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Trump will campaign in Arizona after conviction for hush money

PHOENIX (AP) — Donald Trump returns to the campaign trail Thursday with a trip to Arizona, his first appearance in a battleground state since he was convicted in a hush-money scandal.

Trump will speak at a town hall in Phoenix organized by Turning Point, a conservative youth organization that has seen its influence grow alongside Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party.

Trump reacted defiantly to the verdict against him a day after a New York jury found him guilty last week of a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election through a hush money payment to a porn actor. But he has not spoken directly to the swing state voters who will decide the November election.

He’ll likely find a friendly audience at Turning Point. Led by Charlie Kirk, the group has harnessed the energy of young people drawn to Trump’s Make America Great Again movement by cultivating conservative influencers and hosting glitzy events. And it has made Kirk and his allies rich.

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Nowhere is Turning Point’s influence greater than in Arizona, the group’s adopted home state where its loyalists have played a prominent role in the state GOP but have struggled to win a general election. Turning Point’s slate of conservative candidates lost in the 2022 midterm elections, including Kari Lake, who lost the race for governor and is now running for the U.S. Senate.

The group is looking to expand its influence into other battleground states this year and got a boost when Trump ousted former Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in February. She was replaced by Trump’s hand-picked successor, his daughter-in-law Lara Trumpwho spoke positively about the collaboration with Turning Point.

President Joe Biden won Arizona in 2020 by about 10,000 votes. It was one of two states, along with Georgia, with a difference of less than half a percentage point and is expected to be close again this year.

Arizona Republicans have enthusiastically embraced Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. State lawmakers ordered an unprecedented partisan recount that confirmed his loss. Officials in Cochise County in southern Arizona are facing criminal charges for refusing to release the results of the 2022 midterm elections.

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Hours before Trump is scheduled to speak, Jake Hoffman, a Republican senator who is also a top Turning Point consultant, will be indicted for his role in an alleged plot to overturn Trump’s loss in Arizona. Hoffman is accused of being a fake voter who signed a document falsely claiming to represent Arizona in the Electoral College.

Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, will be arraigned in the same case on Friday.

Despite the state’s importance on the presidential map, Trump has not campaigned in Arizona since 2022, when he held a rally in support of his slate of midterm candidates, all of whom ultimately lost.

Trump’s trip west includes several private fundraisers and a rally on Sunday in Nevada, another state he narrowly lost in 2020.

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