Katie Hobbs grows lead over Kari Lake in latest returns from Arizona governor's race

Katie Hobbs (left) and Kari Lake
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Update: Republican Kari Lake gained ground on Sunday night in the race for Arizona governor, but Democrat Katie Hobbs still held a 26,000-vote lead. Read the latest here.

A pivotal day of vote counting in Arizona on Saturday saw Democratic candidate for governor Katie Hobbs slightly widen her lead over her Republican opponent, though the race was still too close to call.

Hobbs, Arizona's secretary of state and a former lawmaker, now leads Kari Lake, the Republican nominee and former television news anchor, by more than 34,000 votes, such a slight change the race was still separated by 1.4 percentage points.

County election officials have counted about 2.3 million votes statewide, but another approximately 265,000 are left to tally. Most of those are from counties that house Arizona's population centers, including Tucson in Pima County and Phoenix in Maricopa County.

Election coverage: Live voting updates | Arizona election results

Ballot returns so far from both counties have generally favored Hobbs, who has maintained the lead since Tuesday, though Lake significantly narrowed that gap as day-of election votes were counted.

But it's not just rural versus urban geography that counts in the purple state's election math equation.

When Maricopa County officials updated the results on Saturday night, adding nearly 85,000 votes in the governor's race, it consisted mostly of ballots dropped off by voters on Election Day. More than 290,000 ballots were dropped off Tuesday in Maricopa County, a record-breaking number compared with recent election years.

There has been much speculation about which candidate those types of ballots might favor, as voters' behavior has shifted in the relatively short time frame of the last two election cycles.

Lake has maintained those ballots would swing heavily in her favor, but Saturday's bellwether update appeared to temper those claims.

In Maricopa County's latest report, Lake carried 52% of those votes to Hobbs' 48%, enough to give Lake a boost but not close Hobbs' lead. Hobbs' advantage also was padded throughout the day by favorable returns in Pima and Coconino counties.

While Lake won the day in Maricopa County, her path to victory got a bit more difficult statewide as the number of votes left to count shrunk, said GOP pollster Paul Bentz, of the Phoenix firm HighGround.

According to projections by The Arizona Republic, which match Bentz's math, Lake needs 56% of the remaining votes to win.

"There's still a path to victory here for Lake," Bentz said. "But she needs these remaining rounds of ballots to be incredibly Republican leaning from here on out. She can't afford to have another round of returns on this level; otherwise, it will make it incredibly difficult to come back."

In 2020, Republicans who typically voted early saw a boost among voters who cast ballots on Election Day, which helped Donald Trump close the gap on Joe Biden, who ultimately won the state by about 10,500 voters. Lake won 70% of Election Day votes statewide this year.

Many political observers attribute that shift to voters showing up in person because of Trump's efforts casting doubt on elections before and after his ouster from the White House.

Rewinding the clock back two years earlier offered a different scenario, when statewide Democratic candidates fared better on Election Day. U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Hobbs, who was then running for secretary of state, slowly climbed to victory as day-of ballots were counted in 2018.

The results as of Saturday offered a sign this year could be more like 2018, said Tony Cani, a Democratic consultant who worked on Biden's successful 2020 campaign.

"I also think that Democrats reverted to the way they were — we're all thinking about Republican behavior, but we're not thinking about Democratic behavior — they reverted more closely to what happened in 2018," he said.

Arizona's election of a new governor is one of the most high-profile races in the country and one of the few left to be called.

Hobbs urges patience; Lake criticizes

While awaiting results, Hobbs has urged patience.

"As we await outstanding ballots, I remain confident in the will of (Arizona) voters and am grateful to the election officials diligently working to ensure every vote is properly counted," Hobbs said on social media Friday evening. "To everyone closely watching our race, thanks for your patience. We look forward to the days ahead."

Lake has gone on a tour of national and conservative media appearances saying she was confident she would win, drafting a boost from Election Day votes. She has pledged to reform the state's "terrible" elections that are "run poorly, they're ripe with fraud." She did not respond to a request for comment or an interview this week from The Arizona Republic.

Kari Lake: Taunts Maricopa County election officials after stoking fears on mail-in ballots

"We've seen this time and time again, and nothing's being done," Lake told Fox News' Tucker Carlson on Friday. "Our elected officials tell us if we dare bring it up we are conspiracy theorists, we are election deniers. Darn it, we've got to start bringing this up."

In Maricopa County, about 30% of voting locations had issues on Election Day, with ballots printed on-site not dark enough for tabulators to read. But Lake has also alleged the timing of the vote counting and length of the process were atypical, though Maricopa County officials dispute that claim.

Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at stacey.barchenger@arizonarepublic.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Ariz. governor race: Hobbs' lead over Lake grows in latest returns