KJZZ's Friday NewsCap: What motivated election denier Debbie Lesko to run for county supervisor

By Mark Brodie
Published: Friday, February 23, 2024 - 11:30am
Updated: Friday, February 23, 2024 - 11:46am

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Debbie Lesko
Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
Debbie Lesko speaks with attendees during an event at the Arizona Biltmore on April 8, 2023.

KJZZ’s Friday NewsCap revisits some of the biggest stories of the week from Arizona and beyond.

Marcus Dell’Artino of First Strategic and Stacy Pearson of Lumen Strategies joined The Show to talk about U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko running for Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, a series of immigration-related bills advancing at the state Capitol, a spat between two high-profile Arizona Republicans and more.

Stacy Pearson and Marcus Dell’Artino in the KJZZ
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
Stacy Pearson and Marcus Dell’Artino in KJZZ's studio in 2024.

On U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko announcing a run for Maricopa County Board of Supervisors

MARK BRODIE: Congresswoman Debbie Lesko, who has announced that she is not running for reelection in Congress, will instead be running for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors for the seat that Clint Hickman has said that he will not be running for reelection for. Marcus, was this a surprise that she’s deciding to run again, specifically for the seat?

MARCUS DELL’ARTINO: I was not surprised, but I can see why other people would be surprised. I mean, I had spoken to her not very long after she decided to not run for Congress. And the issue really is family. She’s not being able to spend enough time with her family.

Her mother is in her 90s. She’s got grandkids. And from what I’ve seen, by the way, grandkids are about the best thing on the planet. I don’t have any personal knowledge of this yet, but this parenting is really a pain in the rear end. But I think the reward is grandparents.

So I think this job affords her that opportunity to go home every night, have weekends, have evenings with her family, and still be part of the political process. So it seemed like a perfect fit.

BRODIE: Does she automatically become the frontrunner in that primary?

DELL’ARTINO: I would say so. I mean, she’s certainly got the ability to raise money. We know that. And it’s a safe Republican district. She’s well known in that community — Sun City, Sun City, West. Right now, where the race lands, I think you’ve got to say she’s the presumptive nominee.

BRODIE: Yes. Stacy, how do you see this primary shaping up now that she is in it?

PEARSON: I think it’s terrifying, to be perfectly honest. I think she certainly is the frontrunner for that seat. And to Marcus’s point, she can fundraise. But she is an election denying lunatic, and she’s going to be in charge of certifying elections.

We’ve seen what happened with Clint Hickman, with other supervisors who it took a toll on their life, on their health to defend against the “big lie.” And she was part of that. And that’s something we all should be worried about.

BRODIE: Marcus, what do you make of that? Because she was part of the group in the House that voted to not accept Arizona’s results and some others. Is that problematic potentially to have somebody like that in a position where they are in charge of certifying the results?

DELL’ARTINO: I don’t think so. I mean, my experience with her is she’s far more rational than some people would like to describe her. And two, I have a sneaking suspicion — and I know this is very contrarian — I don’t think this is going to be a close election. I think we’re going to see blowouts across the board. And I think if that is the case, there’s going to be less talking about elections and more talking about messaging.

BRODIE: Now, of course, she wouldn’t be in a position to do anything about this until the 2026 election. But Stacy, you looked a little bit skeptical. If I can read your facial expression, you looked a bit skeptical when Marcus was talking there.

PEARSON: Look, I certainly hope he’s right. I hope a large number of Republicans are looking back on their behavior in 2020 and have regret. I don’t think that’s the case. And certainly the public comments from Kari Lake and others — and Trump currently — tell a different story. But I hope she’s moderating. I hope she’s looking back and saying that was nuts and wrong and shouldn’t happen again.

On Arizona’s U.S. Senate race

BRODIE: Let’s let’s talk about Kari Lake and Meghan McCain, because it seems as though they’re not going to be sending each other holiday cards this year. Pretty big spat. Maybe that’s a nice way to say it. I don’t know. But Kari Lake, of course, during her gubernatorial campaign, had some pretty not nice things to say about “McCain Republicans,” talking about driving a stake through the heart of the McCain machine and other things. And now it seems like she is trying to make peace with Meghan McCain, who is having none of it.

DELL’ARTINO: Yeah, I think that people have forgotten some of the more vicious attacks that took place. I’ve noticed lately the media wants to talk about, you know, “If you’re with McCain, get out of the room.” But they’ve conveniently forgot about the very personal attacks on Cindy, on John and certainly the kids.

