Matt Salmon's exit from the governor's race is a disaster for Kari Lake

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Matt Salmon announced he is leaving the Arizona governor's race - which is great news for Republicans.
Matt Salmon announced he is leaving the Arizona governor's race - which is great news for Republicans.

With just a week to go until early ballots go in the mail, Matt Salmon finally embraced reality and dropped out of the Republican race for Arizona governor.

This is great news for Karrin Taylor Robson and for Republicans hoping to hang onto the Governor’s Office.

For Kari Lake, hoping to eke out a win in a three-person race? Call it a potential disaster.

I say potential because Salmon waited about two months too long to withdraw. At this point, his name is already on the Aug. 2 ballot.

Salmon tried to out-Lake Kari Lake. Big mistake

Still, his announcement was quickly followed by endorsement for Taylor Robson that should throw his supporters her way.

"To the Arizonans who supported my campaign: We may not have won this Republican primary, but our shared values can still emerge victorious if we stand behind a candidate with the temperament and experience to govern Arizona," Salmon said, in a statement Wednesday morning. "Karrin Taylor Robson is that candidate."

That's not only an endorsement of Taylor Robson. It's a stinging indictment of Lake, whose campaign offers a heaping helping of outrage but no meaninful experience that suggests she's read to run a fast growing state of 7.2 million people.

Salmon has made no secret of the fact that he can't stand Lake. He’s panned some of her wilder policy proposals (see: her plan to install a camera in every classroom) and sees her as a closet Democrat (see: her previous support for Barack Obama and her 2016 mass amnesty plan for immigrants -- the ones she now calls "invaders").

Salmon, a former congressman who came within a hair’s breadth of defeating then-Attorney General Janet Napolitano in the 2002 governor’s race, made a fatal error this year.

He tried to out-Kari Lake Kari Lake.

It didn’t work, probably because that's just not possible. Also because he’s really a principled conservative, a serious policy guy more comfortable talking about low taxes and how to grow the economy than in slinging dripping slabs of rare red meat to the MAGA crowd.

Lake, meanwhile, is running a campaign fueled perpetual anger.

But after a year of running, a bazillion attacks on the media and increasingly angry rants about everything from alien “invaders” to drag queens to a supposedly stolen election, support for Lake stands at a solid 30%-35% of likely voters.

Kari Lake may be the hope and the pride of the angry far right, but the rest of the party isn’t buying what she’s selling.

Lake is Hobbs' best chance of winning in November

Taylor Robson, meanwhile, is catching up in the polls and has the money to go the distance in what now amounts to a one-on-one race.

Add in a Salmon endorsement and well, let’s just say Democrat Katie Hobbs cannot be happy.

Lake, with her caustic approach and laughably thin resume, represents Hobbs’ best chance of becoming Arizona’s next governor. Possibly her only one, assuming inflation remains high, the border remains a mess and Biden remains unable to do anything about either one.

"She (Lake) is the Republicans’ best chance to lose, and it should be a no-lose year,” Republican consultant Tyler Montague recently told me.

Which is Salmon didn't even wait 24 hours after pulling out to endorse Taylor Robson.

She, like Salmon, is a conservative, a businesswoman who has worked within the Republican ranks for nearly three decades. She raised more than $1 million for Donald Trump’s reelection and like all candidates, she’s tromped down to the border to the make the requisite border “invasion” ad required of all Republican candidates.

But you won’t hear her screaming about a stolen election when the facts prove otherwise. She'll straddle the fence, talking about what she sees as unfair election practices but she won't fall into the looneyland of ballot mules, counterfeit paper and whatever may be the election conspiracy theory de jour.

Expect Salmon to endorse Taylor Robson quickly

Lake, in typical Lake fashion, dismisses Taylor Robson as “an open-borders, Ducey-clone RINO” but in fact Taylor Robson’s policy positions on things like the border and anything Joe Biden-related are pretty much the same as Lake’s — just with a key difference.

She could actually win.

Especially with a boost from Salmon.

The Lake campaign on Tuesday put out a statement mostly courting his supporters.

"They’re some of the most passionate people in our party. While many have already seen the writing on the wall and joined President Trump in supporting my campaign, Matt’s most devoted followers would have stuck with him until the very end," it said. "Matt Salmon is a decent man and it does speak to his character that he wasn’t willing to lead these Patriots on any further."

Taylor Robson, meanwhile, paid tribute to her former opponent.

“Matt Salmon is Arizona through and through, and he and his family have served Arizona tirelessly,” she said, in a release that came just 10 minutes after Salmon’s announcement that he was dropping out.

“Matt has been a leading voice in the conservative movement for decades. I thank him for running an honorable campaign for Governor. Arizona faces big challenges, and I have no doubt Matt will continue to find ways to serve this state he loves.”

Starting, already, with that endorsement for Taylor Robson.

Reach Roberts at Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Matt Salmon left the governor's race. Kari Lake should be worried