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Hobbs refuses to debate Lake in Arizona governor race

Lake, Hobbs

Republican Kari Lake, left, and Democrat Katie Hobbs

Arizona voters will not see a debate between the major gubernatorial hopefuls.

Democrat Katie Hobbs said Sunday she will not share a stage with Republican Kari Lake. Campaign manager Nicole DeMont charged that Lake, who used her GOP primary debate to decry a “corrupt, stolen election,’’ would turn the planned Oct. 12 event into “constant interruptions, pointless distractions, and childish name-calling.”

The decision came even after the Citizens Clean Election Commission, after hearing DeMont’s concerns last week, agreed to let her propose changes in the format. And it even committed to some strict time limits for answers.

What was not negotiable for commission members was the candidates appearing on stage together, just like every other debate it has sponsored over the past two decades. They said the public is entitled to see the candidates side by side.

But DeMont did not even respond with any new proposals before Sunday’s outright rejection. Instead, she told Capitol Media Services on Monday that Hobbs remains wedded to — and unwilling to compromise over — her demand for a “town hall” type event, where each candidate would be interviewed separately by Arizona PBS host Ted Simons.

Anything else, she said, is unacceptable.

“I wouldn’t even characterize it as playing dirty,” DeMont said of how Lake would behave in an hourlong debate.

“It’s just not rooted in reality,” she continued. “She can’t even admit that Joe Biden is the president.”

So Hobbs, DeMont said, sees no reason to even consider sharing the stage. Instead, she said, the Democratic nominee is spending her time on the road meeting with voters.

And DeMont noted Hobbs already did one town hall type event with Lake at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with another planned for next month.

But the excuse to avoid a general election debate because of Lake’s claim does not explain why Hobbs refused to participate in the Clean Elections debate with former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez ahead of the Democratic primary.

DeMont said she wasn’t working for Hobbs’ campaign at that point.

The word from the campaign at that time was that a debate would not fit into Hobbs’ schedule, even though Tom Collins, the commission’s executive director, said the panel routinely alters dates to accommodate the candidates.

But Hobbs, as secretary of state, also made it clear she didn’t see any benefit in debating the lesser-known Lopez and potentially giving him some traction.

“As the only candidate on either side of the aisle with a clear path through the primary, Katie remains focused on the big picture: winning in November so that she can defend Arizona from Kari Lake’s conspiracy theories and never-ending lies that threaten Arizonans’ freedoms,” her campaign staff said at the time.

And that now means not debating Lake.

What all this also means is that Hobbs will enter the Nov. 8 general election without ever once debating any of her opponents. But DeMont insisted she does not believe that will turn off voters or weaken Hobbs’ chances of winning what recent polling has shown could be a close race.

“I think if we did, we’d be doing something different,” she said. As proof, DeMont said, Hobbs just finished a tour of northern Arizona.

“This is not the thing that voters were talking to Secretary Hobbs about,” she said. “They were talking about the issues that are important to them, not about what was going back and forth between Clean Elections.”

Hobbs’ decision to avoid debating Lake is not a surprise.

DeMont balked last week when commission chairman Damien Meyer asked her whether there are any conditions under which the candidate would agree to participate in the same kind of debate the commission has sponsored for decades. DeMont said she would not respond to “hypothetical” questions.

Hobbs’ decision means that Lake will get 30 minutes of her own on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate, on Oct. 12. She will be questioned by Simons who has hosted other debates. That is precisely what happened when Hobbs snubbed a debate with Lopez.

No other major candidate for any Arizona statewide office has refused to debate.

Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has been reporting since 1970 and covering state politics and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on Twitter at @azcapmedia or email

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