Candidates to top Arizona election job to face off in debate

PHOENIX (AP) — A Republican Arizona lawmaker who embraces election conspiracies and has former President Donald Trump’s endorsement will spar with the Democrat who helped oversee the 2020 election in Maricopa County Thursday evening as they both seek the state’s top election post.

State Rep. Mark Finchem has built a national following among Trump supporters and those who believe without evidence that the former president lost in Arizona and other battleground states because of fraud.

Finchem will debate Democrat Adrian Fontes, the former Maricopa County Recorder who lost his 2020 reelection bid. Fontes says Finchem’s claims have eroded faith in democracy and he’s in the odd position of having “to debate someone who doesn’t believe in reality.”

The 30-minute debate sponsored by the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission is the public’s only scheduled chance to see the two candidates for secretary of state side-by-side. The secretary acts as Arizona’s top election official, oversees many business filings and is next in line if the governor leaves office prematurely. The debate will be broadcast at 5 p.m. on Arizona PBS and moderated by longtime Arizona Horizon host Ted Simons, who has handled Clean Elections debates for more than a decade.

Finchem was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and has been subpoenaed by the Department of Justice as it investigates the insurrection. He’s joined a lawsuit with the Republican candidate for governor, Kari Lake, that seeks to req