Can candidates for governor rally their parties in Arizona’s midterm?
Two weeks before the August primary, Gov. Doug Ducey didn’t mince words when asked by CNN what he thought of Kari Lake, the former TV anchor Republicans in Arizona would nominate to succeed him.
“This is all an act. She’s been putting on a show for some time now and we’ll see if the voters of Arizona buy it,” he said.
A minority of Republicans did buy into Lake — enough for her to win the party's nomination in a bitter primary. But in the race for governor, shoring up support from party supporters may be crucial for both Lake and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs in what could be a close election.
Despite Ducey’s previous statements, the Republican Governors Association — which he co-chairs — is pumping millions of dollars into the race to help elect Lake. And other party leaders, like Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, are stumping for the Republican nominee. Meanwhile, some key GOP donors who backed Lake's primary opponent are giving money to Lake's campaign war chest.
Republican strategist Barrett Marson says many GOP voters who prioritize economic issues are consolidating support behind Lake given the alternative: Hobbs.
“The vast vast majority of Republicans will end up supporting Kari Lake because they will see the issues beyond the issues that have turned them off,” he said.
Still, Lake is much more closely aligned to Trump than the state’s GOP establishment. And some Republicans who have pushed back against Trump and his wing of the party have ended up endorsing Hobbs.
Heather Carter, a former state senator who was a Republican but became an independent earlier this year, is backing the Democratic nominee.
“I have become increasingly discouraged by the extremes on either side of the aisle. But as a former Republican, I became even more concerned with the fact that we have Republican candidates who are fundamentally peddling lies about the 2020 election,” she said.
Carter says the question is whether enough Republicans and former Republicans will feel the same way.
“The people who are pushing the election lies about the 2020 election are fired up,” she said.
While there remains a far-right base that’s highly motivated for Lake, Hobbs has, by some accounts, struggled to inspire the Democratic base.
In national profiles of her campaign, Democrats have been wringing their hands over her refusal to debate Lake, who’s called Hobbs a coward. Sandra Kennedy, a Democrat elected to the Arizona Corporation Commission, told NBC News she wondered if Hobbs is doing all she can on the campaign trail.
On PBS, Hobbs defended her decision not to debate Lake.
“I am not going to be a part of her spectacle,” she said.
While Hobbs may not draw the same crowds or campaign with the same bluster as Lake, Democratic consultant Stacy Pearson says there’s substance behind her quieter messaging.
“There is a desire across party lines to make politics boring again, and just get back to basics. And that is an appeal. Katie Hobbs has in a way that Kari Lake has demonstrably decided not to do,” she said.
Hobbs’ campaign events, from endorsement announcements to fundraisers, are highly scripted affairs. Questions from the media are typically limited, unlike Lake, who revels in antagonizing reporters.
Pearson says Hobbs is sticking to the basics.
“The Democrats are doing their homework, they're knocking on doors, they are making telephone calls, they're sending direct mail. They're engaging directly with voters. And ultimately, that's the key to success. It's not how many people you get to come scream at a rally,” she said.
Pearson says Hobbs is charting a similar path to victory as that of President Joe Biden, who never matched the fervor Trump brought to campaign events in Arizona in 2020.