PHOENIX — For someone who feels no less than the weight of “the republic and the free world” on his shoulders every day, Adrian Fontes is having a pretty good time.
On Thursday night, at an Arizona Democratic Party event geared toward Latinos, Fontes delivered a sober but upbeat speech about his Arizona Secretary of State campaign. “Elections are the golden thread that runs through our entire social fabric and they bind us together,” he said. “That golden thread, if you pull it out, the whole fabric will disintegrate.”
When he finished, a four-piece mariachi band appeared out of nowhere, and in a split second, Fontes had snatched the mic. The crowd — carrying neon tequila cocktails with names like “Blue Wave” — joked and whistled as Fontes performed the ballad “El Rey.”
For Fontes, it might be more of a survival mechanic than a ticker stick. In an interview before his keynote, he talked about the enormous responsibility he shouldered during the campaign against his Republican opponent, Mark Finchem, who is presumably the the most staunch election denier and conspiracy theorist on the ballot for a big office this November.
“I do it with a bit of fun,” Fontes said, sipping a margarita over ice. “Because if I really don’t approach it with a little grace, it’s going to be very, very heavy.”
Heavy is a subtle way of saying it. Many outside Fontes believe the fate of American democracy will be shaped by whether he stops Finchem from running the electoral system of one of the nation’s most important battlefields.
National donors and Democratic Party organizations poured cash on him, and Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) ran TV ads urging Arizona voters to stop Finchem. At a state event in October, Cheney said “what happens in Arizona is important not only to Arizona, but important to the nation and the future functioning of our constitutional republic.” .”
The final stretch of the 2022 campaign in Arizona offered a stark reminder of the forces Finchem and others helped liberate. Loosely organized armed vigilantes began showing up at polling stations in Maricopa County to “surveil” voters, which had the obvious effect of intimidating and intimidating voters. voters and poll workers.
The ability to quell those forces is what prompted Fontes to enter this race. A former Mexican-American Marine from the border town of Nogales, he experienced firsthand the explosion of voter denialism. In 2020, he is the top election official in Maricopa County, home to 2.5 million voters.
More than anyone else, Fontes knew he might end up being the only man standing between a Big Lie believer and the power to run Arizona’s elections. But he may not be predicting that his opponent will instead be a senior priest of 2020 election denialism.
A cowboy hat wearing the Oath on Capitol Hill on January 6, Finchem has been a key evangelist of many of the beliefs that have defined the Big Lie movement, such as the argument that lawmakers Arizona should install their own presidential electors. During his campaign, he was caressing and rubbing elbows with a gallery of QAnon conspiracy theorists and rogues anti-factions, and has vowed to end voting by mail entirely.
Fontes described his opponent as a “fascist” and “a white nationalist who refuses to vote, Keeps the oath, exists in the country.” He describes himself as “the custodian of the election scrutinized by cyber ninjas…. I was the man who ran that bipartisan group that upheld and defended democracy and Arizona.”
“You can’t find a more violent protest race in this country,” Fontes said. (Operation Finchem did not respond to a request for them to respond to Fontes’ comments.)
Despite the enormous risks, Fontes said he prefers that race to a race with a more moderate Republican. It can make people nervous, or even downright uncomfortable, but Fontes seems to believe that a direct clash between him and Finchem is the only way to begin to break the fever that has engulfed the state and country.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t really secretly hope that would happen,” he said of Finchem’s Republican nominees. “Facing big challenges is something very few people have to do, and facing an important challenge like this, really, it means a lot.”
“It’s support for the country,” he said. “It’s certainly an inflection point for democracy in America, and it’s a real political challenge for our citizens around the world… Shall we get rid of the rule of law? Are we going to fall behind? “
With election days looming, those questions seem closer to reality than they are. There has been a sparse vote on the race, but a survey from Phoenix-based OH Prediction Insights shows Finchem leading Fontes, between 40% and 35%, with a quarter of voters undecided. .
Fontes is also about to lose a race where his electoral policies are a central issue. In November 2020, as Democrats saw victory in Arizona, a Republican defeated him in the bid for another term as Maricopa County Recorder.
