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Democrat Katie Hobbs defeats election denier Kari Lake for Arizona governor, AP projects

FOX 23 Tulsa KOKI
 2022-11-15
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Democrat Katie Hobbs has narrowly defeated Republican Kari Lake to become the next governor of Arizona, the Associated Press projected, ensuring that one of America’s most prominent 2020 election deniers will not oversee the 2024 vote in the pivotal swing state.

With nearly 98% of precincts reporting, the AP called the race for Hobbs, who led by more than 20,000 votes Monday evening after Arizona officials spent nearly a week tallying every last batch of ballots to determine the winner. Hobbs’s margin of victory over Lake — a former Phoenix news anchor and a particular favorite of former President Donald Trump — was less than 1 percentage point.

In the closing days of the campaign, Lake became the subject of intense national media interest after she overtook Hobbs, the longtime frontrunner, in the polls. Some Democratic strategists even started to speculate about Lake as a future White House contender.

"If you get a candidate who has the performance skills of a major-market local TV anchor and the philosophy and thinking of Steve Bannon, that's a potent and dangerous combination," David Axelrod, a top political aide to President Barack Obama, told Axios last month. "Look at Italy."

Yet Lake is now the seventh Trump-aligned candidate to lose a hotly contested gubernatorial race this year, following similar defeats in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Maine, New York and Kansas. The fact that she was considered the most talented of the bunch is yet another sign that Republicans blew a big opportunity in 2022 by nominating MAGA firebrands instead of more mainstream conservatives.

The preliminary Arizona exit polls reinforce this reading. Hobbs beat Lake among independents — who, at 40%, made up a larger share of Arizona's electorate than Democrats (27%) or Republicans (33%) — by a 52% to 45% margin. Typically, the president's party loses independents by double digits in midterm years. Among self-described moderates — a full 42% of the Arizona electorate — Hobbs won by 20 percentage points.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Nevada, Republican Joe Lombardo managed to unseat incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in part by winning independent voters; unlike Lake, Lombardo repeatedly insisted that the 2020 race was not rigged and stolen while refusing to describe Trump as a "great" president.

In Georgia — a state that was nearly as close in 2020 as Arizona — Republican Gov. Brian Kemp won by nearly 8 points after resisting Trump's efforts to overturn that election. In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who has long held the former president at arm's length, cruised to reelection by more than 25 points.

And despite a very favorable political climate and an Arizona electorate that leans right in midterm years, Lake vastly underperformed the state's current GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, who twice won the office by double-digit margins.

Hobbs entered the gubernatorial race as the frontrunner, and led Lake by an average of 7 percentage points as recently as August.

Yet in the final weeks of the campaign, Lake — propelled by national tailwinds and Hobbs's choice not to face her in a debate — overtook her rival in the polls. Local and national Democrats began to write off Hobbs as too subdued and too soft-spoken to win.

In the end, however, it was Lake who fell short.

As governor, Hobbs — a social worker who previously spent eight years in the Arizona Legislature, including a stint as the state Senate’s Democratic leader — has pledged to repeal the state's pre-Roe ban on all abortions except those necessary to protect the health or life of the mother. She has also vowed to push for voluntary universal preschool education, all-day kindergarten, an annual child tax credit and a permanent child care assistance program for working families.

Control of the state legislature remains unclear; if Republicans hold even one chamber, they are likely to resist Hobbs's agenda at every turn.

Perhaps Hobbs’s most lasting impact, then, will come in the area where she made her mark as secretary of state. After the 2020 election, Arizona’s far-right Republican activists and legislators pushed hard to reverse Trump’s 10,457-vote loss — the narrowest margin of any state in the country.

But not a single one of the 24 challenges filed in Maricopa, the state's largest county, was upheld in court. Multiple audits (including a private count funded by Trump supporters) found no evidence of fraud. In fact, the partisan GOP audit ultimately increased Joe Biden's margin of victory by 360 votes.

"There is absolutely no merit to any claims of widespread voter fraud in Arizona," Hobbs said at the time.

Regardless, Lake went on to attack Biden as an "illegitimate fool" who is president only because the election was "stolen and corrupt." She unapologetically promoted nearly every debunked conspiracy theory about 2020. Years later, she continued to demand the decertification of the Arizona result. "We're already detecting some stealing going on," she said in the lead-up to her primary. "If we don't win, there's some cheating going on."

Starting next year, Hobbs will be in a position to help shape the state’s election rules — and to block any efforts by the GOP Legislature to make voting harder (or to make overturning the 2024 election easier).

Hobbs has said she wants to clean up voter rolls by using the National Change of Address database; to fund risk-limiting audits for future elections; and to make nonpartisan post-election audits mandatory. She also hopes to expand ballot access with same-day registration and in-person early voting that continues through the weekend before Election Day.

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