The 2022 election may still be a year away but it is already shaping up to be a wild one in northern Arizona.
The alleged creator of the discredited QAnon conspiracy theory, Ron Watkins, announced this week his intention to move to Arizona in order to run for Congress representing Arizona’s First Congressional District (CD1).
Watkins made the announcement in a 2-minute video posted online, apparently filmed outside the office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
The district is currently represented by the self-proclaimed moderate Democrat Rep. Tom O’Halleran of Sedona who has held the seat since 2017.
During his announcement, Watkins called O’Halleran the “dirtiest Democrat in the DC swamp,” and in Trumpian style referred to the congressman as “Tom O’Hooligan” throughout his announcement.
In going after O’Halleran, Watkins may be getting out ahead of his skis somewhat. Before he faces O’Halleran for CD1 he will first need to win the Republican nomination.
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There are already a number of Republicans seeking that nomination, including Rep. Walt Blackman of Snowflake and Tucson entrepreneur Eli Crane, both veterans, as well as Williams Mayor John Moore.
O’Halleran was in Flagstaff Friday touring the Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology and discussing funding for rural broadband with Flagstaff officials.
“I've never backed away from competition,” O’Halleran said of Watkins and others seeking to challenge him. “Let's have a race that’s based on and the issues that are relevant to the people of America, the people of Arizona's first congressional district.”
O’Halleran also pushed back on statements Watkins made during the announcement regarding the 2020 election.
Watkins also repeated discredited claims that there was significant fraud in Arizona’s election last year and that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
Similar claims spurred several hundred Trump supporters to storm the U.S. Capital earlier this year in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the election.
O’Halleran was at the Capital on Jan. 6 and said he spoke after the insurrection had ended and Capital police and National Guard members had retaken the building.
O’Halleran said he pointed out that the Republican Maricopa County Board of Supervisors had unanimously approved the election -- as had Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey.
“There hasn't been a court case, and has come out and said that this was a bad election. I will debate anybody on the quality and the outcome of the election,” O’Halleran told the Arizona Daily Sun Friday.
Watkins previously helped run the website 8chan, which has been linked to several mass shootings and is known for hosting white supremacist and anti-Semitic content, as well as child pornography.
But with the redistricting process ongoing, even the boundaries Arizona’s first congressional district, and its exact location, is up in the air.
Depending on how districts are redrawn by Arizona’s Independent Redistricting commission, Watkins could also find himself vying for the nomination against Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican.
The district currently encompassing much of northern and eastern Arizona outside of major metro areas. Flagstaff and some areas within the Tucson and Phoenix metro areas make up the largest cities within the district.
The district has consistently supported Democrats for the better part of the last decade and contains significant tribal and rural populations.
Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund.