case also did not yield much results as the latter got anticipatory bail.

Sidhu, the champion of both causes, has not missed out the chance of putting CM Channi in the dock, saying the Guru (god) did not get justice and the drug traffickers were not punished in five years.

‘Confident’ AAP Smells Conspiracies

After alliance talks with Balbir Singh Rajewal’s political outfit of farmer groups did not fructify, the AAP now feels the two farmer parties could eat into its votes and is going to declare a chief ministerial face this week after a referendum to change the narrative.

AAP co-incharge of Punjab, Raghav Chadha, told News18.com in an interview that AAP may be the only party to do so in these elections. If the candidate is Bhagwant Mann as anticipated, the party could see a groundswell in the important Malwa region which sends a bulk of MLAs to the Assembly, with Mann being a two-time MP from Sangrur.

But trouble seems to be brewing in the AAP, too, as Chadha faced at a recent event in Punjab with cadre resorting to violence over tickets. Local AAP leaders say nearly half of the tickets in Punjab (the count is put at 56) have been given to leaders who came from other parties, including some who joined just a few days ago, rather than to party loyalists. The AAP is quelling such rebellion saying it is going by the sheer winnability of candidates as all polls show it ahead.

Players Searching for Narrative

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the BJP-Captain-Dhindsa alliance is, meanwhile, desperately searching for a new narrative in the state to appeal to the voters. The BJP has tried to do so by getting rebels from other parties on board to show Sikh faces still trust in the BJP as well as milking the security lapse issue during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Punjab.

Captain Amarinder Singh’s party could contest around 30 seats in an alliance with the BJP, but may not fare that well as many loyalists of the Captain are not likely to jump ship since many have got tickets from the Congress.

The SAD has used the bail given to Majithia as a stick to beat the Congress with, alleging political vendetta. The party’s old war-horse, 94-year-old Parkash Singh Badal is back to campaigning, but all that may be too little, too late for the party.

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