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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Katie Hobbs, who defied Trump in Arizona, tops Kari Lake for governor

Arizona Democrat gubernatorial candidate and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs during a campaign event with former President Barack Obama in Laveen, Ariz., on Nov. 2, 2022.

By Jazmine Ulloa

Katie Hobbs, who as Arizona’s secretary of state stood up to efforts by allies of former President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election, has clinched a victory in the state’s race for governor, according to The Associated Press.

Hobbs, a Democrat, narrowly defeated Kari Lake, a right-wing former newscaster who was talked about as a future leader in a Trump-dominated Republican Party, in a bitter and closely watched race that became a final test of whether candidates molded in Trump’s image could win in battlegrounds. Lake, one of the most prominent purveyors of Trump’s lies about his 2020 election, followed several other election-denying candidates in defeat.

In a statement on her win, Hobbs reached out to voters who did not support her. “I will work just as hard for you — because even in this moment of division, I believe there is so much more that connects us.”

After the race was called Monday night, Lake did not concede defeat, instead suggesting, without citing evidence, that the vote was marred. “Arizonans know BS when they see it,” she tweeted.

The contest was a study in contrasts of both style and substance, but the stakes for American elections and democracy were evident from the first.

Lake was a magnetic performer who began her campaign echoing Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election had been “crooked” and “corrupt.” She borrowed and sharpened Trump’s tactic of using the news media as a foil, routinely videotaping her interviewers or denigrating their news organizations. She taunted Hobbs as a “coward” and ridiculed her as “chicken” through the contest’s final days for refusing to debate her onstage.

She disparaged the late Sen. John McCain, who championed a maverick brand of Republicanism, as a “loser” — again echoing Trump — and claimed that she and her followers had driven “a stake in the heart of the McCain machine.”

Hobbs, a mild-mannered elected official, rose to national prominence when she stood steadfast against efforts by Trump loyalists to overturn the vote in 2020. On the stump, she often pointed to her refusal to give in to the “insurrectionists” — protesters who at one point surrounded her home — as a sign that she was “battle tested.”

Hobbs often sought to stay out of the spotlight, and held fast to her decision not to debate Lake, saying she did not want to give a platform to an election denier and her lies. But even some of Hobbs’ own voters and allies expressed concerns that she was evasive and awkward in the limelight.

In the final stretch of the race, Hobbs continually reminded voters of the larger issues at play, underscoring Lake’s staunch position against abortion and casting her own candidacy as essential to protect the future of elections. She told voters that supporting her amounted to choosing “sanity over chaos.”

For her part, Lake attacked the news media and campaigned on culture-war issues, barnstorming the state with the other three top Republicans on the ticket and with right-wing supporters, including Steve Bannon, a former Trump adviser, and Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

At a campaign rally just days before the election, Lake invited Wendy Rogers, a state lawmaker, on to the stage. Rogers was censured by the state Senate after giving a speech at a far-right conference with ties to white supremacy. Referring to Rogers, Lake said she would never back away from “fighters who love this state.”

In the end, it was Lake who struggled to defeat Hobbs.

The Republican Party of Arizona and other right-wing allies have been preparing for the possibility of a lawsuit, collecting testimonials from voters who claim they had problems at the polls Tuesday, most related to a printing problem that temporarily prevented tabulators from counting ballots. Republican election officials in Maricopa County have rejected any accusations of fraud or foul play and urged Lake to tone down her comments, insisting that the long process would ensure accuracy and that the election system was fair.

Lake lost by about 0.8 percentage points in a year in which high inflation, President Joe Biden’s low approval numbers and historical trends favored Republicans. By contrast, Gov. Doug Ducey, who is term-limited as governor, trounced his Democratic opponent by more than 14 percentage points in the 2018 midterm elections, when the national environment gave Democrats the edge. If Hobbs’ lead shrinks to 0.5% or less of the total votes cast, it would prompt an automatic recount based on a new Arizona law.

The outcome of this year’s race for governor carried serious potential implications for the 2024 presidential race.

Arizona’s governor is empowered to give final approval to the certification of the winner of the presidential election there, as well as to the selection of Arizona’s slates of presidential electors. The governor could also be either an ally or an adversary of right-wing Republican legislators who have already sought to give themselves the right to decertify the 2020 election and to appoint their own presidential electors.

Arizona has been at the center of conspiracy theories about the 2020 election since Biden won the state by more than 10,000 votes. All four of Arizona’s top Republican nominees on the statewide ballot, including Lake, ran in the mold of Trump and advanced his false claims of widespread election fraud.

Former President Barack Obama, who stumped with Hobbs, and other top Democrats framed the midterm elections in Arizona as a battle to preserve American democracy.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vowed to do all she could to keep Lake out of office, and her leadership PAC invested $500,000 in a television ad urging Arizona voters to reject Lake and Mark Finchem, the party’s nominee for secretary of state, and their election denialism. Finchem was defeated by Adrian Fontes, a Democrat and former Maricopa County recorder, making him one of several election deniers who were running to take over elections who lost at the polls.

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