KJZZ's Friday NewsCap: If Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer loses, Democrats win

By Mark Brodie
Published: Friday, March 1, 2024 - 10:33am

Audio icon Download mp3 (30.03 MB)

Man in suit speaking at podium
Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer on Nov. 7, 2023.

KJZZ’s Friday NewsCap revisits some of the biggest stories of the week from Arizona and beyond.

To talk about a new entrant into the GOP primary for Maricopa County recorder, more immigration bills moving through the state Legislature and more, The Show sat down with Doug Cole of HighGround and Karl Gentles of The Gentles Agency.

Conversation highlights

On state Rep. Justin Heap challenging Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer in the Republican primary

DOUG COLE: Well, this was no surprise to anybody that’s been paying attention here. I think the bigger surprises is here we are, we’re leading a morning show talking about the Maricopa County recorder. For years, Helen Purcell just quietly did her job. And this was the post that went nowhere. But here it is, pushed front and center by all the election controversies. And I think you heard Recorder Richer make the distinction that, “I do early voting and voter registration. The board of supervisors does everything else.”

But because of the election denialism and such, Stephen Richer has become a national figure. And the supporters of Donald Trump and the election deniers have made him a target.

Now, Rep. Justin Heap is a freshman member of the state House. He’s from an extremely safe district that you win in the primary hands down, and you are elected as long as you want to be. Running countywide in the state in the nation’s fourth largest county is going to be a different animal for him.

He has no money in the bank. According to reporting from Dennis Welch, who works at Channel 3 and Channel 5, he has raised no money here. And he’s going to have to raise a lot of money because there’s going to be a lot of noise in this election to get across the finish line.

But he will get the Trump endorsement. So that’s going to be a big challenge for the incumbent, Stephen Richer.

MARK BRODIE: How do you handicap this race at the moment?

COLE: I would put it as a toss up right now to see how how things unfold. You know, Stephen Richer is well-spoken and works really hard. And he’s really good on social media. He had some fun last night if anybody was paying attention.

But it's going to be a tough race. But I’ll handicap, you know, incumbents are hard to beat. OK. And I can tell you the McCain wing of the party, independents who can vote in the primary, I think that they’ll naturally go to Richer. It’s just to see how big the coattails of Donald Trump’s going to be in a quarter race like this when you have a very well spoken recorder.

Doug Cole and Karl Gentles in the KJZZ studio
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
Doug Cole (left) and Karl Gentles in the KJZZ studio in March 2024

BRODIE: Karl, does this seem like potentially, depending on how the primary goes, could this be a pickup opportunity for Democrats if, for example, Justin Heap is the nominee?

KARL GENTLES: Yeah, I really think it is because first of all, the most extreme candidates win in the primaries. And Justin Heap is to the far right of Richer. It’s interesting that you’ve got a seat and you’re trying to hold this seat, but then you're challenging that seat with somebody, a MAGA Republican, basically. But when it gets to a primary, I highly doubt a Justin Heap, if he does prevail, will have a real shot at winning in a general election.

So, I mean, there’s going to be craziness. It’s going to be fun to watch. Stephen Richer, I think, is actually a very good candidate and has has done a great job, even though he did take the seat from a Democrat. But I do believe that if Justin Heap ends up winning, we may even have the Democrat take on that seat in Tim Stringham.

COLE: And remember when, If I may, when Stephen Richer first came on the screen as running for office, he was considered a far-right candidate and had a history, because he’s a lawyer, of litigating election cases. He was considered a far-right candidate. That’s how far the spectrum has moved yet.

GENTLES: Yeah, he certainly doesn’t appear to be that any more. In fact, by all measures, he’s he’s certainly not on the MAGA part of the party. I do believe that Stephen Richer has a great shot at winning the primary. Although like I said: the most extreme, the farthest right the farthest crazy you can get in the primary is typically what people navigate to, particularly on the Republican side.

BRODIE: If Richer is able to get through the primary, do either of you see him losing the general election? Karl, what do you think?

GENTLES: Well, I answer that as an analyst or a Democrat?

BRODIE: You pick.

GENTLES: Look, Stephen Richer is going to be tough to beat. Like Doug said, the power of incumbency is there. He’s got some really high name ID. He's actually from all looks doing a reasonably decent job. But look, on the Democratic side we have a very strong candidate in Tim Stringham that’s going to be coming along. He will challenge and make a very strong run.

And I think overall, look, Maricopa County is a blue county now, Mr. Cole. And we believe it’s going to stay that way and trend even further. So I think it’s going to be very, very competitive, without question. Richer will be difficult to beat. But look, now you’re going to have two — and you know, you’ve had attorneys in that position with our former county recorder (Adrian) Fontes and now Richer. And then of course Tim Stringham, who is a JAG Navy guy, will be a formidable candidate.

BRODIE: And Justin Heap, an attorney also.

COLE: Exactly. I’m not ready to call Pinal County blue by any stretch …

BRODIE: Maricopa County.

GENTLES: Well, we can call Pinal County blue too.

COLE: Pinal County is definitely red.

BRODIE: Yeah, that seems like a bigger stretch.

COLE: Yes. Excuse me. I meant Maricopa County. I’m not ready to go there yet. But yes, it is getting more purple. A lot of this depends upon a general election voter turnout, OK? I would say, Stephen Richer, if he gets past primary is going to be the recorder again, by my political estimation.

But it’s all about how this works in the next number of months getting to November. We have a lot of things that are going to drive out voters, like abortion rights referendum and other things that we’re I’m sure we’re going to talk about here in the next few minutes.

GENTLES: Yeah. If I could real quick, there will be a number of ballot measures coming up. The abortion access is going to be on. That’s going to turnout enormous higher turnouts. It’s a presidential year. And then there’s a lot of money flowing into Maricopa County to support actually both sides, but to support, of course, a high turnout for Democratic voters and others.

→ Subscribe to the Friday NewsCap podcast

PoliticsThe Show Elections