For months, Kari Lake was the clear front-runner to be Arizona’s next GOP gubernatorial nominee. Then, in the final weeks before the Aug. 2 primary, as rival Karrin Taylor Robson closed in, Lake took a page from Donald Trump, the politician she has modeled herself on, and warned that the election was being “stolen.”
“We’re already detecting some fraud, I know none of you are shocked,” Lake told a group of supporters recently. Like her mentor, she did not offer any evidence to back up her claim of current fraud in the state, where early voting started July 6.
Lake is a former local Fox 10 news anchor who says she left the business — and the Democratic Party — to run for governor because she was tired of being silenced. Taylor Robson is a lawyer who served on Arizona’s Board of Regents after current Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who is not eligible to run again due to term limits, appointed her to the university oversight panel. The two women are vying to take on the presumed Democratic nominee, current Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. The winner in November would be the fifth woman to serve as Arizona’s top executive.
Taylor Robson has said Joe Biden “may” have won the 2020 election but it was nevertheless unfair. But last week she called Lake’s remarks about primary election fraud “meritless, reckless and disqualifying” and a “dangerous assault on our democracy.” Her campaign did not respond to a request to comment further.
Since leaving the profession, Lake has said the media is her enemy and made the self-created rivalry a feature of her campaign. Ross Trumble, a spokesperson for her campaign, said: “Have fun with your hit piece” when asked by The 19th to weigh in on the race.
The matchup between Lake and Taylor Robson gained national attention after Lake was endorsed by Trump, then Taylor Robson was endorsed by Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president. Late last month, the two former White House colleagues campaigned for their respective endorsees in different areas of the Western state.
Arizona’s Republican Party has taken a hard turn to the right in recent years. The GOP there led a chaotic, months-long, partisan recount of the 2020 election instigated by Trump’s backers that nevertheless confirmed Biden won the state, which was critical to his overall victory. Arizonans with ties to far-right groups — including the so-called “QAnon shaman” — played high-profile roles in the failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, as Congress met to certify election results.
Trump and Pence campaigned for Lake and Taylor Robson the day after the committee investigating the Capitol attack held a high-profile hearing in which a former Trump aide called it the “darkest day in our country’s history” and a police officer testified about being tear-gassed by the crowd that chanted “hang Mike Pence!”
In Prescott, Trump repeated a litany of false claims about how the 2020 election was “rigged and stolen” before introducing Lake, who railed against illegal immigration, made anti-transgender remarks and called Biden an “illegitimate” president. Conspiracy theorists from Trump world in attendance included the MyPillow executive Mike Lindell and Mark Finchem, a member of the far-right Oath Keepers who is running for secretary of state.
Ninety minutes away in Peoria, outside Phoenix, Pence said Arizona Republicans should not make this election about the past and called Taylor Robson the conservative “standard bearer in this election.” Taylor Robson said she would get “left-wing politics out of our schools” and that Lake “discovered God, guns and the GOP about five minutes before she decided to run for governor.” Also present was Ducey, who drew Trump’s ire for certifying the 2020 election results in the state and has worked to diminish the former president’s political power.
Barrett Marson, a Republican strategist in Arizona who supported former Rep. Matt Salmon before he left the gubernatorial race, said that while the Lake-Taylor Robson matchup can certainly be viewed as a proxy for the overall dynamic between the Trump and establishment factions of the GOP, the outcome will likely be specific to Arizona, where he called the Trump wing “ascendant.”
“But that doesn’t necessarily translate into general election victories,” he cautioned.
The ascendancy of Trumpian politics in Arizona has coincided with Democratic victories in statewide races. Biden was the first Democrat to win Arizona since President Bill Clinton in 1996. With the election of Sen. Mark Kelly in 2020, Arizona has been represented by two Democratic senators for the first time since the 1950s. Its governor and attorney general are Republicans, but Hobbs, the secretary of state who oversees election administration, is a Democrat.
Most recent polling shows Trump-backed candidates in Arizona like Lake favored to win their primaries, then trailing Democrats like Hobbs in November’s general election. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Arizona’s gubernatorial contest as one of four “toss-up” races among the 36 being held this year.
“Trump proved that a Trump-like candidate will have difficulty in a general election,” Marson said.