By JONATHAN J. COOPER
PHOENIX (AP) — Kari Lake, a former news anchor who walked away from her journalism career and was embraced by Donald Trump and his staunch supporters, won the Republican primary for Arizona governor on Thursday.
Lake’s victory was a blow to the GOP establishment that lined up behind lawyer and businesswoman Karrin Taylor Robson in an attempt to push their party past the chaotic Trump era. Lake said she would not have certified President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory and put false claims of election fraud at the center of her campaign.
“Arizonans who have been forgotten by the establishment just delivered a political earthquake,” Lake said in a statement after the race was called.
Republicans now enter the general election sprint with a slate of nominees closely allied with Trump who deny that Biden was legitimately elected president. Lake will face Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in the November election.
“This race for governor isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. It’s a choice between sanity and chaos,” Hobbs said Thursday night in a statement on Lake’s victory.
Early election results showing only mail ballots received before Election Day gave Robson a solid lead, but that was whittled down as votes from polling places were added to the tally. Lake’s victory became clear Thursday when Maricopa County released results from thousands of mail ballots dropped off at the polls on Tuesday.
“The voters of Arizona have spoken,” Robson said in a statement conceding to Lake late Thursday. “I accept the results, I trust the process and the people who administer it.”
In a midterm primary season with mixed results for Trump’s favored candidates, the former president came out on top in Arizona, a state that has been central to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and cast doubt on Biden’s victory. In addition to Lake, Trump’s picks for U.S. Senate, secretary of state, attorney general, U.S. House and the state Legislature all won their GOP primaries.
If they win in November, Trump allies will hold sway over the administration of elections in a crucial battleground state as he considers another bid for the White House in 2024. The results also show that Trump remains a powerful figure in the GOP as longtime party stalwarts get increasingly bold in their efforts to reassert control ahead of the next presidential campaign.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie all campaigned for Robson in the days before the election.
Robson, who is married to one of Arizona’s richest men, largely self-funded her campaign. She called the 2020 election “unfair” but stopped short of calling it fraudulent and pushed for the GOP to look toward the future.
Lake now faces the daunting task of uniting the Republican Party after a bruising primary. On Wednesday, as Lake declared victory prematurely, she attempted to reach out to Robson and others she fiercely criticized as RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only, who don’t align with Trump on key issues.
“Frankly, this party needs her to come together, and I welcome her,” Lake said of Robson. “And I hope that she will come over for this.”
Robson said she’s spent her life supporting Republicans, “and it is my hope that our Republican nominees are successful in November.”
Like Trump, Lake courts controversy and confrontation. She berates journalists and dodges questions. She burned masks during the COVID-19 surge in the summer of 2021 and attacked Republicans like Ducey who allowed restrictions on businesses, though as a news anchor she encouraged people to follow public health guidance.
Lake spent the days leading up to her own election claiming there were signs of fraud, but she refused to provide any evidence. Once her victory was assured, she said voters should trust her win is legitimate.
“We outvoted the fraud,” Lake said. She pointed to problems in Pinal County, which ran out of ballots in some precincts and had to print more, but she and her attorney, Tim La Sota, refused to provide evidence backing up her claims of fraud.
She said she has no plans to stop talking about election fraud even as she needs to broaden her appeal beyond the loyalists her powered her primary victory.
Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence the 2020 election was tainted. Trump’s allegations of fraud were also roundly rejected by courts, including by judges he appointed. A hand recount led by Trump supporters in Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest, found no proof of a stolen election and concluded Biden’s margin of victory was larger than the official count.
Hobbs, Lake’s opponent in November, went after the candidate over her opposition to abortion rights and gun control and a proposal she floated to put cameras in every classroom to keep an eye on teachers.
Republicans, moving toward November as a divided party in Arizona, need to make an appeal to the independent voters who decide close races, said Chuck Coughlin, a longtime Republican strategist who left the party during the Trump era.
“I see it as a challenge the Republicans are going to have: How do they narrate to unaffiliated voters?” Coughlin said.