Abe Hamadeh and Kris Mayes display stark differences in Arizona attorney general race

Abe Hamadeh and Kris Mayes, candidates for Arizona attorney general.
Tara Kavaler
Arizona Republic

Arizonans face a stark difference between candidates for attorney general now that the matchup for the general election in November is set. On one side is political newcomer Abe Hamadeh, the winner of the Aug. 2 GOP primary, and on the other is Democrat Kris Mayes, who has won statewide elected office twice.

Mayes portrays her opponent as an extremist whose views are out of touch with Arizonans, while Hamadeh paints Mayes as an elitist and radical-leftist professor.

They diverge on much more than past experience and characterizations of one another, however. The race is likely to concentrate on the issues of abortionelectionsconsumer protection, illegal immigration and border security.

The gap between them on the issues is stark.

Hamadeh believes that there was widespread voting fraud in 2020 and that Joe Biden did not legitimately win Arizona, for example, while Mayes calls Hamadeh's stance a danger to democracy and is concerned about the possible subversion of the will of voters in future elections.

Mayes believes that Arizona's constitutional right to privacy supersedes Arizona's two restrictive abortion laws while Hamadeh believes that the pre-state law that bans most abortions and prosecutes doctors is Arizona's current law. 

How Hamadeh won the primary

Despite being the last entrant in a crowded GOP primary, former Maricopa County prosecutor Hamadeh, 31, came out on top over five competitors. He served for approximately three years as a prosecutor.

The Donald Trump-endorsed candidate defeated five other contenders in the primary to secure the party's nomination.

Hamadeh has gained national media attention for his "America First" stances. 

Hamadeh told The Arizona Republic in an earlier interview that he was frustrated with the ascent of "weak-kneed" Republicans, specifically naming Gov. Doug Ducey. When asked at the time if the other contenders in the GOP primary are "weak-kneed," Hamadeh replied, "All of them."

With three men and three women in the GOP race, the women underperformed, coming in the bottom three. One of those women, Dawn Grove, came in fourth despite generating the second most amount of money in the primary. 

Arizona has had only one female attorney general in state history: Janet Napolitano, who served from 1999-2003. The chance for the second now rests solely with the Democratic Party. 

Republicans far outraised the Democrats in the primary, although Mayes has more cash on hand than Hamadeh, according to the last campaign filings in July.

Among the GOP candidates, the former president's backing helped the Trump acolyte, who was in third place for fundraising, overcome attorney Rodney Glassman's fundraising advantage.

Doug Cole, a veteran political consultant at HighGround Public Affairs in Phoenix, said that in the packed field, Trump's backing was more important to voters than experience.

"If you look at the resumes of Lacy Cooper and (the other GOP candidates who ran),  their work experience is immense," he said. "The Trump endorsement in that crowded field was the game changer."

Trump's backing of Hamadeh also introduced a split in Arizona's Republican Party among those who promulgate an "America First" agenda. 

The divide left Trump and those in his orbit on one side, and controversial U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., on the other.

Gosar threw his support behind Glassman, an alliance that drew criticism from within the Jewish community given the congressman's ties to white nationalist Nick Fuentes. Glassman is Jewish.

Trump's endorsement put Gosar in an unfamiliar place: at odds with the former president. Their differing opinions on who would make the best statewide candidate was limited to the job of Arizona's top law enforcement official. 

Hamadeh, an Army captain and intelligence officer, moved to Arizona at age 5 and was raised mainly in the Cave Creek and Scottsdale areas. 

In a statement to The Republic following his victory, Hamadeh said: “I am grateful to the voters of Arizona for their confidence in our mission and vision. ... Arizonans deserve an attorney general who will defend the law and push back against the federal government when our rights are encroached, not an opportunist who will pick and choose legal battles based upon their hidden policy objectives. ... My pledge to all voters is that I will be an independent and principled voice who will always put Arizonans and the rule of law first."

Given that Hamadeh is a newcomer to the political scene who beat out more experienced candidates who have gone through election cycles and faced opposition research, there is the potential for surprises about the candidate's history. 

Cole said his qualifications and background will get a closer look now that the primary is over. 

"A general election is a lot different than the primary election," Cole said. "We'll see a lot higher degree of scrutiny on his resume and in his candidacy."

Mayes to face Hamadeh in November's general election

Mayes, a native Arizonan, grew up in rural Prescot​​​​t and was elected twice to the Arizona Corporation Commission, though as a Republican. If she wins in November, Mayes, 50, would be the first attorney general who also is a mom. 

