kari lake has proven to be a gladiator in an arena of donald trump copycats. And in the final weeks of Arizona’s gubernatorial race, the Republican is pushing the narrative while mocking her Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbsfor refusing to discuss it.
The race has taken on added importance this year because the governor could once again play a pivotal role in establishing the next occupant of the White House. It’s a showdown between a staunch election denier in Lake, who refused to commit to accepting the November election result on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, and one of the most prominent advocates for the sanctity of the state’s vote count for 2020 in Hobbs, who is the secretary of state for Arizona.
But the final phase of the race has become less of a battle of ideas and more of a contrast in high-stakes tactics, one that has shown enthusiasm within the GOP base for Lake, a former television host, and the environment discreet. of the Hobbs campaign. That is causing some concern among Democrats in a race that has no clear leader, according to Recent CNN pollsbut in a state, already ground zero for Trump’s efforts to install election-denying candidates, where registered Republican voters express stronger motivation to vote than Democrats.
Hobbs took a calculated gamble by refusing to appear onstage with Lake, breaking a 20-year tradition of debate among major party candidates in Arizona. His campaign has insisted there is no point in engaging in a forum with Lake that would turn into “childish insults” and “constant interruptions.”
“I’m not interested in being a part of a Kari Lake show or a screaming match and I’m going to continue to take my case directly to the voters,” Hobbs told CNN at a recent phone bank launch.
In a dynamic reminiscent of how Trump torpedoed many of his Republican rivals in 2016, with an endless repetition of nicknames like “low-energy” Jeb Bush and “Liar Ted (Cruz),” Lake has been relentless in his effort to brand Hobbs as “coward.” Lake’s campaign volunteers have even formed a roving group of costumed chickens, sometimes accompanied by real hens in a cage, who appear outside of Hobbs events and in front of her office with signs like “Hobbs in hiding” and “Katie the coward.”
Still, while Arizona Democrats don’t want to appear critical of their candidate in the closing weeks of the race, some voters question the wisdom of letting Lake go unchallenged on a debate stage.
David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, called the Hobbs campaign’s stance on the debates a “mistake.”
“When you’re running to be the chief executive of a state, strength becomes a leading indicator and that’s true in any executive position. So when you refuse to debate, it can be interpreted as weakness and fear,” Axelrod said.
“The way you deal with falsehoods is to challenge the person who promotes them,” Axelrod added of Lake’s baseless approach to stealing the 2020 election. “If I were the opponent, I would want to go after her and hold her accountable.” for building his campaign on the basis of a falsehood. But they obviously feel like she has too much of a personality to challenge, and I think that’s potentially a fatal mistake.”
And Laurie Roberts, left-leaning columnist for the Arizona Republic, wrote that Hobbs’s refusal to debate Lake amounts to “a new level of political malpractice.”
“These are two candidates, each asking to govern a state of more than seven million people for the next four years. Voters have a right to see them side by side,” Roberts wrote.
But Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod said it’s smart for Hobbs to walk away from a debate with Lake. “Hobbs has been strategically engaging in a mix of local and national media, and has taken her campaign to communities across the state where she has effectively made her case to voters. Given the candidate she is running for again, I think her tactics are sound and strategic.”
Hobbs has argued that the debate topic is not important to voters anyway. “I guarantee you that the people who are fighting in Arizona right now are not making their decisions on whether or not there was a debate between me and Kari Lake,” she told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” on Sunday. .
But not all his followers are so sure.
Cindy Ika, a registered Democrat, could hear Lake’s costumed chicken protesters outside a Hobbs phone banking event she attended last week.
“I wish she would debate,” Ika said. “If you can’t get your voice out because (your opponent) is constantly interrupting, like Trump did with Hillary Clinton (in the 2016 presidential race), it’s very difficult to compete against that. I understand that.”
But he said that kind of on-stage showdown could be useful in telling the election to voters.
Ika, looking through the glass of Hobbs’ campaign event at the chicken protesters, warned that not directly challenging Lake could hurt the small number of undecided voters in Arizona.
“Send a message”.
Showing more messaging discipline than Trump and media savvy thanks to her career in television news, Lake has engaged in a number of high-octane events and attention-grabbing stunts. Last week, she held a “Friday Night Fight Night” in Phoenix in a mock boxing ring with punching bags, weight benches and boxing gloves as a backdrop while campaigning with a former UFC champion. .
At a recent event co-sponsored by the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where Lake and Hobbs appeared for back-to-back interviews, the candidates were supposed to wait in their respective waiting rooms while their opponent spoke. But Lake secured a front row seat when Hobbs was scheduled to speak. She then created a commotion in front of the audience when she was asked to leave by telling the moderator that she should join him on stage so they can discuss Hobbs face to face.
Lake has dismissed Hobbs’ claims that a debate would lead to “meaningless distractions” and insults as an inadequate justification for not meeting onstage.
“We are going to discuss the issues. If that’s her excuse, call me up on stage,” the Republican said during a news conference last week in Phoenix, noting that Hobbs also refused to debate her Democratic opponents during the primary.
“We have too many problems facing our state right now for a weak, cowardly candidate to win, and then get into the governor’s mansion.”
But John Graham, a developer and registered Republican who helps lead the coalition Republicans and Independents for Katie Hobbs, predicted voters will reject what he sees as divisive rhetoric from Lake and the current Arizona GOP, which is largely dominated by Part by Trump supporters.
Although he has some policy disagreements with Hobbs, he is supporting her, he said, because he believes she will govern “responsibly, with a fair hand, and be respected.”
“She’s not a theatrical person, she’s not the big bubbly personality,” Graham said. “But to me that’s perfectly fine. You get something that is very calm and very stable.”
When asked about a Lake-Hobbs debate, Graham responded, “I don’t see how that debate would end well for anyone.”
Don Kinghorn, a 75-year-old Democrat from Sahuarita who backs the Democrat, said her decision “is a little bit concerning because I think it makes her seem reluctant to confront.”
But he pointed to the debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016 as evidence that voters could end up with more of a Lake-driven show than an informative exchange of ideas.
“Look at the last Trump/Clinton debates and how badly he played by the rules,” Kinghorn said. “Kari Lake would be exactly like Trump. Why would you want to put yourself in a position where someone might just not follow the rules of the debate?