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Trump returns to the campaign trail today in Arizona

By JONATHAN J. COOPER Associated Press - | Jun 6, 2024

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower, Friday, May 31, 2024, in New York. A day after a New York jury found Donald Trump guilty of 34 felony charges, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee addressed the conviction and likely attempt to cast his campaign in a new light. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

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 is scheduled to speak at a town hall in Phoenix organized by Turning Point, a conservative youth organization that has seen its influence rise alongside Trump’s takeover of the GOP.

Trump responded 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 is likely to 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’s made Kirk and his allies wealthy.

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

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

President Joe Biden won Arizona in 2020 by about 10,000 votes. It was, along with Georgia, one of two states decided by 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 commissioned an unprecedented partisan recount that confirmed his loss. Cochise County officials in southern Arizona are facing criminal charges for refusing to certify the 2022 midterm election results.

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

Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, is scheduled for arraignment 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 to support his slate of midterm candidates, all of whom ended up losing.

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

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