In this edition: The Arizona audit becomes a pilgrimage site, Virginia and New Jersey primaries tell us where the parties are heading, and special elections continue to feel like 2020.

I cannot believe that Fort Lee, N.J., is at the center of two scandals over seven years, and this is The Trailer.

PHOENIX — The Pennsylvanians got here first. Three Republican legislators flew in on June 2, meeting with their Arizona counterparts, then touring the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum where the Republican-backed election audit was in its 39th day. And they were impressed.

“The AZ Forensic Election Audit is the most comprehensive election audit in the history of United States,” state Sen. Doug Mastriano said. Pennsylvania, he told a conservative news channel, could follow the “Arizona model” as soon as July.

News got around, and other Republican legislators started to buy their tickets to Phoenix. They came, or are coming, from Colorado, Nevada, Alaska, Virginia and Wisconsin. Several delegations arrived from Georgia — state legislators, a candidate for governor, and the activist who has been working through courts to audit ballots from Atlanta’s Fulton County.

“I’ll be bringing this information back to Virginia,” said Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase, who was censured by Democratic colleagues after using the word “patriots” to describe people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. “Ensuring every legal vote counts should be a bipartisan issue.”

The review of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots, which organizers hope to finish this month, has infuriated Democrats, embarrassed some Republicans, and become a genuine inspiration for conservatives who do not believe that President Biden won the 2020 election. 

None of the facts that angered critics have changed. It’s still relying on private funding, disclosed only when donors have decided to disclose what they gave. It’s still run by Cyber Ninjas, a data firm that had not conducted an election audit before. The process has sped up, but not changed, with three sections of counters in blue, red and green shirts spinning ballots on lazy Susans to be monitored by multiple auditors before they are subjected to physical examination by auditors in white and gray shirts. 

But as the media frenzy died down, Republican interest ticked up. Arizona’s conservative legislators held multiple meetings this week with visitors from out of state, who then got tours of a venue that once hosted Jimi Hendrix and the Beach Boys. 

“I think some of it was just people watching and seeing what's going on in Arizona,” said former Arizona secretary of state Ken Bennett, a spokesman for the audit who has been stationed at the Coliseum. “It took them a few weeks to decide: Wow, that's still going? And nobody shut it down? Something must be going on that maybe we ought to go look at if we're thinking about doing something similar in our state.”

Many of the visitors were in Washington for the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the Capitol riot — Mastriano, Chase, Alaska state Rep. David Eastman and Colorado state Rep. Ron Hanks. After touring the floor, Hanks declined to comment on what he’d seen, but Eastman told the Anchorage Daily News that he’d seen the sort of scrutiny that could give Alaskans — whose presidential election wasn’t very close — confidence that their election was fair.

“I am grateful for the efforts that those in Arizona are making to increase confidence in their elections and hope we will be able to increase the confidence that Alaskans have in our elections as well,” he said. “Following the audit, regardless of the outcome, Arizonans will have confidence in their process. Alaskans deserve to have that same level of confidence.”

Doubts about the election are largely concentrated among Republicans, with most independents and nearly all Democrats saying that the election — in Arizona and elsewhere — was conducted fairly. (That sentiment was shared by former president Donald Trump's own Department of Justice and other administration officials who monitored it, even as Trump has continued to falsely claim that the election was rigged against him.)

The most recent polling on Arizona’s process, conducted by a critical third-party group, found just 37 percent of Arizonans with doubts about November 2020, nearly all of them Republicans. While most voters told the pollster that they’d be less likely to support a senator who supported the audit, most Republicans said they’d be more likely.

That’s not surprising, given that demands for a “forensic audit” here were being made in November, when Georgia was completing its own forensic audit of the election. There is disagreement over what “forensic” means; Georgia, for example, did not subject ballots to ultraviolet light, which Arizona’s auditors did, or track down voters to verify that they cast ballots, which Arizona’s auditors hoped they could do before deciding it was impractical.

But Arizona Republicans proved that donors would fund an ersatz count, that dozens or hundreds of volunteers would staff it, that toxic media coverage could not stop it, and that Republican voters wanted it more than anything. Garland Favorito, the Georgia activist who has led the effort to audit Fulton County's votes, said in an interview here that around 80 volunteers were ready to work on an audit, and that small donations would probably be able to fund the entire process, once courts decide what it looks like.

“We would love to have as much transparency as possible, and we're suing for transparency,” Favorito said. The Arizona example, of a massive space with security and room for nonpartisan or media observers, was the one he wanted to follow. “Unless they move the ballots into a large facility like this, then we're stuck right now in doing it in a warehouse in Fulton County. That room is of such a size that it could not accommodate press or the public.”

Republican politicians want more, too, though, and ask why their colleagues aren't demanding the same. Former Georgia legislator Vernon Jones, a Democrat-turned-Republican challenging Gov. Brian Kemp (R), has run on the audit, and mocked the governor on Twitter for not coming to Arizona to see it himself. He met with Arizona's Senate GOP leadership, with a state representative running as a pro-audit candidate for secretary of state, and mixed it up with a reporter who pointed out that One America News was fundraising for the audit while covering it.

