State Sen. Kelly Townsend is folding her congressional bid, a move that could pave the way for her to take on — and possibly unseat — the recently censured Sen. Wendy Rogers.
The Apache Junction Republican said she made the decision after failing to get an anticipated endorsement from former President Trump. And Townsend said her fate with Trump was sealed after she publicly lashed out this past week at Rogers, who is closely linked to Trump and insists, as does he, that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
But Townsend told Capitol Media Services on Friday she has yet to decide whether to run for another two-year term in the state Senate.
That would pave the way for a head-to-head GOP primary with Rogers.
That’s because the Independent Redistricting Commission, at the behest of Republican David Mehl, made a last-minute adjustment to legislative lines to move the area where Rogers lives out of what would have been a competitive district into a safe Republican district. And that’s the district that Townsend already represents.
She has to make a decision relatively soon: The deadline for gathering signatures and filing nominating petitions is April 4.
Townsend, however, said she won’t be rushed.
One thing working in her favor is that the legislature just this past week lowered the number of signatures required of legislative candidates.
That move became necessary because of the redistricting process that left it unclear how to calculate the number required. So lawmakers decided to use the figure of 492 for Republicans and 469 for Democrats.
“I could get 500 signatures with a team of 20 people in a weekend,” she said. More to the point, Townsend said if she decides to run she anticipates getting backing from many in the district who, while they may not be big fans, dislike Rogers and her links with white supremacist organizations even more.
“People that would never have supported me in the past are begging me to run against her,” Townsend said.
There was no immediate response from Rogers.
What’s involved is the Senate seat for the newly redrawn Legislative District 7, which stretches from Flagstaff through Payson, into Apache Junction and south to Oracle.
It has a 60-40 Republican-Democrat voter registration. That means whoever wins the August GOP primary would be likely to win the November election.
Townsend, while insisting she hasn’t made a decision, made it clear she believes voters would choose her over Rogers.
“The people of LD 7 deserve representation, someone who will answer their phone calls, someone who will rise to their defense in the issues that are important to them, someone who will not discriminate against groups in the district like our good Jewish communities or Mormon communities,” she told Capitol Media Services.
All this comes on the heels of the Senate voting last week 24-3 to censure Rogers for “conduct unbecoming of a senator.”
That censure cited Rogers “publicly issuing and promoting social media and video messaging encouraging violence against and punishment of American citizens.” That stemmed from her recent activities, including a speech to a white supremacist group late last month where she said “we need to build more gallows” to “make an example of these traitors who have betrayed our country.”
Rogers also praised Nick Fuentes who organized the America First Political Action Conference who opened it by seeking applause from the crowd for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The censure also mentioned her decision, ahead of the vote, to post a message on Twitter threatening “political destruction” of those who disagree with her views.
Townsend was not present for the vote, saying her daughter had a medical emergency.
But she did comment on the Senate floor the following day after Rogers sent out an email calling the censure a “shock political hit job” to try to silence her, and using it to solicit campaign donations. Townsend, without naming Rogers, apologized to those who “have had to see daily, ongoing grifting with emails that have little basis in fact, giving false hope, tearing our state apart.”
Rogers’ actions following the censure is having other fallout. Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said that further action against Rogers is possible.
“We are giving her a little time to think about how her actions are affecting the entire Senate body,” she told Capitol Media Services on Friday.
“The Senate has received emails and calls from constituents inquiring about expulsion or filing ethics complaints,” Fann continued. And if those complaints are filed, she said, that will be taken up by the Senate Ethics Committee which could recommend additional sanctions.
Fann also has the power to remove Rogers from any and all committees, though she has not yet done that.
Townsend served in the state House for eight years before being elected to the Senate in 2020.
She made the decision to run for Congress in January after the new lines were drawn, choosing to run for the seat currently occupied by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick who is not seeking reelection.
That, however, was at the point where she was counting on a Trump endorsement after the former president gave her a shout-out at a rally in Florence. But that endorsement never came — and now is even less likely after she criticized Rogers.
“The lack of the endorsement means that instead of being able to united the field behind a single banner, my presence in the Republican primary will serve only to split the conservative vote even further,” Townsend said. And that, she said would “make it more difficult to elect an authentic America First candidate.”
Remaining GOP contenders include Juan Ciscomani, Brandon Martin and Kathleen Winn.
Townsend also does not live in Kirkpatrick’s congressional district, which covers much of Tucson through southeast Arizona, though, unlike legislative races, there is no requirement for candidates to do that.
This article was updated at 10:47 a.m., March 7, 2022, with the correct spelling for the last name of Kathleen Winn, a candidate for Arizona’s 6th Congressional District.