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GOP analysts: Lake must broaden base to defeat Hobbs for AZ governor

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The candidates for Arizona governor in the November general election: Republican Kari Lake, left, and Democrat Katie Hobbs.

Kari Lake proved this week that she has the backing of the largest share of Arizona Republicans — at least those who voted in the primary.

Now she has to figure out how to appeal to everyone else.

It starts with the 53% of Republican voters who wanted one of the other four candidates on the GOP ballot to be the party’s nominee for governor.

Senate President Karen Fann issued a call Friday for “unity,’’ praising both Lake and Karrin Taylor Robson, Lake’s main rival, as “strong leaders’’ who “ran respectable campaigns.’’ She then launched into a full-throated endorsement of Lake, who now faces Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in the November general election.

But that call has yet to be answered.

“It is my hope that our Republican nominees are successful in November,’’ Robson said in her concession statement late Thursday. But there was no endorsement of Lake — and no indication she will do anything to help her former foe.

“This part of my life’s journey has come to an end,’’ Robson said. “Now, I need time to be with my family and get back to my business.’’

There also was a snub of sorts by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, whom Lake repeatedly insulted during the campaign by calling “do-nothing Ducey.’’

The Republican Governors Association put out a statement Thursday night congratulating Lake on her victory. Of note, though, is that the quote came from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, the organization’s vice chair, and not from Ducey, who chairs the organization and had endorsed Robson.

Even on Friday there was no response to inquiries made to Ducey’s press aide about Lake’s win.

But Republican strategist Stan Barnes said he thinks the party faithful eventually will come around.

“The party’s been through really bad fights in the past,’’ said Barnes, a former state legislator. “I think the dust will settle.’’

The reason is the desire to win, he noted.

“To be unifying, you don’t have to have 100% love,’’ Barnes said.

“You have to have voters see you represent a better picture than the other guy,’’ he continued. “And I believe that will happen.’’

Barnes said Lake, a former, longtime news anchor in Phoenix, has something else unrelated to her stance on issues.

“If you’re with her at a rally, if you’re with her in a living room, she is the most unifying and likable charismatic politician that I have seen in decades,’’ he said.

It was that “super power,’’ he said, that enabled Lake, vastly outspent by Robson and her political allies, to pull out a win.

And it could be Lake’s path to victory, said independent pollster Mike Noble.

“There’s a big difference between Kari Lake’s personality and Hobbs’ personality,’’ he said. “And that could be the X factor.’’

Noble said Hobbs’ best bet is not to “get in the mud’’ with Lake. That could mean avoiding at all costs any face-to-face debate, or letting Lake set the political agenda, he said.

“The biggest opportunity for Lake is for Katie Hobbs to mess up,’’ Noble said.

Conversely, he said, to the extent Lake continues to make her campaign about the 2020 presidential race, she will end up meeting the same fate as Donald Trump in Arizona — losing the votes of the more affluent Republicans, who were the same people who supported Robson.

The strategy for Hobbs, said Noble, is to take a page from the playbook used by the state’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, who portrayed themselves “right in the middle.’’

GOP consultant Chuck Coughlin agreed that the model being used again this year by Kelly is the one for Hobbs to follow.

He noted the endorsement of Kelly by Mesa Mayor John Giles, a Republican, complete with a commercial.

“They’ve got to do, ‘Hey, we’re problem solvers,’ ‘’ Coughlin said of Hobbs and her campaign.

“That’s an appealing message to unaffiliated voters,’’ he said. “That’s an appealing message to the Republican base, or the Republican portion of Karrin Taylor Robson’s crew.’’

What that also means, Couglin said, is not getting wrapped up in the progressive message — and not letting Lake put Hobbs on the defensive that she’s a Joe Biden clone or a socialist or a supporter of an open border.

“If they can just talk about solving problems, if they can embrace that message, that’s where the narrative needs to be in order to make themselves available to that portion of the electorate that wants to show up and wants progress,’’ he said.

Fann, for her part, acknowledged that primaries are by their nature divisive, as candidates from each party stake out positions that can span the political spectrum. And that’s what happened among Republicans.

“But when it’s time to go on to the general (election), it’s not so much about the person, it’s about the issues,’’ the Prescott Republican said.

That often means asking voters if they are happier now than they were several years ago, Fann said — presumably meaning before President Biden took office. That can play very well for Lake, she said.

A question that remains, though, is can — or will — Lake make the changes necessary to broaden her base beyond what has been a central theme that elections were rigged and that Trump actually won the 2020 race in Arizona.

Fann said she believes that now, with the primary over, Lake is “going to surround herself with some good policy that will also help her navigate and guide through that.’’

She said Lake has one other asset that works in her favor. Lake’s background in the media means she has “her finger on the pulse on what people are thinking and the issues and everything else,’’ Fann said.

“She’s not somebody out of the blue,’’ Fann said. “She’s somebody that’s been engaged in politics for a long time now.’’

But so, for that matter, has Hobbs, who was an elected state legislator before becoming secretary of state four years ago.

And Lake clearly still has at least one foot in the election conspiracy camp: an active lawsuit playing out in federal court seeking to bar Arizona from using machines to tabulate ballots.

In legal papers, Lake and Mark Finchem, now the Republican nominee for Arizona secretary of state, contend the machines are unreliable because they are subject to hacking. They say the use of components in computers from other countries makes them vulnerable. No date has been set for a hearing.

Polling so far is sparse.

A survey run by Beacon Research of 504 likely voters suggested Hobbs was the choice over Lake by a 49% to 40% margin. But that was conducted in early July, before Lake became the nominee.

2022 election coverage from the Arizona Daily Star

Find stories covering this year's elections and find results all in one place. 

To read Southern Arizona candidates' guest opinions, click here

We will regularly update this collection with more of the latest election coverage.

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Bowers faced an uphill battle in Mesa, especially after the state Republican Party censured him following his June testimony critical of Trump before the panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress.

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