What facts do you have that they're fundraising? Jones asked Arizona Republic reporter Jen Fifeld.

“She announced that they're fundraising,” Fifeld said, pointing to OAN's Christina Bobb, who was standing a few feet away.

“No, no. What facts do you have?” Jones asked. She announced it. Doesn't mean they're funding it. Jones got friendlier questions from former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who has made support for the audit a MAGA litmus test. The audit, Jones said, was “exactly what I hope can come to Georgia,” and he knew why Democrats and reporters were so critical of it.

“The light is being shined on this process,” Jones said, predicting on Bannon's podcast that the “rats” would be exposed, first by Arizona's audit and then by Georgia's.

Some Republicans spent less time talking to the media on their pilgrimages; approached by reporters, Hanks bolted and said he had “no comment” on what he'd seen. But nobody walked away cold to the idea of another audit in their state. Georgia state Sen. Burt Jones — no relation to Vernon — told OAN's Bobb that the scene in Phoenix helped him understand how his state could deliver the kind of election probe that Republican voters wanted.

“It was very informative,” Jones said. “The group of forensic people we brought out here, who’s working on our current case in Georgia, was very impressed. I think they learned a lot.”

Reading list

The start of Virginia's general election.

A race for governor starts with some patriotic Massachusetts-bashing.

Moving the party left, but not with its preferred candidates.

Mysterious money, and few people willing to talk about it.

Who was reading the ex-president's blog? Judges.

Three incumbent Republicans face a revolt over covid precautions that were popular with everybody except their primary voters.

Primary autopsy

The surprises in Tuesday's primary elections were few: Higher-than-expected (but not record-breaking) turnout, some incumbent defeats down-ballot, and statewide wins for the candidates with the most money and endorsements. 

In Virginia, former governor Terry McAuliffe steamrolled four rivals, including two Black women who'd run credible and well-funded campaigns. McAuliffe's total of 303,546 was just shy of what Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) won four years ago — 303,846, if you're in a Virginia-specific trivia league. Turnout overall was around 90 percent of the turnout in Northam's race against former Rep. Tom Perriello, which became a proxy battle between the party's center-left and left-wing factions. (Awkwardly so: Perriello's support for an abortion-limiting health-care amendment drove powerhouses such as NARAL over to Northam.)

McAuliffe won everywhere, literally, carrying all 133 of Virginia's counties and independent cities. Former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy wound her Petersburg upbringing into every ad and stump speech; McAuliffe carried Petersburg by 28 points. Sen. Jennifer McClellan had represented part of Richmond since 2005; McAuliffe carried the city by 15 points, though it was one of few places where he didn't crack 50 percent. He was weakest in Charlottesville, the site of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally that defined the last year of McAuliffe's governorship and inspired his second book. But he still ran nine points ahead of Carroll Foy, who established herself as the “progressive” choice in a primary where few voters sough that out.

“Attacking the establishment is a really hard place to be politically when so much is being accomplished,” said Ben Tribbett, a Virginia-based Democratic consultant. “The kind of bills passed in Richmond over the last two years are beyond what people would have thought possible in McAuliffe’s first term.” Carroll Foy and McClellan pointed out that they had passed those bills — a higher minimum wage, legal marijuana, the end of the death penalty — while McAuliffe was out of office. But primary voters were content with their leadership in Richmond, and McAuliffe's policy-heavy ad campaign portrayed him as a bulldozer who got big things done. 

Tuesday probably ended the career of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who won just 4 percent of the vote after a campaign that never got past allegations of college sexual misconduct that were revealed halfway through his term, his denial notwithstanding. It definitely closed the book for Del. Lee Carter, who won just 3 percent of the vote and lost his Northern Virginia seat by just 200 votes. (He didn't carry it in the governor's race, either.) Carter, elected with the help of Democratic Socialists of America in 2017, was feuding with them by 2021, and in an interview before the election he said that the pandemic crushed the sort of door-to-door campaigning that made his improbable career possible.

“I’m going to go try to start a farm,” Carter told The Post's Greg Schneider on Wednesday. “I’m going to raise sheep and not be harassed.”

The left had a rough night in general, with Del. Ibraheem Samirah losing narrowly to transportation strategist Irene Shin, a more moderate candidate endorsed by the seat's previous Democratic incumbent. Del. Candi King, who replaced Carroll Foy in Richmond, easily defeated Pat Montgomery, despite a half-million dollar investment from Clean Virginia, a group that spent seven figures of donors Michael Bills and Sonja Smith's money to get liberals through their primaries. Most lost, with the exception of Nadarius Clark, a 26-year old community organizer who trounced Rep. Steve Heretick.

The Clark-Heretick race had what other races lacked: A Democrat whose voting record angered his base. Heretick had balked at some of last year's police reform legislation, and his 2018 vote to prevent cities from moving Confederate monuments became an even bigger problem in the wake of 2020's racial justice protests.

“He wasn't for a lot of criminal justice or social justice change,” Clark said in an interview. “So when we talk about Confederate monuments, an assault weapons ban, qualified immunity, no-knock warrants … This district is 40 percent African American. People wanted those reforms to go into effect. And he voted against them.”

