Secretary of state race heats up in Arizona
Mark Finchem, an Arizona state representative and the GOP nominee for Arizona secretary of state, still won't say President Biden was legitimately elected to the Oval Office.
Wearing a Trump lapel pin, Finchem told CBS News senior White House and political correspondent Ed O'Keefe on Wednesday he doesn't know whether his concerns about the 2020 presidential election changed the results of the election, even as he was elected to office on the same ballot as Mr. Biden was. Mr. Biden won Arizona in 2020, and Trump lost his challenges in the state.
But Finchem has embraced Trump's false claims of widespread election irregularities. He was among those who was involved in filing legal challenges over the 2020 elections. Finchem was also on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021, and has been interviewed by the House select committee investigating the assault on the Capitol.
When asked if Mr. Biden won, Finchem said "apparently so."
"I mean, look at the inflation and look at all the things that he gets to own that have happened since he walked on the scene," Finchem added.
Many Americans, Finchem said, don't believe the 2020 presidential election was fair. O'Keefe pressed Finchem further, asking if he's saying Mr. Biden was legitimately elected.
"I didn't say that," Finchem replied. "He is the president."
Finchem, who has been in the Arizona House of Representatives since 2015, said he's running to be the next secretary of state "to make sure that we have secure, fair, open and transparent elections." O'Keefe asked Finchem to define what those things mean.
"Well you have — you have an election architecture that we can verify that there's no penetration from external sources." Finchem responded. "So for example, we know that there was availability of WiFi and bluetooth at the Maricopa tabulation center. In fact, there was a team that was watching routers and all the WiFi and in the middle of that observance, somebody changed the name of one of the pieces of equipment to 'F U.' Interesting. They knew they were being surveilled, and it's that kind of behavior that tells me that we've got some issues."
O'Keefe asked if that changed the results of the election.
"Well I don't know that," Finchem said. "I can't say one way or the other. But for somebody to — to do something like that, to have that kind of access to a government system that's supposed to be dedicated to handling elections data, that's very troubling. That tells me that it wasn't secure."
Federal election infrastructure officials under Trump said in a joint statement in Nov. 2020 that the election was "the most secure in American history." Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who lost a primary in Aug. for his seat, testified before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that he was pressured by Trump-allied attorney John Eastman and Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona to decertify electors for Mr. Biden in Arizona. After fake electors met in Phoenix and attempted to send their results to Washington, Bowers said his office could no longer work because of a barrage of threats, and Trump supporters also descended upon his home.
Finchem testified before the House Jan. 6 committee earlier this year. Finchem told CBS News that his interview with the Jan. 6 committee went "about the same way any witness interview would go," and he was "treated as a witness, not as a suspect." That interview was the result of a subpoena, and took place before his successful primary bid.
Finchem said he was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, "representing my constituents, who had some concerns about irregularities that had been observed" about the 2020 presidential election.
Finchem is running against former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state. Whoever wins would wins would be responsible for the oversight and administration of accurate and secure elections as the chief election officer for the state.
Fontes is especially concerned about what could happen if Finchem wins and former President Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination again.
"He may not certify an election that Donald Trump doesn't win in 2024 as well," Fontes said.
And in an interview with CBS News, Fontes repeated a line he's used on the campaign trail: "This isn't the most important election in our lifetimes. It could be the last free election that we have in our lifetimes."
Fontes told CBS News the challenge will be continuing to spread the truth and show Arizona voters they can have faith in the people who run their elections.
"Once we win, however, the challenge is going to be communicating with regular, everyday Arizonans and helping to continue to spread the truth, continue to show them they can have faith in their fellow elections who are the ones who actually run elections in Arizona and across the United States," Fontes said. "In that role, I would be able to help communicate with voters across Arizona about how their local elections are run by the counties, how those county officials really represent them at the neighborhood level.
Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital based in Washington, D.C.
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