Kari Lake, the former TV news anchor who built a campaign on bashing the media as propagandists and promoting falsehoods about the 2020 election, won the GOP nomination for governor in Arizona on Thursday night.
Lake will face Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state’s chief elections officer, in November, setting up a showdown being framed as election denier versus election defender.
The Trump-backed former primetime anchor for a Phoenix Fox affiliate beat Karrin Taylor Robson, a real estate developer and lawyer endorsed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who is term-limited.
Taylor Robson had an early lead after polls closed Tuesday, but Lake pulled ahead overnight as election day votes were being counted. By Wednesday morning, Lake was leading by fewer than 12,000 votes.
Lake gave a confident speech to supporters at her election night party in Scottsdale while also baselessly casting doubt on the electoral system, the Arizona Republic reported.
“I wanted to come out here tonight [and] say, ‘Wow, we already have the final results,’” she said. “But we know how our election systems work and they don’t work well. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m standing here.”
The GOP primary for governor was seen as a proxy war between Trump and Ducey, who became enemies after Ducey certified the election for Joe Biden. Lake has said that as governor, she wouldn’t have done the same in 2020, frequently calling the election “corrupt” and “stolen.” Joe Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Arizona in 24 years.
Trump campaigned for Lake last month, calling her a “truly great woman” at the rally on the same day that Pence, widely seen as gearing up for a 2024 presidential campaign of his own against Trump, campaigned for Taylor Robson.
A minor celebrity in Arizona’s largest media market, Lake enjoyed a steep early polling lead, but the race tightened after Ducey’s endorsement. Taylor Robson also poured more than $15 million of her own fortune into the race.
The matchup was heavily nationalized around Trump in a diversifying state facing a water crisis and concerns over border security.
“[Taylor Robson] has a narrative about her campaign, which is distinctly different from Lake’s narrative. The only thing Lake talks about is stolen election and Trump and immigration. Karrin has a more nuanced narrative and expresses a more confident attitude about governing that you would expect Republican voters to respond to,” GOP strategist Chuck Coughlin told HuffPost before the primary.
“But how high is the fever of Trumpism still in the Republican Party? That’s a risky bet.”
This is Lake’s first run for political office after a three-decade career as a TV news anchor.
After what former co-workers described to HuffPost as several rocky years that roughly lined up with Trump’s presidency — when she began using far-right social media platforms Parler and Gab — Lake left the station in 2021 and launched her campaign for governor not long after. Before swinging hard to the right, Lake was a supporter of Barack Obama and reportedly shared a “not my president” meme about Trump before his inauguration.
Since leaving the media, Lake has called the people in her former profession “corrupt” and “rotten,” and said that some journalists deserve to be locked up.
Lake has campaigned alongside Mark Finchem, a Republican state senator who shares her fringe views on the 2020 electionand has the endorsement of a number of far-right figures tied to Trump. Democrats who see that as a liability had boosted Lake in the primary in the hopes of having an easier opponent to beat in November.
But with a Republican governor and GOP-controlled legislature and two Democratic U.S. senators, Arizona is known for its independent streak, giving either party a chance to win as Joe Biden’s approval slumps.
“Given where the electorate is at” — on issues like the U.S.-Mexico border and inflation — “I think the state leans Republican, even if Kari Lake is the nominee,” said Kirk Adams, a former chief of staff to Ducey and former speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives.
“For those Democrats or progressives hoping for a Lake nomination, be careful what you wish for, because you could end up with Governor Lake,” he said.