Clark was the left's big winner on Tuesday, after Del. Sam Rasoul lost the nomination for lieutenant governor to Del. Hala Ayala, despite a last-minute controversy over her decision to take a six-figure donation from Dominion Energy, which many candidates — Ayala included — had said they'd turn down. Rasoul carried southwest Virginia, and was defeated everywhere else, decisively losing the Hampton Roads region that neither candidate had a foothold in. Ayala's advertising led with her support from Northam, whose popularity with Democrats (and voters in general), shaky during his 2019 scandal, recovered as he signed a cornucopia of liberal bills. 

Northam also ended up boosting Del. Jay Jones in his campaign against Attorney General Mark Herring, though not enough to oust the two-termer. Herring's race was the closest of the night, a 13-point win powered by his strength in Northern Virginia. More than half of Herring's 63,395-vote margin came from Fairfax County; Jones, who would have been the state's first Black attorney general, did best in his Hampton Roads region, part of which he represents in Richmond, and in Southside, where Black voters make most of the Democratic electorate. 

The defeats of Jones and Rasoul gave Democrats a ticket based entirely in Northern Virginia, a source of some party concern, after Northam's roots in the Eastern Shore helped him run ahead of other Democratic nominees. (GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin was born in Richmond, went to school in Norfolk and lives in Northern Virginia, covering every competitive region of the commonwealth; the rest of the Republican ticket lives outside NoVa.)

Turnout was higher than Democrats' low expectations, but it was particularly strong in the places with competitive down-ballot races. It was higher in Roanoke, part of which Rasoul represents in Richmond; it was down by nearly half compared to 2017 on the Eastern Shore, a sign of how much Northam had helped there. 

Turnout was up in New Jersey, where former state legislator Jack Ciattarelli secured the GOP nomination for governor on his second try. Turnout was up over 2017, when Ciattarelli ran an insurgent campaign against then-Lt. Gov Kim Guadagno, who was severely weakened by the unpopularity of then-Gov. Chris Christie. Just 243,771 Republicans showed up for that race, while 320,615 turned out to boost Ciattarelli over two candidates who raised little money and focused on their support for Trump and opposition to vaccine mandates. 

Ciattarelli grabbed 49.4 percent of the vote, more than pro-Trump candidates Hirsh Singh and Phil Rizzo combined, but barely. Turnout overall was down from 2009, when 334,215 Republicans turned out to nominate Christie over a tea party activist.

Ad watch

Glenn Youngkin, “A New Day.” The GOP nominee for governor of Virginia launched two ads after Democrat Terry McAuliffe, as expected, won his party's nomination. One cut together footage of Jennifer Carroll Foy, the only candidate who consistently attacked McAuliffe and the eventual second-place finisher, calling him uninspiring and a failure. This one portrays Youngkin walking through a crowd of generic guys in suits, representing the “same politicians” in Richmond, and introduces him as a businessman who'll “supercharge the economy.” There's no mention of his party, a subtle omission in Youngkin's ads since winning the nomination.

Terry McAuliffe, “Running for You.” McAuliffe's own post-primary ad is a digital spot building off his attack on Youngkin in the final primary debate. In the room, at that time, McAuliffe was attacked for going negative, but he's the nominee now, and can make his point: He “created over 200,000 jobs” when he was governor, and Youngkin is a “Trump Republican," the sort of right-winger that Democrats can't do business with. McAuliffe's Democratic opponents accused him of running against Youngkin instead of saying what he was for, hence the two-step approach: spelling out what McAuliffe is for, while attacking his opponent.

Poll watch

Phil Murphy (D): 52%
Jack Ciattarelli (R): 26%
Neither: 6%
Someone else: 4%

The first poll of the only gubernatorial reelection race of 2021 isn't surprising: Voters barely know who the Republican nominee is, and independents and Democrats are happy with the governor's record. Murphy leads by 17 points with independents, but one in five of them are undecided. Drawing even with independents wouldn't be enough for Republicans to win in a state where there are 1.1 million more registered Democrats than registered Republicans, and Murphy does better with Republicans (12 percent) than Ciattarelli does with Democrats (4 percent). Half of voters have no opinion whatsoever of the Republican nominee.

Special elections

Last week, we noted that this year's special elections have locked in the trends from 2020 — Republicans prevailing in rural areas and exurbs, Democrats prevailing everywhere else.

That happened again on Tuesday in New Hampshire, where Democrats easily held onto the 23rd Merrimack House seat. (State House seats are given numbers and regional names.) Democrats had won 53 percent of the combined vote in last year's multi-member race, and Democrat Muriel Hall won the June 8 election by 16 points, thanks to a landslide victory in Bow, a Merrimack Valley town that has moved sharply away from the GOP. (Hillary Clinton took it by eight points in 2016, and Joe Biden took it by 20.)

Countdown

… 12 days until New York Citys primary
… 47 days until the special election in Texas's 6th Congressional District
… 54 days until the special primaries in Ohio’s 11th and 15th Congressional Districts
… 145 days until the special primaries in Florida's 20th Congressional District