Why big-name Republicans and a former 'QAnon Shaman' are running for same Arizona House seat
Two candidates were at the Capitol on Jan. 6; two others once shared a ticket.
What might normally be an overlooked U.S. House race -- for a solidly red seat in Arizona that is unlikely to help determine control of Congress -- may still make for a colorful primary this year.
When Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko announced last month that she would not seek reelection to represent Arizona's 8th Congressional District, she sparked what has quickly become a crowded race to succeed her, with competitors from various factions of the GOP and beyond.
"A Republican will win in this district, no matter what, it's just a question of what type of Republican," said Barrett Marson, a conservative strategist in Arizona. "The road to the gavel does not run through CD-8. So it will attract money, for sure, but that's because of the individuals as opposed to the seat."
The field so far includes two well-known Republicans, Abe Hamadeh and Blake Masters, who campaigned together last fall for statewide offices with considerably more power and with endorsements from former President Donald Trump.
Two other hopefuls, including one Libertarian candidate, were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. One of those individuals was also a so-called "fake elector" in Arizona during the push to reverse Trump's 2020 loss in the state, a scheme now being investigated by the state's attorney general. The other pleaded guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding, in relation to the attack, and served more than two years in prison.
Lesko, meanwhile, has endorsed a fifth candidate, Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma, who has already been elected by voters in the district to the Arizona House three times.
Toma will face off against the Libertarian and at least three Trump-aligned candidates, who are vying for the same voters -- with the district offering them a target-rich environment.
"It's going to be an interesting race to watch how each of these MAGA candidates position themselves and how Ben Toma can break through," Marson told ABC News. "CD8 is generally a pretty right-wing congressional district. It features retirement communities, a lot of retired and active-duty veterans."
Here's how the primary in Arizona's 8th Congressional District is developing.
A MAGA divorce?
Hamadeh -- who narrowly lost Arizona's attorney general's race last year but continues to baselessly challenge his loss -- and Masters -- who likewise lost his bid to the U.S. Senate last year but conceded the race to Democrat Mark Kelly -- now find themselves at odds after competing on the same ticket last fall.
Hamadeh announced he would be running for Lesko's seat on the same day she announced plans to retire.
Nine days later, when Masters announced that he, too, was jumping in, Hamadeh's spokesperson was quick to attack him, seizing on the fact that he doesn't currently live in the Phoenix area. (Hamadeh lives in Scottsdale, which is outside the district as well, albeit much closer.)
"Abe significantly outperformed him in the district and Blake's poor performance now threatens to drag down the top of the ticket again," said Hamadeh's spokesperson, Erica Knight, in a statement to ABC News.
Masters said at a candidate forum in Phoenix on Wednesday that he's browsing for houses to purchase with his wife, Catherine, as they prepare to move their family from Tucson in the new year.
"I'm originally from Southern Arizona, so I'm not gonna pretend like I've lived in this district my whole life," Masters said.
He claimed to have run a poll which showed him doing well in the district, "which I just take as an invitation," he said, "by the strong Republicans in this district [to] move up here and put my hat in the ring."
Masters was rumored to be considering another shot at the U.S. Senate, but with Republican Kari Lake -- whom Masters and Hamadeh campaigned with last fall -- launching a bid of her own, he never made such an announcement. Lake endorsed Hamadeh before Masters launched his congressional bid.
Unlike Hamadeh, who continues to criticize the validity of the 2020 presidential election as well as the results of his race last year, despite local officials certifying both, Masters has started to pivot away from some of the talking points about specific methods of voting that Trump-aligned Republicans pushed in the state in the wake of 2020.
"I don't know what happened for sure," Masters said of 2022 while at the candidate forum.
"But while the rules are the rules, we've got to play by the rules. We've got to play the early vote gathering game better than the Democrats," he added, after Arizona Republicans discouraged early and mail-in voting last year. "We have to do a much better job."
At the same forum, Hamadeh suggested, without evidence, that there is widespread election fraud.
"People are scared -- and you should be, in many ways," he said.
"But they can't take away our will to fight," he added.
Former 'QAnon Shaman' enters as Libertarian
Jacob Chansley, who became widely known when he previously identified himself as the "QAnon Shaman," has also filed a statement of interest as a Libertarian Party candidate.
Chansley was bare-chested and wearing a horned headdress and face paint while breaching the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He later pleaded guilty to obstructing an official proceeding and served more than two years in prison before he was released to a halfway house in Phoenix, his hometown, in March.
"I come bare-chested. I come in full regalia. This is who I am. This is what I represent," Chansley, in a button-down and tie, said Monday on Newsmax. "And guess what? I think once people hear me speak then they can and will want to vote for me."
Libertarian National Committee Chair Angela McArdle welcomed his bid in a statement on Monday.
"It should be no surprise that the infamous 'Q-Anon Shaman' is looking to run for Congress as a Libertarian instead of as a Republican. The GOP has clearly abandoned the people who rallied for Trump and bore the consequences," McArdle said in a statement.
But Marson, the Arizona strategist, said Arizonans aren't likely going to pay his bid serious mind.
"Chansey will probably get the most amount of attention for the least amount of ability to win an election. Since he's running as a Libertarian, he will sail right through to the general election, but is he really a factor? Absolutely not," Marson said. "He is a novelty."
A fake elector under investigation
Republican state Sen. Anthony Kern, who also was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, has also thrown his hat in the ring, seeking the support from the same bloc as Masters and Hamadeh.
Kern, who carried Trump's endorsement in the state Senate, could potentially face legal repercussions of his own though he has not previously been charged with wrongdoing related to Jan. 6. He was one of 11 "fake electors" for Trump who signed documents wrongly claiming to be legitimate representatives of Arizona's electoral votes, which were won by President Joe Biden.
"I believe the election was stolen in 2020," Kern falsely said at Wednesday's congressional forum. "I believe that the 2022 election, there was enough shenanigans that went on ... So [with] the 2024 election, there's concern. Absolute concern."
His congressional bid comes as state Attorney General Kris Mayes, who defeated Hamadeh last fall, says her office is investigating the fake electors' actions and has been in contact with the Department of Justice.
"I'm like, bring it," Kern said Wednesday. "I'm ready. I'll sell T-shirts with my mug shot. And I'll sell coffee cups with my mug shot and raise funds for this congressional race."
Other than Toma, Hamadeh, Masters and Kern, at least seven other Republicans have filed statements on interest, as well as eight Democrats.
"I do expect it to get a little ugly. I do expect some contrast ads," Marson said. "But it's going to be a Republican."