Following the primary, Mayes told The Republic in a statement: "My plan is to continue to stick to the facts and work hard to win in November, so I can serve all Arizonans and be a lawyer for the people — not the lawyer for our former President. ... I will go to work every day to protect Arizonans first and foremost, and never use this important office for political stunts."

Mayes did not face opposition in the primary. She became a Democrat in 2019 in the advent of Donald Trump.

Where the candidates stand on issues 

Abortion

The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, giving states the power to legislate the legality of abortion. The next attorney general will supervise enforcement of Arizona's abortion laws.

Arizona has clashing laws on abortion with an 1864 law that prohibits almost all abortions and another law that was signed by Ducey this year that would criminalize the procedure in most circumstances after 15 weeks.    

Compounding the confusion is Arizona's constitutional right to privacy. 

Mayes said the state Constitution supersedes the two laws on the books.  

"I believe our Arizona Constitution’s privacy clause protects the right of women to have control over their own bodies and I will not lock up doctors, nurses or pharmacists for providing reproductive care, which includes abortions," Mayes said. "I believe these most private decisions should be made between women and their doctors — not the government."

Hamadeh said the pre-state law that outlaws most abortions and criminalizes doctors who perform the procedure is the law of the land in Arizona, pointing to an opinion from current state Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

"The attorney general’s opinion on Dobbs is the correct legal interpretation. The role of the AG is to enforce the law as it is and not as they want it to be or think the policy should reflect. The Legislature passed a law this year that was signed by the governor, making it clear the territorial law remains in effect," Hamadeh said.

Elections

The attorney general plays a critical part in Arizona's elections, including certifying the results, along with the secretary of state and governor; prosecuting election-related criminal activity; and sanctioning the wording of ballot propositions. 

Hamadeh is a virulent critic of the certification of the November 2020 election and believes there was rampant voting fraud, a position that is not backed up by evidence. Consequently, he maintains Joe Biden did not win Arizona fairly.

"As AG I will prosecute the election fraud of 2020 and secure the 2024 election so when Donald Trump runs and wins again in 2024, everyone will know it’s legitimate,” Hamadeh told The Republic earlier in a statement.

Mayes believes that Hamadeh's stance is a threat to democracy and would overrule the electorate. 

"I will protect the will of the voters, including the sanctity of our elections and those who administer them, as well as vote by mail, which 80-90% of Arizonans use," Mayes said in a statement to The Republic. "It’s time for Arizona, and our country, to move on from these conspiracy theories which have cost taxpayers too much money and wreaked havoc on our election officials lives and well-being."

Consumer protection

Most of the attorney general's work involves consumer protection.

Mayes said consumer protection has decreased under the current administration. However, Brnovich's office vehemently disagrees with this characterization.

As she did on the Arizona Corporation Commission, Mayes said she would hold office hours around the state to meet with Arizonans. Other policy initiatives include: bringing back resources and staffing to the Consumer Fraud and Protection Fund, using a tip line where people could report fraud and establishing a "fraud task force" to come up with more solutions to prevent the practice. 

Hamadeh said the AG's office could be "doing more" to educate Arizona consumers and to prevent fraud. He believes the Consumer Fraud Act can be applied to "Big Tech"  and said that he has no intent to cut the office's financing.  

"I don't plan on reducing funding for the important functions within the office and will work with the Legislature and the governor to ensure the Attorney General's Office is properly funded to perform its core functions, including consumer protection," he said.

Illegal immigration and border security

Hamadeh said he would defend the border under the authority granted by the State War Powers Act, by classifying the current situation at the border as an "invasion." He contends that cartels should be designated as "terrorists" and that seizure laws should be broadened to seize cartel assets that would fund border wall construction.

When it comes to illegal immigration, Hamadeh said he would file lawsuits against the federal government if it does not follow immigration law, citing as examples Title 42, the "remain in Mexico" asylum policy and President Biden’s "out-of-touch and dangerous deportation moratorium."  

On her website, Mayes said that while the federal government has the power to protect the border and is in charge of immigration policy, she would use all of the tools available to make sure that it does its job. Mayes also said she would work with all different levels of government to prosecute cartels.

Tara Kavaler is a politics reporter at The Arizona Republic. She can be reached by email at tara.kavaler@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter @kavalertara