Trump ally faces election defender in Arizona governor race

PHOENIX (AP) — The appeal of Donald Trump’s movement will be put to the test Tuesday in the race for governor of Arizona, a crucial battleground state where the former president’s allies have taken control of the Republican Party.

Republican Kari Lake, a former television news anchor, says she would not have certified the state’s 2020 election results. Her television-ready demeanor, confrontations with journalists and combative message for Democrats made the first-time candidate a rising star on the right whose future in national politics is already being debated.

Lake faces Democrat Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state who rose to prominence defending the integrity of President Joe Biden’s victory in Arizona, where he eked out the smallest margin of any state he won two years ago.

The results will be a window into the pulse of the electorate in Arizona, a longtime Republican stronghold that turned toward Democrats during the Trump era. They’ll provide insight into whether Biden’s success here in 2020 was a onetime event or the onset of a long-term shift away from the GOP.

Trouble with vote-tabulation machines at 20% of polling places in Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous, generated criticism on social media but a spokesperson for the state’s elections department said the problem was minor.

“Voters have options,” spokesperson Megan Gilbertson said. “They can wait to put their ballot in the working tabulator, they can use the secure drop box, or they can go to another voting center if they don’t want to wait.”

The election comes as Biden struggles from lagging approval and Trump strongly hints that he will run again in 2024.

With such high stakes, Arizona has been central to efforts by Trump and his allies to cast doubt on Biden’s victory with false claims of fraud. Trump-endorsed candidates who deny the legitimacy of Biden’s victory won GOP primaries up and down the ballot and could take control of offices with a central role in elections.

Hobbs has cast the race for governor as a contest between sanity and chaos, branding Lake as “seriously dangerous” and drawing attention to the Republican’s opposition to abortion rights. That quest was helped by a judge’s ruling in September that said prosecutors can enforce a law dating to 1864 that outlaws all abortions unless a patient’s life is in danger. The ruling was later put on hold.

Hobbs, a social worker before turning to politics, was weighed down by her decision not to debate Lake. She said she didn’t want to give Lake a platform to share election lies, pointing to a raucous GOP primary debate that Hobbs said Lake turned into a “spectacle.” She ran a cautious campaign, sticking largely to scripted and choreographed public appearances.

Lake brought people dressed as chickens — and sometimes live hens — to campaign events to make the case that Hobbs was scared to confront her. She also highlighted a successful discrimination lawsuit brought by a Black woman who was fired as a policy adviser to state Senate Democrats while Hobbs was the top Senate Democrat.

Lake is well known in much of the state after anchoring the evening news in Phoenix for more than two decades. She ran as a fierce critic of the mainstream media, which she said is unfair to Republicans.

Polished in front of the camera and comfortable in front of a crowd, Lake built an enthusiastic following and drew international media attention.

She was endorsed by Trump, who admired her ability — only slightly exaggerated — to respond to any question with a message about fixing elections. Lake has repeatedly refused to say that she would accept the results of the election if she loses.

The Hobbs team is betting that the race will be a referendum on Lake, and that Arizonans won’t like what they’re seeing.

Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence the election was tainted. The former president’s allegations of fraud were also roundly rejected by courts, including by judges Trump appointed. A hand recount led by Trump supporters in Arizona’s largest county found no proof of a stolen election and concluded Biden’s margin of victory was larger than the official count.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is blocked by term limits from seeking another term. Like most of the rest of Arizona’s Republican establishment, he backed Lake’s rival Karrin Taylor Robson in the primary, saying Lake was “putting on a show.” But he endorsed her for the general election and, as co-chairman of the Republican Governors Association, oversaw $11 million in advertising on her behalf.

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