Will Ariz. governor candidate Lake be lone election denier who wins?
Category: News & PoliticsVia: jbb • 2 weeks ago • 4 comments
By: Stacey Barchenger (The Arizona Republic)
Stacey BarchengerArizona Republic
Across the country last week, voters in swing states handed stinging rebukes to Republican gubernatorial candidates who embraced false claims about who won the presidency in 2020, electing their Democratic opponents instead.
As vote counting continues, Arizona could follow — or emerge as the lone exception.
Kari Lake, the former television news anchor turned Republican nominee for Arizona governor who has said she would not have certified the election two years ago and claimed "stealing going on" before her primary victory, was in a toss-up race with her Democratic opponent Katie Hobbs.
As of late Saturday, the race to replace Republican Gov. Doug Ducey was still too close to call. Hobbs, Arizona's secretary of state, maintained a slim but slightly widening 1.4 percentage point lead over Lake with about 265,000 votes left to count.
That Lake was the last election denier still standing bucked a national trend in a year when an expected red tsunami never materialized. Instead, many candidates who adhere to election denialism were sent packing, some by resounding margins.
Kari Lake: In her campaign for governor, misinformation, deception remain hallmarks
GOP candidates who supported former President Donald Trump's false claims of fraud and sought governorships in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania lost their races, while Republicans in two other swing states sailed to victory after standing up to Trump.
So what makes Arizona unique, a standout in the national spotlight yet again, with a candidate still in the fight who arguably is one of the loudest election deniers in the nation?
Observers say it has to do with the candidate and quality of both campaigns, as well as the political environment in the state, which remains purple even as the Republican Party of Arizona has shifted its ideology farther right.
Take it as more evidence of the state as a political battleground: Arizona voters delivered two notable defeats in other statewide races that saw election theories play a prominent role.
On Friday, the Associated Press called the U.S. Senate race for incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., over his GOP challenger Blake Masters, and the Secretary of State contest for Democrat Adrian Fontes.
Fontes' win over Republican lawmaker Mark Finchem, who continued to sow doubt in elections, was significant as the secretary of state oversees elections in an administrative role.
For subscribers: 'I've been telling the truth about our elections': Why Adrian Fontes thinks Arizona voters chose him
Career in public eye likely helped Lake
But Lake is an extraordinary and unique candidate in many ways.
"I think the reason she is a lone survivor is she is a celebrity," Republican consultant Chuck Coughlin of the Phoenix firm HighGround said. "She has a following independent of politics."
Lake, 53, worked in television news for 27 years before announcing her bid for governor in June 2021. The last two decades of that career were spent alongside John Hook on Fox 10's nightly newscasts, and she's used her on-camera skills along the campaign trail to spread her message on social media and across the state.
"That makes her wholly different than some political guy who is a newbie or won his state legislative seat" and is seeking higher office, Coughlin said. "It's her celebrity that brings her credibility to the table and why people want to believe her. They're familiar with her, they believe they know her."
The former television anchor also ran a campaign painting herself as a polar opposite of Hobbs: Lake called herself a fighter as she portrayed Hobbs as a "coward" for refusing to debate her. Hobbs, a former lawmaker who has held elected office for over a decade, made her pitch to voters as a choice between "sanity and chaos," often labeling Lake a conspiracy theorist who would endanger the future of Arizona.
Katie Hobbs makes it official: No debate with Kari Lake in Arizona governor race
Lake was a strong campaigner who engaged voters across the state on an "ask me anything" tour that she pitched as a job interview. Hobbs' campaign focused its resources on advertising and held fewer, smaller events often in a roundtable format where she let others do the talking.
Those stylistic differences resonated with some Arizonans.
Ryan Brown, a 33-year-old Republican voter in Peoria, voted for Lake though he doesn't believe the 2020 election was stolen. His choice for governor was between two candidates he didn't like, but he opted to cast his ballot for Lake finding her more authentic. He liked her willingness to boldly take on the media and other powerbrokers, he said.
"As cliche as it's going to sound, (Lake was) unafraid to challenge status quos and norms," he said. "You don't see Katie Hobbs doing that."
