Salmon joins crowded GOP gubernatorial race

Gun Rights
Matt Salmon (Capitol Media Services 2014 file photo by Howard Fischer)

Matt Salmon (Capitol Media Services 2014 file photo by Howard Fischer)

Matt Salmon, who came within 11,819 votes of becoming governor nearly two decades ago, is making another bid for the office. 

But the former state legislator, congressman and lobbyist first has to survive what is becoming an increasingly crowded Republican primary. And Salmon, in his announcement July 16, is seeking to prove that he is as conservative  if not more so  than anyone else in the race. 

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“Today, the Arizona values we cherish are under attack from Washington and liberals here at home,” he said in his prepared statement, decrying “open borders, closed classrooms, crushing tax hikes and socialism, censorship and cancel culture.” 

The other three GOP contenders have made similar claims. 

But Salmon is jumping into the race with something they don’t have: an endorsement from Club For Growth, a political action committee primarily focused on cutting taxes that has resources to help finance a campaign. 

And he also has the record of being a founding member of the Freedom Caucus while he was in Congress. 

Salmon, in a parallel video announcement, pronounced himself “100% pro-life,” touted his A rating by the National Rifle Association, all while decrying the “radical agenda” of Democrats, complete with photos of those that Republicans love to hate, ranging from Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders to Nancy Pelosi and even MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow. 

And there also were references to what have become the latest GOP talking points, including his promises to “protect election integrity” and “strengthen voter ID.” 

What Salmon does have more than any of the other Republican contenders is an extensive record. 

As a state senator first elected in 1990, he backed various tax-cut measures. 

But he also was behind a move to abolish both the Arizona Lottery and pari-mutuel wagering on horses and dogs, saying once the state did that it could avoid having tribal casinos. 

What followed was six years in the U.S. House, from 1995 to 2001, after which he stepped aside keeping his pledge to serve no more than three terms.

That led to the gubernatorial bid in 2002 where he gained the GOP nod after trouncing Secretary of State Betsey Bayless and Treasurer Carol Spinger. That set him up to run against Democrat Janet Napolitano who was Arizona attorney general at the time. 

But the race was complicated by the entry of Richard Mahoney, a former Democratic secretary of state, who ran as an independent and picked up nearly 85,000 votes, and Libertarian Barry Hess tallying more than 20,000. 

Salmon said afterward he was hampered by something else: Republicans who supported his policies but said they would not vote for him because he is a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints. 

He eventually served two more terms in the U.S. House between 2013 and 2016. 

This year’s GOP gubernatorial race is shaping up as a fight over who can prove they are the most conservative. 

State Treasurer Kimberly Yee became the first in the race, touting her loyalty to former President Donald Trump and his border and economic policies. 

“President Trump’s America First agenda had our economy booming like never before,” she said in her announcement video. “But now, our way of life is under attack by the corrupt press, reckless corporate leaders and politicians who put socialist ideals over people, our freedom of speech and our elections.” 

She also is touting her opposition to abortion and being a “proud NRA life member.” 

Developer Karrin Taylor Robson launched her campaign with a slap at the Biden-Harris administration. She promised to “fight for Arizona values” and said she is “committed to do whatever it takes to defend Arizona from the radical left.” 

Former Phoenix TV anchor Kari Lake got into the race with promises of protecting election integrity and requiring voter ID, securing the border and protecting the Second Amendment. 

She quit her TV job, complaining about a “disturbing shift in journalism. And Lake said she is pro-life,” always have and always will be.” 

The survivor of the Republican primary will go on to face whoever ends up representing the Democratic Party. So far, the main contenders include former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. 

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that Matt Salmon came within 1,819 votes of victory in the 2002 gubernatorial race. The margin was actually 11,819 votes. 

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