Now that Kari Lake has won, the showdown for Arizona governor is only getting started

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Kari Lake, a Republican candidate for Arizona governor, reacts to the crowd as she walks onto the stage to speak at a Save America Rally on  July 22, 2022, in Prescott.
Kari Lake, a Republican candidate for Arizona governor, reacts to the crowd as she walks onto the stage to speak at a Save America Rally on July 22, 2022, in Prescott.

On Wednesday morning, Kari Lake was sailing with the wind at her back. The election and vote count she declared “messed up” on Tuesday night had put her in the lead by sunrise.

The last round of opinion polls had predicted she would win this race by roughly double digits. One poll had her up as high as 18 points. But Karrin Taylor Robson outperformed expectations and put a scare in the MAGA faithful.

The race was called a day later, and Republicans are now sending Kari Lake up against the Democrats’ Katie Hobbs for governor.

Lake will have a hard time moving to the center 

Elections are the ultimate marketplace of ideas, and this fall Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward and her brain trust will be showcasing a razor-edged fanatic.

Kari Lake is a conspiracy fabulist who spent this election alleging the last one was stolen and the present one is fixed. She spent as much time spearing moderate Republicans as she did liberal Democrats. With her rudder jammed so far right, it’s not clear how she can ever tack to the center.

Good for Trump, so far: What to know about Arizona's primary results

She’ll be up against a Democrat who is more even keeled, more measured, veering left but not obnoxiously so.

And that will be her real test.

Can the black-clad, hammer-swinging rogue of the GOP primary win over moderate Republicans and independents who will be shopping for sanity, not the delusions of the Arizona auditors and their Cyber Nitwits?

But the center is where all the power is

Lake’s first impulse will be to gloat, but she might want to take a page from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat. He was last seen this week on bended knee trying to persuade Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, successfully as it turned out, to vote for the Democrats’ latest spending whale.

Lake would do well to bow and genuflect to moderates in the sprawling bedroom communities of Tucson and Phoenix who decided two years ago they’d had enough of Trump-generated chaos and delivered the state to Joe Biden.

If Tuesday’s results show anything, it is that the suburbs are still restless. Taylor Robson, who came to be seen as the moderate Republicans’ last hope to send someone normal to the general, found a lot of her votes in the bedroom communities. She performed well  in Maricopa and Pima counties.

Further, the overwhelming defeat in Kansas of the first anti-abortion measure after Roe says that Republican and independent women are very much in play in red states.

Fifty legislatures, not the Supreme Court, will now determine the future of reproductive and fetal rights. This will be duked out in every conservative state in America, including Arizona.

Understand that Trump won Kansas two years ago by a landslide – 15 points. You think moderate Republican women in Arizona want go back to abortion law written in the age of anvils and branding irons?

Democrats have problems of their own

Democrats face a challenge of their own. Many in the party spent a lot of energy in the primary declaring Hobbs a racist for her part in the 2015 decision to fire an African American woman from legislative staff.

There isn’t a major corporation anywhere that hasn’t faced similar allegations, but Democrats can’t help themselves. They are reflexively tribal and race obsessed. Katie Hobbs pretty much fits the bill of most Democrats I know – they sincerely care about the historically marginalized and dispossessed.

The question now is can “the racist” Hobbs be redeemed? She sure as hades can be if she can win the governor’s office. Democrats who pointed their accusing finger at her in the primary will be falling over themselves to lift her up in the fall.

A moderate 'supernova' could come in the fall

Not everything ran smoothly in the 2022 Arizona primary election. It rarely does. But moderate Republicans generally believe in the integrity of the system and the election officials who run it.

They would have liked to see more moderate Republicans prevail, but they don’t believe the fix was in. The MAGA candidates won fair and square. They’ve earned their trophy ceremony.

With no proof of election malfeasance, the moderates will sit back, keep their cool and wait for the fall.

Then they’ll go supernova.

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic. Email him at phil.boas@arizonarepublic.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: How Kari Lake and Katie Hobbs can lose the November race for governor