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Former President Donald Trump, featured at an event in North Carolina in 2020, is expected to face friendly crowds on Saturday as he returns to Arizona for a rally in Florence. Analysts say the event will attract GOP candidates seeking his support, but also help Trump stay relevant with Arizona voters. (Photo by Shealah Craighead/Trump White House)

WASHINGTON — What a difference seven years make.

When Donald Trump made one of his first presidential campaign stops in Arizona in 2015, he was a Republican underdog and longtime candidate. When he comes to Florence on Saturday for his first rally of this election year, Trump returns as a former president with thousands of donors in the state, a firm hand on the party and GOP candidates clamoring for his support.

“It is clear that President Trump continues to be the most popular politician in the Republican Party, and there are still a lot of Republicans who support him and want to give him money for the cause he proposes,” said said Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections.

And a lot of those supporters are in Arizona. Just over 9,000 state residents had donated $441,162 to the Trump-controlled Save America PAC in the first six months of last year, the most recent figures available from the Federal Election Commission. It was the seventh highest total in the nation, behind California, Texas, Florida, New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

His supporters today include a list of elected and would-be elected officials in the state. Trump said “special guest speakers” at Saturday’s Save America rally include Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward and GOP Representatives Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs and Representative Debbie Lesko. A call to Biggs’ office was not immediately returned, but Gosar and Lesko staffers confirmed they would be present.

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The list also includes Kari Lake and State Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Tucson, candidates for governor and secretary of state, respectively, whose candidacies were endorsed by Trump. Gonzales said he didn’t expect Trump to make an endorsement on Saturday in the crowded GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, “but he’s had some surprises already.”

But experts agree that Trump stands to gain from the rally as much as he gives, if not more.

Jason Rose, a Republican political consultant in Arizona, said the “bigger reason” for Trump’s visit “is power play.”

“If he’s running in the 2024 election or if he wants to keep a base here and his constituency excited,” the rally achieves those goals, Rose said. “It kills a lot of political birds with one stone in terms of it getting here.”

J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Trump was “trying to stay relevant within the Republican Party.” And it doesn’t hurt, Coleman said, that Trump is “thriving from his rallies.”

This was picked up by Gonzales.

“He loves rallies and he loves talking about what he thinks went wrong in the 2020 election and this is an opportunity to merge the two,” Gonzales said.

One of the speakers scheduled for Saturday’s rally is My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, a leading supporter of Trump’s debunked allegations of voter fraud in his failed 2020 re-election bid.

“I’m sure he’ll continue to make his same debunked claims about the election at the event,” Sabato’s Crystal Ball editor Kyle Kondik said. “I’m sure that will be a major focus of the event.”

But Kondik and others say that while talk of voter fraud will excite his supporters, it might not be good for the Republican Party.

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“For Republicans, Arizona is going in the wrong direction and Donald Trump is part of the cause,” Kondik said. “He presided over the loss of Arizona and its presidency, and whatever he said about the integrity of the election, he made no credible claims that the result was fraudulent.”

That could be good for Democrats in the long run, said Bill Scheel, a partner at Arizona-based political consultancy Javelina.

“It’s interesting that what we’re seeing is that Republicans here are completely stuck in the past, arguing for the 2020 election, instead of talking about issues that actually matter to people in the future,” Scheel said.

Kondik said Trump definitely has strong support in Arizona — what Rose calls an “ardent and passionate fan base” — but they say it has become more of a swing state under his watch.

“The state has become more competitive in recent years and I think part of that is because Donald Trump has proven to be a weaker Republican presidential candidate for Arizona than Mitt Romney, John McCain or the Bush,” he said, referring to recent GOP presidential candidates.

Still, there are few to no downsides for Trump himself, experts say. Kondik said Trump often travels to competitive states like Arizona, which he called a “very important swing state,” and thinks visiting the state is a smart move.

“If he’s actually going to run for president again in 2024, which he very well could, winning back Arizona is a very important part of the road to winning the general election,” he said.

For that reason, Coleman said Saturday “may not be the last time Trump has a rally in Arizona.”




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