Less than a week before Election Day, John Giles, the Republican mayor of Mesa, Arizona, joined former President Barack Obama at a rally in Phoenix to support his state’s Democratic nominees for U.S. Senate and governor.
Though Giles was the only Republican to speak at the event, dozens of conservative Arizona leaders have endorsed candidates on the opposite side of the political aisle as November’s midterm elections approach.
“Vote for the best candidates, period,” Giles told the crowd gathered Wednesday night in Phoenix.
In a recent op-ed for the Deseret News, Giles, a graduate of Brigham Young University, said he was joining Obama on the stage to “stand for democracy in Arizona.”
Arizona is one of a handful of purple states that will decide whether a “red wave” materializes in next week’s midterms. At this point, voters are expected to hand Republicans control of the House, but which party will control the Senate is much less certain. The Arizona match-up between Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly and Republican Blake Masters is one of the most closely watched races in the country.
Arizona has also been at the center of the debate about election integrity as Republican candidates continue to deny the results of the 2020 election and question the legitimacy of future election results.
The 2020 presidential election continues to play a role in the gubernatorial race between Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who oversees elections in the state, and Republican Kari Lake, a long time Phoenix news anchor who has repeatedly denied the results of the 2020 election, saying she would not have certified it had she been in office.
It was this election-denying rhetoric, Giles said, that left him with no choice but to get involved. As the mayor of Mesa, one of the most conservative large cities in the country, Giles had avoided wading into partisan politics since his election in 2014, but this cycle he said he felt he could not just sit back and watch.
“The candidates that came out of the Republican primary are very extreme and they’re election deniers and I just feel like they are a threat to the rule of law and to constitutional governance in our country and in our state,” Giles said. “So, I felt compelled to do what I did as far as endorsing the Democratic candidates.”
Giles joined 50 other independent and Republican leaders to publicly endorse Kelly in July. A few months later, Giles endorsed Hobbs, speaking at one of her events just hours before her opponent, Lake, shared the stage with former President Donald Trump at a rally in Mesa. At the pro-Hobbs event, Giles framed the election as a “a choice between sanity and chaos.”
As mayor, Giles has had the opportunity to work with Kelly. He said his experiences with Kelly have been positive.
“I have enjoyed working with Sen. Kelly — it’s clear he cares about Arizonans and what matters to them. He has engaged with the city of Mesa in multiple ways, helping revitalize our downtown with needed federal investments being just one of them. I appreciate his constant desire to serve the people he represents in Washington, and that’s why I am proud to support him for reelection,” said Giles.
However, these endorsements have earned Giles a censure by Republican leaders in Arizona, including several GOP leaders of local legislative districts in the Mesa area. In a statement published on Sep. 10, the chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee, Mickie Niland, said, “The principles of the Republican Party vary vastly from Senator Mark Kelly’s voting record and we do not see how Mayor Giles can support both Senator Mark Kelly and our Republican principles. His endorsement makes it clear where he stands. Our vote makes it clear where we stand.”
Gene Klund, chairman of the Republican Party of Legislative District 10, a voting district in East Mesa, said his district censured Giles because he broke party bylaws by endorsing candidates from a different party, as reported by the Arizona Republic.
Klund did not respond to a request for comment.
“I am a Republican, whether other people like that or not. I feel like the party has taken a sharp turn away from me,” Giles said in a phone interview with Deseret News. “I hope they come back.”
Giles said he would consider proposing a ballot initiative in 2024 to modify the current primary system in Arizona, which he said leads to the nomination of extreme candidates, Axios reported.