The seemingly unstoppable rise of election denier Kari Lake

With backing of Donald Trump - a former television presenter with no political experience - is now in critical governor’s race that’s too close to call, writes Andrew Buncombe

Tuesday 25 October 2022 17:10 BST
Donald Trump endorsed conservative Kari Lake in the contest to become Arizona’s next governor
Donald Trump endorsed conservative Kari Lake in the contest to become Arizona’s next governor (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


It was a straightforward question – and so was the answer.

“Earlier this week, [Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters] said he saw no evidence of vote counting problems … and that Joe Biden is the ‘legitimate president’,” asked CBS presenter Major Garrett. “Do you agree?”

“I think we have major problems in our election system,” came the response. “We had Democrats saying the 2000 election wasn’t fair…. And now all of a sudden in 2020, we don’t have free speech anymore. We can’t speak out against our own elections.”

Kari Lake, the Republican hopeful responding to the questions, has emerged as one of the loudest and most effective voices in maintaining Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was rigged, and but for various alleged shenanigans – discounted by election experts and every court asked to consider them – Joe Biden would not be sitting in the White House.

But the 53-year-old former television news anchor has become very much more than that: after a hard-fought primary this summer, she is now the Republican candidate for Arizona’s governor. Two years after quitting her television job, this Trump-endorsed Maga champion is involved in a showdown with a Democratic opponent that pundits say is too close to call.

A month before Americans go to the polls in midterm elections that will determine which party controls the two chambers of Congress as well as governors’ mansions across the country, an average of polls collated by Real Clear Politics, gives Lake a one point lead over Democrat Katie Hobbs.

The political analysis website Five Thirty Eight has Hobbs at 46.8 and Lake at 46.6. Only one thing is certain, that Arizona is set to elect its fifth woman governor, more than any other state.

“Part of it is, you can’t separate her from herself. That is, it helps that she is a forceful personality and that she is polished on camera,” Doug Heye, a former spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, tells The Independent.

“Her background in TV, like with Donald Trump, is a huge asset. That’s one of the reasons. Trump likes to say of people ‘They look the part’. Well, she looks and performs the part.”

Heye says the challenge for Lake is that given her hardline positions, she is going to struggle to appeal to independent and some moderate Republicans.

Who does he think will win the race?

He chuckles. “It’s too close to call at this point.”

On Sunday 16 October, Lake refused to say she would accept the results of her race if voters ultimately reject her.

"I'm going to win the election and I'm going to accept that result,” she told CNN.

Lake accused CNN of manipulating the audio during her appearance. But the network fired back with the full video of her interview. “Hi Ms Lake. Here is your full live interview on CNN. As you can see, there were no audio issues. Thank you for joining us this morning,” CNN PR responded.

Later in the week, Ms Lake received condemnation for suggesting that Martin Luther King Jr would be an “America First Republican” if he were still alive today.

Arizona is considered a purple state, neither hard red or hard blue, but it is pretty conservative regardless of party affiliation. (After the overturn of Roe, a trigger law dating from 1864 that bans abortions after 15 weeks, came into effect.)

Recent polls have shown the candidates locked in a tight race, with one poll showing Ms Lake up by a few points and another showing Ms Hobbs with a slight lead.

The outgoing governor, Doug Ducey, is a Republican who served two terms. The current senators are both Democrats, but Arizona was long the base of John McCain. One of the senators, Mark Kelly, faces a real battle to be re-elected, while when Biden won the state in 2020 by just 10,000 votes, he was the first Democrat to do so since Bill Clinton in 1996.

Since the 2020 election, the GOP-controlled legislature has passed several measures restricting access to the ballot, including a requirement to show proof of citizenship, and limiting the distribution of mail-in ballots.

Arizona has one of the largest population of Latino voters – they make up a third of the state – and activists say their plight is often ignored in the focus on Lake and her continued spread of the so-called “big lie”.