So it’s all understandable from that context, if you remember some of those things that were said. I think the strategy is interesting. I’m not too sure how it’s going to play out. And what I mean by that is clearly there is a concerted effort from the Lake campaign to go after those McCain people and try and court them back into the fold.

That is a really tall mountain to climb, I guess I would say. From what I’ve seen recently, they’re not believing that it was a joke, as has been described.

BRODIE: The McCain folks are not believing that Lake’s comments were a joke?

DELL’ARTINO: Right. But let’s just say for argument’s sake, you pick up some of them, maybe half of them. At the same time, you’re going to be losing a segment of your base that you spent months courting, bashing John McCain. And now you’re saying, “Oh, no, John’s a hero” or “we like the McCains” or whatever it very well may be. So you’re going to lose 10% of that contingency. So at the end of the day, somebody is going to have to describe to me what the strategy is to get to a net win here.

BRODIE: Stacy, is this the proverbial sort of pulling the bedsheet, where if try to tug on one side to get some of those McCain voters, you are losing the base. Like, does the base care if Lake is going after the McCain folks, if they can be convinced “Well, this is what she needs to do to win”?

PEARSON: That’s the question, right? And truthfully, we’re so far away from the election, normal folks are not paying that close of attention. And they certainly are not in the weeds on whether or not the McCain family and the Lake campaign have made up. I think it’s very clear they’re not going to.

And so to Marcus’ point, there really has not been a net change there. I just don’t understand Lake’s attempt to do the same thing over and over again. I mean, it’s the definition of insanity, right? She continues to try to court the moderates who tell her to go pound sand. And it's a strange approach.

BRODIE: Well, it’s interesting. We also saw a poll this week from Mike Noble showing that in a head to head match up, Congressman Ruben Gallego has about a 10 point lead over Keri Lake. If Sen. Kyrsten Sinema enters, that race becomes much closer: Gallego is basically up by three points over Lake, with Sinema taking almost a quarter, about 23% of the vote.

Stacy, what do you make of that? We’ve been talking for a long time about how Sen. SInema getting into the race could shake things up. This potentially provides a pretty interesting data point.

PEARSON: It was a really interesting data point, and I dug around a bit in the crosstabs, too. And where Sinema really gained ground from both candidates is in the suburbs, in metropolitan suburbs. And where those voters go, so goes the state. And so it’s very, very interesting how close that narrows.

And it also, I think, is telling that Lake’s not picking up new voters from her gubernatorial loss. And so she’s going to have a very difficult road to Congress.

DELL’ARTINO: I we can spend the rest of the show talking about not only this poll, but the Emerson poll that came out at the same time, which basically statistically sort of reflect closely, I will say, to one another. And I will tell you both of them used registered voters instead of likely voters, which tells me some of these numbers are a lot tighter that are reflected in there.

What I think most political … prognosticators … were assuming is that Sinema was pulling either from Ruben — and we know Ruben thought that — or from Lake. And looking at the Emerson poll, I can make the argument she’s pulling evenly from both. Which I think was sort of interesting.
Ruben is up with women significantly. And put that in the context of he’s running against two women. So that’s an interesting data point from that race.

But all of this said, this is all going to come down to turnout. What we do know from the poll is immigration is the number one issue in Arizona. Trump’s up by three. If this continues the way we think it is, Republicans are going to turn out. Democrats are not all that excited about Biden being the nominee. And that could certainly have some tailwind effect for Lake. And she could pull this out.

But it leaves out my conspiracy that Joe Biden will eventually won’t be the nominee. We’re going to have a floor fight at the Democratic convention. America is going to be glued to the TV for four days, and it will be Gavin Newsom out of California. Totally conspiracy theory.

BRODIE: Well, so since we’re talking bold prognostications here. I ask you guys this every time you’re here, but until we have an answer I have to keep asking: Stacy, do you think Sinema runs?

PEARSON: She certainly has time to get in. The stories that we’re reading about how time is running out are absolutely dead wrong. She can collect signatures online that are immediately verified.

And I think with a single e-blast and looking at those poll numbers, she can collect 42,000 signatures in a couple of days. And so she has all of this month — what’s left of February — and all of March to get 42,000 people to click a link. So she certainly has time to get in.

BRODIE: Do you think she runs, Mark?

DELL’ARTINO: … You ask me three weeks ago I would have said, “Oh, yeah, she’s definitely in.” This week my tide is starting to turn, and I’m at about a 50-50. And we are getting tight on time.

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