Trump and Pence campaign for rivals Karen Taylor Robson and Keri Lake in Arizona

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PEORIA, Ariz. — Former Vice President Mike Pence, appearing here Friday afternoon at a campaign event for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Karrin Taylor Robson, told a crowd that “there is those who want to make it an election about the past,” a possible reference to his former boss’s concern over the 2020 election results.

A few hours later, about 90 minutes north, former President Donald Trump hosted a rally for Taylor Robson opponent Kari Lake, a local TV news anchor turned Make America Great Again mogul who spent l last year spreading the lie that the election two years ago was stolen.

The election was rigged and stolen, and now our country is being systematically destroyed because of “Trump told the large crowd in Prescott Valley, Arizona inside an arena that hosts concerts and sporting events. He bragged about the number of votes he received, then teased, “And now we might have to start over.

Competing campaign appearances from the two top Republicans in a critical state that narrowly chose President Biden over Trump in 2020 hinted at a possible showdown in 2024 as Pence and Trump flirt with running to the presidency. Advisors to the former president say he plans to announce a campaign to win back the presidency as early as this fall. Pence’s allies say he is likely to run whether Trump shows up or not.

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Pence made two campaign stops in Arizona and made no direct reference to the controversial election, or his role in it, at either event. Instead, he denounced border security, inflation and blamed Democrats for high gas prices. About 300 people attended one of the events, held at a tactical equipment company in the northwest suburb of Phoenix, which hosted Pence in 2020 for a campaign rally.

The dueling events between Pence and Trump also occurred following a prime-time hearing by the House committee investigating the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, when Trump supporters sought to shut down Congress and Pence — in his role as president. of the Senate — to accept the election results. Thursday night’s hearing revealed the panic expressed by Pence’s security guards as they tried to remove him safely from the pro-Trump crowd on the day of the uprising.

As angry rioters came within 40 feet of Pence, then-President Donald Trump was back at the White House to watch it unfold on television, the committee showed. As his supporters ransacked the Capitol, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the guts to do what should have been done.”

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At the Trump rally, Elizabeth Liden, a 69-year-old retiree from Sun City West, frowned at the mention of Pence’s name. “You’re either for Trump or Pence now,” she said.

“Look at that crowd,” said Liden, who traveled with a friend for his first Trump rally. “Common sense tells you that Biden couldn’t have gotten more votes, with the small crowds he drew.”

Earlier at the Pence event, Deanna Glaser, 68, a Republican who worked in the mortgage industry before her retirement, said she would likely vote for Trump in 2024 but could “eventually” support Pence, though she thinks the former vice president could have done more to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.

“I don’t think he was briefed or educated on what he could do,” Glaser said. “There were five states that asked to recall voters and he didn’t honor that.”

Glaser said she worked on the review of the 2021 ballot in Arizona, in which the GOP-led state Senate ordered a review of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County. following the loss of Trump. She is convinced that the election was stolen from Trump.

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Arizona or anywhere else in the country that would have changed the outcome of the election.

Pence’s appearance could serve as a moment of clarification for undecided GOP voters and independent voters, who were crucial to the statewide victories of Biden and Sen. Mark Kelly (D) in 2020. Taylor Robson’s campaign appears to have accepted that hardcore election deniers who are likely to support Trump will, by extension, support Lake.

During his remarks, Pence swept Lake, a former Democrat. “Look, I’m always happy to welcome converts to the Republican Party, but Republicans in Arizona don’t need a governor who backed Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton,” Pence said, to loud applause. .

He only mentioned Trump by name when talking about the former president as part of their political partnership. “I can tell you firsthand that no one worked harder for the Trump-Pence (ticket) in 2016 or 2020 than Karrin Taylor Robson,” Pence told the crowd.

Taylor Robson, who helped raise $1.3 million for Trump’s two campaigns, said the 2020 election “was absolutely not fair” but did not say she was plagued to fraud.

The leading candidates in the GOP primary for governor of Arizona bear political branding that bears a striking resemblance to the men who support them now, Pence and Trump.

Taylor Robson, who has traveled in influential political circles, has sought to stop challenging the 2020 results, instead trying to send the message that she is a capable conservative who wants to improve the state’s economy, reduce the staggering inflation rate and addressing water policy issues in the drought-stricken region.

But much of his post was drowned out by questions about 2020.

Lake, a former local Fox News anchor, is a political outsider just like Trump. She quit her media job in 2021, launched an insurgent gubernatorial bid and quickly won Trump’s endorsement. She often speaks with the former president and visits him at Mar-a-Lago.

Lake fought a legal battle against state and county officials largely funded by Holocaust denier Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow, over the use of vote-counting machines in the 2022 election. said during a recent televised debate that she would not have certified Biden’s victory in Arizona, as Governor Doug Ducey (R) did, and described Biden as an illegitimate president, saying he ” had lost the election and that he should not be in the White House.”

She is already laying the groundwork to claim a rigged election if she loses her race. Taylor Robson said she would accept the results of her election.

Dewey’s Debbie Lenson attended the Trump rally to see Lake as well as the headliner. She isn’t bothered by the negative charges thrown at Lake — which she previously gave to the Obama campaign and recently joined the NRA. “People can change. I was a Democrat myself. In the late 60s, I was a liberal hippie. But I grew up, I became an adult,” Lenson said.

The winner of the Aug. 2 primary will face either Katie Hobbs, secretary of state for Arizona, or Marco Lopez, who has worked in both the public and private sectors, who is running in the Democratic primary.

Attendees at the first Pence event included a mix of local business leaders and owners, local elected officials and state legislators, including Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R), who recently testified before the United States House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the United States. Capitol about the campaign to pressure him to help undo Trump’s loss in Arizona.

The modest event contrasts with the one Trump headlined for Lake in the evening. It was a typical Trump rally with the president speaking for nearly two hours, reiterating his grievance over the 2020 election, attacking illegal immigrants, mocking his political enemies and lamenting investigations into his conduct, including the one in course by the committee on January 6.

Earlier at the Pence event, Gilbert Valenzuela, 81, a Republican retiree from Sun City, came to see the former vice president but said he remains a Trump fan. He doesn’t know who he will vote for in the Arizona gubernatorial race — and who he might vote for if Pence and Trump run for president in 2024.

“I love Donald Trump, he’s done a lot of good things for the country and I don’t think he would have the problems we have now if he was president,” he said. He’s ready to “cast aside” some of the former president’s controversial behavior and perhaps vote for him again if he runs.

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But he also doesn’t regret Pence’s actions on Jan. 6.

“I think he did the right thing,” Valenzuela said. “I don’t think he did anything wrong.”

Itkowitz reported from Washington. Jimmy Magahern contributed to this story from Prescott Valley, Arizona.

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