Arizona’s secretary of state contest could be the sleeper race of 2018.
The Republican primary contest has gained little attention, but has developed into one of the state’s more contentious races as millionaire businessman Steve Gaynor challenges Secretary of State Michele Reagan.
The race comes chock full of finger-pointing – Gaynor points to his opponent’s mistakes in her first term and Reagan points to her opponent’s self-funding and relative obscurity.
Gaynor, the owner of a printing plant, has poured $1 million into his bid to be the state’s chief elections officer and first in the line of succession for governor.
Reagan, a former state senator who was first elected secretary of state in 2014, has spent much of the lead-up to the August 28 primary defending missteps from her first term.
State Sen. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, will face the winner.
Gaynor said he was recruited to run for secretary of state because Republicans were worried Reagan couldn’t beat a Democrat in the general election.
But he won’t say who recruited him.
Reagan said she doesn’t know where Gaynor got the idea that she couldn’t win in the general. She said her campaign has internal polling that shows her easily winning against a Democrat.
Before hitting the campaign trail, Gaynor was relatively unknown in state politics. He was more involved on the national level and has donated to numerous federal candidates — mostly Republicans, but also a few Democrats due to their support for Israel.
Gaynor has mostly self-funded his campaign, pouring $1 million of his own money into the race. Fundraising is often time consuming and Gaynor said he didn’t have the name recognition to bring in adequate contributions.
Reagan called it opportunistic and peculiar for Gaynor to spend $1 million of his own money to run for secretary of state.
“That is absolutely insane,” she said.
Gaynor said he expects donors to come out in force should he win the primary election.
Reagan pledged to support Gaynor if he wins the primary,
“I’m a Republican first,” she said.
Polling from Data Orbital last month showed Gaynor leading the race with a 44-22 percent lead over Reagan.
A previous July poll showed Reagan and Gaynor neck-and-neck.
Reagan said she isn’t surprised Gaynor is gaining traction in the polls, citing the hundreds of thousands of dollars his campaign has spent on negative TV ads.
Gaynor’s last campaign finance report, posted in mid-July, shows him paying $222,631 to a political consulting firm that specializes in TV advertising and media buying.
In the ads, Gaynor tries to tie Regan to a series of election-related mistakes. In campaign ads, Gaynor has also touted his support for President Donald Trump, his lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association and his pro-life views — issues that don’t pertain to the Secretary of State’s Office, but could win over Republican voters.
Reagan has struggled to combat Gaynor’s negative attacks. She has adopted an aggressive targeted digital strategy instead of buying TV airtime. Gaynor’s ability to self-fund means he has more campaign cash than his opponent.
“His negative messaging may work,” she said. “And there’s nothing I can do about that.”
On the campaign trail, Gaynor is calling out Reagan for previous elections mistakes.
In 2016, Reagan failed to comply with state law when she failed to mail out 200,000 ballot pamphlets explaining election issues before voters received their early ballots.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich looked into the matter, calling it a “complete fiasco.”
Reagan has owned up to the mistake that occurred ahead of the first statewide race run by her office.
“Am I excusing that? Absolutely not,” she said. “We were held accountable. We have new people and new systems. And we’ve had four elections since then where things went off without a hitch.”
But Gaynor has alleged that Reagan’s office tried to cover up the mistake by not publicizing it as soon as they knew there was an error with the pamphlets.
People make mistakes, but she was not transparent about what went wrong and did not rush to fix the problem, Gaynor said.
“The good news is, from a Republican standpoint, I don’t have the baggage of four years of problems, and frankly, that was one of the primary reasons I got in the race,” Gaynor said.
One of Gaynor’s ads also ties Reagan to the long lines Maricopa County voters had to wait in during the 2016 Presidential Preference Election.
The snafu happened when Maricopa County drastically reduced the number of polling places, which had people waiting in line for hours to vote.
Reagan has tried to distance herself from the incident, saying it is up to county recorders to pick the number of polling places and their locations, and then the recorders get approval from their local board of supervisors.
“There isn’t a whole heck of a lot we could have done,” she said.
But Gaynor has said, as the state’s chief elections officer, Reagan is owed some of the blame.
One of the wonkiest issues of the secretary of state’s race is turning into one of the biggest topics on the campaign trail.
Gaynor criticized Reagan’s decision to settle a lawsuit, clearing a series of hurdles for those seeking to register to vote. He said the consent decree published by Reagan this summer is unconstitutional and allows undocumented immigrants to vote.
Reagan, who stands by the settlement, argues that Gaynor is twisting the consent decree and scaring people in order to drum up support.
At issue in the lawsuit was the required documentation to vote in Arizona, which differs under state and federal law.
State law requires voters to show proof of citizenship to register to vote, but federal law stipulates people must be allowed to register to vote, even if they can’t show proof of citizenship.
Previously, if someone without proof of citizenship filled out the state form to register to vote, their form would be set aside and they wouldn’t be allowed to vote in any elections. They would have to fill out the federal voting form to be able to vote in federal elections.
Now, those who submit either the state or federal form will be registered to vote in federal elections, even without proof of citizenship.
That means, under the consent decree, if you’re an undocumented immigrant and you register to vote with the state form, you can vote in federal elections, which didn’t used to be the case, Gaynor said.
In theory, if the consent decree is allowed to stand, Arizona will have more federal-only voters than before, he said.
“Her actions in this case are outrageous,” Gaynor said.
Reagan, who dismissed claims that the settlement was unconstitutional, said she wouldn’t go back and change a thing because the settlement does the right thing by treating voters equally.
She also called Gaynor’s attacks insulting to others who signed onto the consent decree.
“Is he saying that Mark Brnovich and Bill Montgomery signed something to let illegals vote? It’s absolutely ludicrous,” she said.
See the money
Gaynor has also taken aim at Reagan’s campaign finance-tracking website SeeTheMoney.com, the full launch of which has been delayed.
The website, which was one of Reagan’s campaign promises from 2014, is up and running in beta as a way to track campaign donations and spending in Arizona elections.
Reagan hoped to complete the website in 2016, but now calls that naivety on her part because of the number of statewide elections that year kept her and her staff preoccupied.
Now, Reagan doesn’t have a date for when the final product will launch. Instead, she characterizes the site as something that will continually be updated and said it could take years to integrate campaign finance data from all of Arizona’s counties, cities and towns.
Nonetheless, Reagan heralds the website as the ultimate transparency tool.
Gaynor has criticized Reagan’s SeeTheMoney project as a sign of incompetence and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“The See the Money website saga, in my opinion, is emblematic of the way the Secretary of State’s Office has been run since January of 2015,” Gaynor said. “Problems, more problems, more problems.”
He would not say whether he will finish the SeeTheMoney website should he be elected secretary of state. Gaynor said he would first evaluate the status of the product before moving forward.
Correction: This story has been corrected to say Steve Gaynor holds pro-life views. A previous version incorrectly stated he held pro-choice views.