The race for Arizona’s next governor has come into focus, with Secretary of State Katie Hobbs capturing the Democratic slot by a wide margin, and former television anchor Kari Lake climbing into a narrow lead for the Republican nomination.
Though the Republican race was too close to officially call, Lake declared victory on Wednesday afternoon as ballots cast on election day were counted and pushed her ahead of opponent Karrin Taylor Robson’s advantage among early voters.
“We are so proud of the movement,” Lake said during a news conference Wednesday. “We are so proud of the victory we have, and we are going to lead this state to its brightest days ahead.”
A spokesman for Taylor Robson declined to comment about Lake declaring victory with the race yet to be called.
No matter who is the nominee on the Republican side, Arizonans in November are poised to elect their fifth female governor, more than another other state in the country.
If Lake secures the nomination, the sprint to November’s general election will pit one of the state’s loudest 2020 election deniers, Lake, and its chief defender, Hobbs.
Hobbs, 52, said in a victory speech Tuesday to supporters gathered at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix that she sought to move past the election two years ago.
“Let me start by saying it’s great to be in a room with people who are more focused on the upcoming election than spreading conspiracy theories about the last one,” she said. is even bigger.”
Lake, 52, said in comments on election night and on Wednesday that she would not change her stance on the 2020 election, which she believes was stolen and would not have certified. Lake said last week her campaign had evidence of “stealing” in this cycle that would be reported to authorities.
She reiterated that Wednesday, but Lake and her campaign attorney, Tim LaSota, pointed to non-criminal election issues like a shortage of ballots in Pinal County when speaking about the current cycle.
“It was a mess” and “crazy,” Lake said, citing the 27-day early voting period and “ballots pouring in all over the place.” She refused to provide details of alleged fraud, calling the news media a “lost cause.”
While there are infrequent and isolated cases of fraud in elections, widespread and outcome-changing fraud like the conspiracy alleged by former President Donald Trump was never proven, despite dozens of lawsuits and even the Arizona Senate’s Republican-led ballot review.
GOP race turns into a nail-biter
The nail-biter Republican contest reached a boiling point in the weeks before the race, with Lake and Taylor Robson increasing their attacks on their opponent as Aug. 2 loomed.
On election night itself, Taylor Robson, the real estate developer and former member of the Arizona Board of Regents, held a sizeable initial lead when returns counted only voters who had cast early ballots.
As counties began tallying votes dropped off or cast in person on election day, Lake picked up steam, surpassing Taylor Robson in the vote count.
Cynthia Emig, 60, dropped off her ballot at Peoria City Hall mid afternoon Tuesday, saying she felt it was more secure to cast her ballot that way. She questioned the outcome of past elections, and said illegal immigration was a concern, even though inflation and gas prices also were issues for her.
Emig voted for Lake, “because I am a Trump person,” she said. “I think Kari seems very personable. She knows a lot about Arizona. I feel like she’d be a good governor.”
As results poured in, it soon was clear that three other candidates in the race drew enough votes that could have made the difference between the leading two challengers.
Former Congressman Matt Salmon, who left the race in June to help Taylor Robson win the nomination, but still was on the ballot appeared to win enough votes to close the gap between Lake and Taylor Robson. Less competitive candidates Paola Tulliani-Zen, a Scottsdale businesswoman, and Scott Neely, a Mesa businessman, also picked up a significant number of votes in the race that was cast as a battle for the future of the state’s Republican party.
Lake won Trump’s endorsement and ran an outsider’s campaign that sought to appeal to everyday Arizonans. She painted Taylor Robson as entrenched in the GOP establishment, a wealthy elite who couldn’t connect with residents feeling the brunt of inflation in their grocery and gas bills.
Taylor Robson returned fire, spending over $15.2 million of owning money to unleash a barrage of advertisements that portrayed Lake as a conservative “fake”, often noting her prior support of Democratic president Barack Obama.
The divide came to a head just 10 days before the election, when Trump stumped for Lake in Prescott Valley and Gov. Doug Ducey and former Vice President Mike Pence campaigned for Taylor Robson in Phoenix and Tucson.
Those are fading in the rearview mirror somewhat as eyes shift toward November, when Arizona’s large number of independent voters will weigh in on who events should be the state’s 24th governor. Independents account for about 1 of every 3 registered voters in the state.
As Lake spoke to reporters outside her campaign headquarters in the Biltmore neighborhood on Wednesday, she signaled she could take a more measured approach than her sledgehammer-wielding debut on the political scene.
Lake said she believed the Republican party would rally behind her, but didn’t say specifically how she would appeal to her opponent Taylor Robson or other Republicans she has attacked so far. Lake said she believed they would support her because they align on conservative values.
The former Fox 10 news anchor said her path forward would focus on targeting drug trafficking cartels at the border, ensuring an “honest” election system, getting children a good education and fostering a strong economy.
Hobbs sweeps Democratic voters
Three out of every four Democratic voters cast their ballots for Hobs, handing her a victory over former mayor of Nogales Marco López. López waged an uphill battle the length of the race as he sought to get his message before Arizonans while Hobbs frequently appeared in the national spotlight defending Joe Biden’s 2020 win in Arizona.
In a statement after the race was called, López said he would support Democratic candidates and revived the inclusive message he shared on the campaign trail, casting it in contrast with Republican rhetoric on illegal immigration and Hobbs’ own involvement in a high-profile discrimination case .
“We must do everything we can get them elected or re-elected, because the stakes are simply too high,” López said of Democratic office seekers.
“And if you have ever been made to feel ‘less than’ because of the color of your skin, what language you speak or where your parents came from, our movement lives on with you,” he said.
Sophak Lim, a data analyst who has called Arizona home since the 1980s, voted for Hobbs in Gilbert on Tuesday.
“I think she’s probably the most sane,” he said, calling is vote an effort to stave off “a more restrictive state.”
“I’m really worried,” Lim said. “A lot of the people who believe in the fake voting issues are coming to power. Politically, it’s pretty horrible.”
Hobbs told her supporters on Tuesday it was time to tackle issues in the state including “rising costs, Arizona’s water crisis, our failing education system, attacks on women’s freedoms and the skyrocketing cost of housing.”
“I’m no stranger to tackling tough challenges,” she said in her speech that referenced threats she faced after the 2020 election. ”
Arizona will stay in national spotlight
Arizona is poised to be one of the most closely watched governor’s contests in the nation this cycle. Though voters in 36 states are choosing governors, just four are considered toss ups, meaning either party could win. Ducey, who has served nearly eight years and shepherded the state out of a financial crisis and into a period of economic growth, cannot run again because of term limits.
Ducey endorsed Taylor Robson, with whom he had attended college at Arizona State University, in her bid, and his outspoken criticism of Lake leaves uncertainty on the road ahead to November, if Lake clinches the nomination.
The Republican Governors Association, of which Ducey is the co chair and which seeks to elect Republicans as tops in the states, has already committed to spend over $10 million in advertising to defeat Hobbs.
On Wednesday morning, the launched its attack, debuting two advertisements that painted Hobbs as weak on border security, a key issue for many group voters in the border state.
“Joe Biden continues to ignore his duty to keep families safe from crime, drugs and human trafficking, and Katie Hobbs would only make things worse,” RGA spokesperson Will Reinert said in a statement.
Ananya Tiwari and Greg Svirnovskiy contributed to this story.
Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at email@example.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.
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