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Former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon drops out of Arizona governor's race

Former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon has dropped out of the Republican primary for governor. Salmon’s decision, announced 8 days before early voting begins, thins a field that’s been led by two top candidates: Kari Lake and Karrin Taylor Robson. Salmon’s name will still appear on ballots mailed out to voters in early July.

Salmon was widely seen as trailing former TV news anchor Kari Lake and developer Karrin Taylor Robson. Robson has been spending millions on her campaign in an effort to boost her political standing against Lake, a populist who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

Salmon was increasingly seen as a spoiler who could split mainstream Republicans and pull votes from Robson.

“Unfortunately, numbers are numbers, and it has become clear to me that the path to a first-place victory is no longer a realistic possibility,” Salmon said in a statement. “Republican primary voters deserve more than having their votes split on August 2nd, and so I am leaving this race for the same reason that I entered it: Because it is what’s best for the people of Arizona.”

Businessman Steve Gaynor announced in April that he was bowing out of the Republican primary because he saw little hope of winning in the crowded field. State Treasurer Kimberly Yee dropped out in January and instead is seeking reelection to her current office. Two other lesser-known Republicans will also be on the ballot.

Robson said Salmon has been a leader in the conservative movement for decades and is “Arizona through and through.”

“I thank him for running an honorable campaign for governor,” she said in a statement. "Arizona faces big challenges, and I have no doubt Matt will continue to find ways to serve this state he loves.”

Lake also praised Salmon, and called for his supporters to back her campaign.

“As I’ve said from the beginning — if you love this state, this country and our America First ideals, I welcome you into our movement with open arms,” Lake said in a statement.

Term limits bar current Republican Gov. Doug Ducey from running again in 2022. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez are seeking the Democratic nomination.

Salmon announced his bid for the GOP nomination a year ago, trying a second time to win the governor's race he narrowly lost to Democrat Janet Napolitano nearly two decades ago.

Arizona has historically been a solidly Republican state, despite Napolitano's win in 2002 against Salmon. She squeaked out a 1 percentage point victory after an independent candidate managed to garner nearly 7% of the vote. She won a second term in a 2006 landslide.

Salmon served in the Arizona Legislature before winning three terms in Congress in the 1990s and leaving office to honor his pledge to serve only three terms. After his loss in the governor's race, he worked as a lobbyist and then served two more terms in Congress from 2013 through 2016. He had been working for Arizona State University when he announced his intent to run again for governor.

Salmon has spent the past year traveling the state on his campaign. He thanked his staff and campaign volunteers.

“I want to reiterate my eternal gratitude for all of the Arizonans who have supported me this year,” he said. "You are the backbone of this beautiful state, and I am eager to continue working with you in defense of freedom.”

2022 Arizona governor's race: The candidates

Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.