Arizona has remained a hotbed for election denialism, too, keeping false claims of fraud in the public conversation for two years. Lake has played a major role in that, but so has GOP party leadership.
Republican Party of Arizona Chairwoman Kelli Ward is under investigation by the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, which recently alleged in court papers she "aided a coup attempt." The state was one of seven that sent false slates of electors to Washington, D.C., to aid in Trump's attempts to secure a second term despite the will of American voters.
That level of attention left some voters unable to ignore Lake's election claims, which mobilized them to turn out at the polls.
"The Republican Party is a danger to our democracy. It's kind of a catchphrase now but I really believe that," said Gary Greenberg, 73, of Scottsdale, outside a school where he voted in person Tuesday. Greenberg is not registered to either major political party and said he typically votes only in federal races, like for president or members of Congress.
"Now, governor is very, very important," the retiree said. "That's why I voted for Hobbs and not Kari Lake. Kari Lake is just talking about election denying and if she loses, she won't admit she lost."
Lake's campaign did not respond to a phone call or email seeking comment for this article.
Swing state voters sent a message
Candidates who denied Biden's 2020 win lost gubernatorial races in 13 states, and won in five others, according to tracking by the political advocacy group States United Action. Those five winners also were incumbents in red states: Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas and Iowa.
The message from voters in four swing states that supported Trump in 2016 but flipped for Biden in 2020 was clear, said Joanna Lydgate, CEO of States United Action.
"Americans sent a really clear message this week that they believe in our elections, they believe in our freedom to vote and they want to have people in these key positions overseeing elections who believe in those things," Lydgate said.
Voters in Michigan chose Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, for a second term over GOP challenger Tudor Dixon, a former cable news host who had never run for office and backed the false claim Trump won in 2020.
In Wisconsin, Democratic incumbent Tony Evers beat back a challenge from Tim Michels, who won Trump's endorsement and said he would consider decertifying the 2020 election result.
And Pennsylvanians chose Democrat Josh Shapiro to lead the state over Doug Mastriano, a Republican state senator who helped bus people to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, for the rally in support of Trump's false claims.
Republicans that won other swing states did so without clinging to false claims of fraud, and in one case, decrying them outright.
Georgia's Republican incumbent governor, Brian Kemp, decisively won a second term after withstanding Trump's pressure campaign to overturn the 2020 result. Arizona is the nation's fifth swing state, a status that's solidified with each new election.
Nevada, which Democratic presidential candidates carried in 2016 and 2020, is on the political radar as a possible battleground. GOP candidate Joe Lombardo unseated Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak after a campaign in which Lombardo supported Trump but affirmed in an October debate there was no evidence of outcome-changing fraud.
"For all of the election denialism that was pushed by Trump and his allies in 2020, these other candidates who had his endorsements, by and large, they have conceded and conceded gracefully," said Jessica Taylor, Senate and governors editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "The fact that is noteworthy tells us where we are with our politics."
Whether Lake would do the same, if she wins, is an open question.
Would Lake accept a loss?
Lake has not said whether she would concede if she loses, instead dodging the question in national media interviews. She said last month on ABC News she would accept the result if the election was "fair, honest, and transparent."
She has spent the days since the election raising concerns about the length of the count and going on the offensive, attacking Republican election officials in Maricopa County and pledging to call a special session to reform elections if she becomes Arizona's 24th governor.
Lake has said she has "absolute 100% confidence" she will win as ballots dropped off on Election Day were added to vote tallies. Those ballots favored Republicans in 2020, flipping the prior voting patterns that saw more Democratic votes come in on Election Day.
County election officials have warned that counting ballots can take several days or more than a week, a timeframe attributable to several factors, including the process it takes to verify and count late arriving mail-in ballots.
Tight races often are not called by media organizations like the Associated Press while large numbers of ballots are left to tally.
"Arizona is a really good example of, right now, the need for patience," Lydgate said. "Over and over again from election officials (we hear) that it's accuracy over speed and in America we count every legal vote. We're going to have to wait and see how it all plays out."
Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.
View CommentsView Comments