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How (and why) Katie Hobbs beat Kari Lake in key Arizona race

Kari Lake didn’t try to appeal to Democrats, repelled independents, and told John McCain's backers she didn’t want their support. This didn't work.


Republican primary voters in several battleground states came up with a curious strategy this year. In highly competitive gubernatorial races, they thought the smart move would be to nominate right-wing election deniers, each of whom had effectively no appeal outside the GOP base, even in states that supported President Joe Biden just two years ago.

The strategy failed badly in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. As NBC News reported, we now know it didn’t work in Arizona, either.

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has defeated Republican Kari Lake in Arizona’s race for governor, NBC News projected Monday. Hobbs’ victory is key for Democrats in a presidential battleground state and a rebuke to a prominent election denier — although the closeness of the contest left the result up in the air for nearly a week.

As the dust settles, how many non-incumbent election deniers won gubernatorial races this year? Literally none.

This was, by all appearances, one of the keys to Hobbs’ victory: The incumbent Democratic secretary of state, having already successfully run for statewide office in Arizona, focused on being mature, mainstream and, at times, deliberately unexciting. Hobbs didn’t want to be a television personality with a national profile; she wanted to be a governor.

Lake’s approach was ... different. New York magazine’s Jon Chait noted, before the race was called, “Lake is a paradigmatic example of a stop-the-steal candidate. Her dedication to the lie was so resolute that Trump urged fellow stop-the-stealer Blake Masters to follow her example. (‘If they say, ‘How is your family?’ she says, ‘The election was rigged and stolen,’’ he gushed.)”

Lake’s over-the-top radicalism and aggressive commitment to conspiratorial lies became so notorious that she was lampooned on “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend.

As major news organizations called the race last night, the firebrand, first-time candidate declared via Twitter, “Arizonans know BS when they see it.”

As it turns out, that’s true, but not in the way the Republican intended: Arizonans heard what Lake had to say and then voted for her opponent. They clearly knew “BS” when they saw it.

NBC News’ report added that the network’s exit polling found Hobbs “winning the majority of independent voters and 59% of self-described moderates, who made up a plurality of the electorate.”

There’s no great mystery here as to what happened here: Arizona may have earned a reputation as a traditionally “red” state, but Lake had no crossover appeal, didn’t even try to appeal to Democrats, repelled independents, and even explicitly told supporters of the late Sen. John McCain — in Arizona, no less — that she didn’t want their support.

An Arizona Republican strategist remarked overnight to a CNN reporter, “Kari Lake told a legion of John McCain supporters across Arizona that they could go to hell. Tonight, they returned the favor.”

When Hobbs is sworn in early next year, it will be the first time in more than 70 years that Arizona Democrats will hold both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats and the governor’s office.