Democrat Katie Hobbs is projected to defeat Republican Kari Lake in the contest for Arizona governor, giving the party a major victory in a new top-tier battleground.
Hobbs, the secretary of state, flipped the governorship to Democratic control, as she’s set to take over for term-limited GOP Gov. Doug Ducey.
Hobbs beat the Donald Trump-endorsed Republican despite running a campaign that her own party found frustrating and uninspiring at times. The state’s top elections official, a stalwart against unsubstantiated claims of election cheating in 2020, did not debate her opponent, nor did she have her same presence on the campaign trail.
But Hobbs seemingly benefited from strong Democratic turnout and the support of independent voters, a critical Arizona voting bloc.
“I think she’s too radical,” one Arizona independent told HuffPost last month, expressing a common reservation about Lake. “I don’t see her as a uniter.”
In stark contrast to her opponent, Hobbs has the experience of serving as a state lawmaker and overseeing the 2020 election, which triggered a largely discredited GOP-led audit and chilling threats against Hobbs. Lake was a news anchor for three decades before leaving her job and launching her first campaign for office.
“Not only is she not ready for the job, she’s dangerous for the job,” Hobbs told HuffPost in an interview two weeks before the election. “Everything about her is a distraction from the fact that she has no experience, no qualifications, no plans to lead the state.”
The GOP nominee is one of the most prominent election-denying candidates in the nation, and the governor’s race seems to just be the start of her political career. Lake is frequently tossed out as a possible running mate for Trump in 2024. Nationally, she’s seen as a MAGA influencer and a natural successor to Trump’s movement.
It’s not clear whether Lake will “accept” the results of the election — meaning that she won’t claim, without any evidence, that Democrats cheated their way to a win. Pressed by an interviewer last month, Lake didn’t back down. “I’m going to win the election, and I will accept that result,” she said.
Lake has questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election and has said that as governor she would not have certified the results. That was enough for Democrats to worry that Lake was a legitimate threat to democracy, while Lake dismissed their concerns as politically motivated and overblown. To audiences of voters, Hobbs frequently referred to Lake as “that Trump-endorsed, election-denying, media-hating, conspiracy-loving GOP nominee.”
Hobbs herself wasn’t baggage-free. Two civil court rulings held that she discriminated against a Black policy advisor as the Democratic leader of the Arizona Senate. The episode — and Hobbs’ bungled public apology — became fodder for Lake to brand her opponent a “twice-convicted racist.”
Arizona has become fertile ground for Democrats over the past decade. Then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden narrowly flipped the state four years after Trump’s win. And the race for governor and other down-ballot contests were true tossups until the bitter end.
“Why would you vote for someone who you know is not telling the truth about something?” former President Barack Obama said in Arizona last week while stumping for Hobbs and Sen. Mark Kelly in a final get-out-the-vote push. “I don’t care how nicely they say it, how poised they are, how well-lit they are.”
While Lake was focused primarily on MAGA grievance politics, Hobbs often talked about unreasonable health care costs, rising inflation and the state’s water shortage — the meat-and-potatoes issues that generally consume the role of governor.
Hobbs was nonetheless criticized from within her own party for refusing to debate Lake, a move that saved her from having to do battle on Lake’s turf — in front of a TV camera. Lake criticized her as a coward, but Hobbs held firm.
“A debate never helps a candidate win,” Hobbs said.