Republican candidate Kari Lake accuses Democrats of election denial

Kristian Ramos, a Latino political strategist and a former spokesperson for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, says Lake’s focus on the alleged events of 2020 have a direct, negative impact on Latino groups in the state.

“In her whole narrative of election stealing in Arizona, Kari Lake is talking about Latinos – they want to make it harder for Latinos to vote. They want to make it harder for our community to be able to participate in democratically sanctioned elections,” he says.

“All this Maga stuf is anti-Latino, because who is the boogeyman in that narrative? So they’ve passed all of these crazy laws to make it harder for Latinos and people of colour to vote in Arizona.”

Ramos says Lake’s other major issue is immigration and what she claims is Biden’s failure to secure the border. He feels few Latinos will vote for her, when her message is to keep migrants out of the country and prevent Latinos voting.

Lake’s campaign did not respond to questions from The Independent.

It may not be entirely that simple. Midterm elections tend to punish the party that controls the White House, and with the economy struggling, and Biden’s approval low, Republicans are looking up to pick up enough seats to flip both the House and the Senate.

And there is more. In 2020, Trump stunned many by securing the support of as many as 38 per cent of Latino voters, compared to 59 for Biden and the Democrats.

Arizona Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs declined debate showdown with Kari Lake
Arizona Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs declined debate showdown with Kari Lake (Getty Images)

Israel Ortega, a spokesperson for the conservative Latino group The Libre Intitiative, claims more Latinos are moving towards the Republicans.

“Jobs and inflation rank as the top issues for them,” he says, speaking from Washington DC. “Those are going to be the big drivers in terms of a lot of folks who are casting their votes this year.”

Lake, a mother of two who was born in Illinois, is not the only candidate to throw out the script when it comes to moving to the centre after the primary contest to try and attract more moderate voters.

Across the nation, from Beto O’Rourke and Greg Abbott in Texas, to Ron DeSantis in Florida, JB Pritzker in Illinois, and Tudor Dixon in Michigan, candidates are doubling down on their positions.

And with the likes of Dr Mehmet Oz giving John Fetterman a serious fight in the Senate race for Pennsylvania, Lake is not the only one hoping television skills – and the backing of Trump – can make up for any lack of actual political experience.

Lake may have also been handed a major boost by the decision of her Democratic challenger,  Katie Hobbs, 52, not to take part in the candidates debate that was due to take place this week.

Hobbs, who currently serves as Arizona’s Secretary of State, made the decision after claiming that the debates for the Republican primary had been chaotic, and she feared Lake could make this one similarly disruptive.

Just like Trump, Lake had a television career before entering politics
Just like Trump, Lake had a television career before entering politics (Getty Images)

Rather she has been appearing on television programmes directly before or after Lake, hoping to underscore to viewers the differences between them.

In her interview with CBS News’s Face the Nation last week, she was asked if she would change her mind.

“What I’ve been focused on is opportunities like this, where they can see us back to back and hear directly from us about the issues that are important to Arizonans and how we would govern without a circus like she created during the GOP Republican primary,” said Hobbs.

“I have no desire to be a part of the spectacle that she’s looking to create. Because that doesn’t do any service to the voters of Arizona to hear from us, where we stand on the issues and how we would govern.”

But election laws demand that there be a debate and so on Wednesday, Lake will be questioned for 30 minutes by veteran interviewer Ted Simons by herself.

Many have said this is a mistake for Hobbs, who by any description is less flamboyant than Lake and may be missing out on a chance to connect with potential new supporters. Many have called her a coward. There are suggestions is it also bad for the state’s democracy.

Lars Larson hosts a conservative radio show out of Portland, Oregon, and is an outspoken fan of Lake.

“Kari Lake has a backbone, which many Republicans do not have. And she is well spoken because of the trade she was in before, which is television journalism,” he says.

“So if you’re well spoken, have good values, and have a backbone and actually stand up and speak them out loud, I think you can do very well in a lot of different areas and politics is one of them.”

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