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A Republican Wins The Prosecutor Race in Democrat-Leaning Phoenix

Republican Rachel Mitchell. Photo Courtesy:

In the 2022 midterm election campaigns, many Republicans seized on the crime issue to capitalize on public fears and blame Democrats for a rise in some violent crime rates that started during the pandemic. It didn't work for candidates such as Rep. Lee Zeldin, running for New York governor, and Mehmet Oz, an unsuccessful contestant for a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

However, a "tough-on-crime" agenda helped Republican Rachel Mitchell win a race for chief prosecutor in Phoenix Maricopa County. Incumbent Mitchell branded herself as a "police supported" candidate after being endorsed by the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police.

In nearly final returns, Mitchell got 53 percent of the vote against Julie Gunnigle, a former prosecutor in Chicago whose promises included delivering "real justice through data-driven reforms" and redefining "public safety to prioritize people over corrupt systems."

Jimmy Jenkins, a criminal justice reporter for the Arizona Republic, said voters elected Mitchell because they wanted to stick with the way the prosecutor's office (called the Maricopa County Attorney) is currently being run. "They were more receptive to messages that talked about safety and the perceived lack of safety, and less interested in pursuing reform measures," said Jenkins.

Mitchell prevailed in a county that narrowly favored two Democrats for major offices, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly and Katie Hobbs, who was elected governor.

The election results generally involving crime issues were neither a knockout blow for criminal justice reform nor a celebration for Democrats, said Arizona State University law Prof. Erik Luna, who follows criminal justice issues.

Luna noted that several states legalized recreational marijuana while others still prohibit its use and distribution. “Politics is sometimes a pendulum and it tends to swing back and forth,” he said.

Luna said more Republican leaders have been embracing criminal justice reform, recognizing that "human lives are at stake and not just the lives of the defendants.”

Maricopa County's Mitchell ran on a platform of "protecting children families by prosecuting crimes against children, ensuring the integrity of our legal system, and leading teams of prosecutors holding dangerous criminals accountable."

One clue to the county's voting pattern may be seen in an exit poll that found the issues Arizona voters cared the most about were inflation at 36 percent, and abortion at 32 percent. The third most important issue was immigration at 18 percent. Gun policy was ranked as the fourth most important issue only by six percent of voters, and crime, only five percent.

Jenkins said if people care about abortion as an issue, they aren't necessarily tying that issue to the prosecutor's office and other law enforcement agencies, even though it's inherently tied to those officials. "If they're not that concerned about crime, then they're not really thinking about the prosecutor's race," he said.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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