During his tenure, Fontes vigorously promoted vote-by-mail measures in response to the COVID pandemic; In March 2020, a court blocked Maricopa County’s plan to send ballots to all voters.
Many of those worried about Finchem are eyeing the dynamics in the gubernatorial race, which could help propel Republicans to victory. Democrats are also concerned about the campaign of Katie Hobbs, the incumbent Democratic Secretary of State, as Kari Lake – herself a hardline MAGA candidate who turned down the 2020 election – opens up a lead in the polls.
In his own race, Fontes has pursued a different strategy than Hobbs, who declined to share the stage of the debate with Lake, arguing that such a forum would provide a platform for the party’s fringe ideas. Republic and create a spectacle.
In September, Fontes appeared with Finchem in a debate, where The Republican Party hardly took long to start delving into conspiracy theories about faulty voting machines and ballot boxes stuffed with fake ballots.
That night, Finchem had a platform — but Fontes also had a platform, and he said leveraging it was important to “determine the very clear difference between the two of us” for Arizona voters . On stage, the Democrats carried out their plan with the letter, calmly disseminating Finchem’s conspiracy claims and putting him on the defensive.
“He was crazier than I expected, sooner than I expected,” Fontes said. “We wanted to get him to tighten up, squeak, start acting crazy, that’s what we know he’s inclined to do… He went off like a rocket in no time.”
“From that point on, all I had to do was show the contrast between maturity, composure, composure, gathering and understanding of leadership, versus the erratic performance style. , his loud and screaming,” Fontes added.
When asked if Hobbs would benefit from making such a contrast with Lake, Fontes said he wouldn’t make assumptions about his ticket mate, who he calls “a solid leader.” sure”. But he points out that he could have done things differently.
“I don’t know that I would make the same decision, but I’m not against Kari Lake, and I’m not Katie Hobbs, so it’s not fair for me to say she’s right or wrong,” he said. “But the fair answer for you is, I think it’s a missed opportunity.”
Many in Arizona, and beyond, were relieved to see Fontes take on Finchem, and Arizona insiders were impressed with the campaign he ran.
After facing a disadvantage in initial fundraising, Fontes has begun to get annoyed with Finchem, as often sleepy races for secretary of state have national significance with election deniers running. in important states like Arizona, Michigan and Nevada. As of the end of October, Fontes had raised $2.4 million from Finchem’s $1.8 million.
Nationwide, Democratic organizations and donors are backing candidates like Fontes with serious money. In September, the Democratic Association of State Secretaries announced that it would pay for an advertising campaign worth $10 million to $14 million, split between Arizona and Georgia.
Without having to knock door-to-door to convince donors he needed cash, Fontes told The Daily Beast that much of the support has already materialized. “The National Democrats… understood that for us to lose this position, we would lose this race, far more risky than the Electoral College votes in one state,” Fontes said.
In Arizona, Fontes hopes to assemble a diverse coalition of Democrats, independents and even Republicans who are nervous at the prospect of Finchem conducting Arizona elections. In September, Joel John, a GOP state legislator, publicly endorsed Fontes, calling it “really scary when someone like that is just a heartbeat away from the governor’s office.” (In Arizona, the secretary of state was the first in the gubernatorial line of succession.) Not surprisingly, Democrats who served with Finchem in the state capital shared this opinion. Martín Quezada, a Democrat state legislator who is currently running for state treasurer, said: “The madness going on in the campaign is a fraction of the madness he has done. the is. “I mean, this guy is just as scary as people think. He has become intimidating as a legislator over the past few years. “
Win or lose, Finchem is ready to receive the votes of more than a million Arizonans. Even if Fontes believes this race offers an opportunity to attract stakes to the heart of the Big Lie movement, there is bound to be a large majority of the vote for someone he believes is a “fascist.” .
Finishing a margarita before giving a speech and singing impromptu mariachi, the heaviness of that thought didn’t seem to bother Fontes.
“So what?” he say. “As long as a lot of people vote for me, we’re in good shape.”