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Abortion ruling puts new focus on Arizona's attorney general race

The race for state attorney general is one of the most crowded fields on Arizona’s primary ballots. And recent Supreme Court decisions have put this down-ballot race in the spotlight.

Democratic primary voters have just one choice for attorney general: former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes is running unopposed.


But Republican voters will choose their nominee from six candidates: former state and federal prosecutor Lacy Cooper; former military JAG attorney Rodney Glassman; former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould; Dawn Grove, who serves as corporate counsel for her family’s golf club business; Army Reserve officer and former prosecutor Abraham Hamadeh; and Tiffany Shedd, a small-business owner and attorney.

→  2022 Arizona attorney general's race: The candidates

“It really is an important position, and I think this primary will be particularly important with so many people running,” said Valena Beety, a professor with the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.


Attorneys general serve four-year terms in Arizona. The Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation for the state and all state government agencies. Beety said the office is actually made up of hundreds of lawyers, but they all answer to the elected official at the top.

“The attorney general is the one who is setting the policies, who is really setting the trajectory for what the office wants to accomplish,” Beety said.

The six Republicans vying for a nomination have each made border security central to their platforms. But it’s another issue entirely that has brought increased attention to the race. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Arizona’s current attorney general, Mark Brnovich  has sought to revive a statute from Arizona’s territorial days that bans abortion in almost all circumstances.


“With Roe overturned, the pre-Roe law is now enforceable. Attorney General Brnovich made the right call,” said Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy.

Herrod's organization has been working for decades to see Roe v. Wade overturned. Now that that’s a reality, she said her work is not over. She’s turning her attention to the elections ahead.

“The races for governor, for attorney general, for county attorney, for state legislative offices, for federal offices, all matter for the cause of life,” Herrod said.

Herrod said she’s paying close attention to the race for attorney general because she wants the next AG continue Brnovich’s push to enforce Arizona’s abortion ban.

The six Republicans running for the nomination have each indicated on social media or  in interviews that they would uphold state laws that limit access to the procedure.

Mayes, the lone Democrat in the race, has said she would not. In campaign materials, multiple public appearances, and interviews, Mayes has said she thinks laws that attempt to restrict abortion access in Arizona are in violation of the right to privacy guaranteed by the state constitution.

Abortion rights supporters see an opportunity there.

“These races are absolutely crucial,” said Claire Knipe, political director for Arizona List.

The mission of Arizona List has always been to back pro-choice women running for office. But in the days after the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling came down, Arizona List zeroed in on the race for attorney general, telling supporters one of the most important things they could do to protect abortion rights in the state would be to elect Mayes to that role.

“Even if we aren’t able to flip the legislature, even if we don’t get the governor’s seat and are able to veto bills, she would still have the ability to stop some of this prosecuting and be able to protect folks here in Arizona,” Knipe said.

Polling from OH Predictive Insights suggests nine out of 10 Arizona voters do want abortion to remain legal, at least in some circumstances in the state. Mike Noble, the firm’s chief of research, said Republicans have several advantages going into this election, but in recent weeks, this issue has narrowed the enthusiasm gap between the parties.

“This definitely is the kick in the side the Democrats need to compete with Republicans at the ballot box,” Noble said. “Also, it can be a differentiator in the general election among those all-important independent voters.”

Noble said in November’s general election, abortion access is likely to be an important talking point for candidates up and down the ballot.

But the attorney general, more than other offices up for election, will have powers of enforcement.

Beety said if Arizona’s top law enforcement officer says the state will or won’t prosecute doctors for providing abortions, that’s likely to be more than a just a campaign slogan.

“That is both messaging, and it also can change the reality of it,” Beety said.

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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent. She has produced work for NPR, New England Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, PRI's The World, Washington Post, Reuters and more.She has a master’s degree in radio journalism from the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.She lives in central Phoenix with her husband, two daughters, and ill-behaved cat and dog. Her side-passions include photography, crosswords and hot sauce.