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Democrats Worry Katie Hobbs Is Stumbling in Arizona’s Governor Race


It’s angst season on the left — and maybe nowhere more so than in Arizona, which appears determined to retain its crown as probably the most politically volatile state in America.

Democrats are openly expressing their alarm that Katie Hobbs, the party’s nominee for governor, is fumbling a probability to defeat Kari Lake in one of the closely watched races of the 2022 campaign.

Lake, a telegenic former television anchor who rose to prominence as she pantomimed Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories concerning the 2020 election, has taken a tough line against abortion and routinely uses strident language on the stump. The Atlantic recently called her “Trumpism’s leading lady.” She has largely overshadowed Hobbs, whose more subdued personality has driven far fewer headlines.

The immediate object of Democratic hand-wringing this week is a call by Hobbs, who has served as Arizona’s secretary of state since 2019, to say no to debate Lake. As a substitute, Hobbs arranged a one-on-one interview with a neighborhood PBS affiliate, a move that prompted the Residents Clean Elections Commission, a gaggle established by a ballot initiative in 1998, to cancel its planned Q. and A. with Lake.

Thomas Collins, executive director of the commission, said in an interview that the Hobbs campaign had never seriously negotiated over the format of a debate — and that, in any case, the organization was neither willing nor capable of accommodate what officials there viewed as an “ultimatum” from the secretary of state’s team about policing the “content” of the event.

He shared an exchange of letters and emails between the commission and Nicole DeMont, Hobbs’s campaign manager, who wrote in an email that Hobbs was “willing and desperate to take part in a town-hall-style event” but wouldn’t join a debate that “would only result in constant interruptions, pointless distractions and childish name-calling.”

On Wednesday, Lake repeated her challenge to debate Hobbs and accused Arizona PBS, which didn’t reply to a request for comment, of cutting “a back-room cope with that coward to present her airtime that she doesn’t deserve.”

Days earlier, Lake tried to ambush Hobbs during a town hall event at which the candidates made separate appearances onstage — a stunt that was clearly intended to embarrass the Democrat.

Hobbs has said she was simply reacting to the way in which Lake conducted herself during a Republican primary debate in June, wherein she dodged questions and repeated falsehoods about what happened in 2020. “I don’t have any desire to be a component of the spectacle that she’s seeking to create, because that doesn’t do any service to the voters,” Hobbs said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Amongst those second-guessing Hobbs’s decision this week was Sandra Kennedy, a co-chairwoman of President Biden’s 2020 campaign in Arizona. “If I were the candidate for governor, I might debate, and I might want the people of Arizona to know what my platform is,” Kennedy told NBC News.

With the primaries over, each parties are shifting their focus to the final election on Nov. 8.

Laurie Roberts, a liberal columnist for The Arizona Republic, published a scathing column on Hobbs this week wherein she wrote that the Democratic nominee’s refusal to debate Lake “represents a recent level of political malpractice.”

And David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, criticized Hobbs on his podcast for what he said was a “mistake” in avoiding debates with Lake. He added, “I feel it’s a recognition that Kari Lake is a formidable media personality.”

Democrats have also noted that when Hobbs appeared on “Face the Nation” — directly after Lake gave an interview to Major Garrett of CBS News — she spent much of the eight-minute interview on the defensive slightly than prosecuting a political argument against her opponent. Democrats called it a missed opportunity to focus on’s Lake’s slippery answers concerning the 2020 election.

One reason for the fraying nerves amongst Democrats is their widely shared view that the stakes of the governor’s race in Arizona are existential for the party. Democrats fear that Lake, if elected, would conspire to tilt the state back into the Republican column through the 2024 presidential election and help usher Trump back into power. Her charisma and on-camera skills make her uniquely dangerous, they are saying.

Privately, while Democrats acknowledge that anxiety concerning the governor’s race is running high, they insist that Hobbs is running about in addition to any Democrat could.

They note that the competition is basically tied in polls though Arizona is a purple state with a deep reservoir of conservative voting habits. The present Republican governor, Doug Ducey, won re-election by greater than 14 percentage points in 2018. (Ducey is stepping down due to term limits.) They usually say that Hobbs, unlike Lake, is aiming her pitch primarily at swing voters slightly than at her party’s base.

Based on the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index, which measures the past performance of states and congressional districts across the country, Republicans have a built-in advantage in Arizona of two percentage points.

Some Democrats say Hobbs has did not campaign vigorously enough, in contrast to the seemingly omnipresent Lake. Allies of Hobbs defend her by noting that she has been bopping across the state, but in something of an acknowledgment that she could do more, they are saying she is planning a 3rd statewide tour as Arizona’s scorching heat dissipates this fall.

“Katie Hobbs has been running an incredibly strong campaign, and the indisputable fact that this race is so competitive speaks to that,” said Christina Amestoy, a communications aide on the Democratic Governors Association, who dismissed the concerns as “angst from the chattering class.”

Amestoy noted that Hobbs was drawing support from independents and Republicans in addition to from partisan Democrats — a recognition, she said, that voters want “substance” over “conspiracy theories.”

With the assistance of the governors group, which has transferred $7 million to the Arizona Democratic Party, Hobbs has spent greater than $10 million on television ads since Labor Day. She has leaned heavily on two themes: her support for law enforcement, and a portrayal of Lake as an extremist on abortion.

Several Hobbs ads show Chris Nanos, the grizzled sheriff of Pima County, in uniform. Nanos warns in a single spot that Arizona law enforcement officers may very well be required to arrest doctors and nurses who perform abortions if Lake becomes governor. He says such a move would divert resources from fighting crime and illegal immigration.

Other ads introducing Hobbs to voters have depicted her as a down-to-earth former social employee who drove for Uber as a state lawmaker to assist make ends meet, an implied contrast to Lake, whose profession as a newscaster made her moderately wealthy.

Democrats are counting on appealing to crossover voters within the suburbs, as they did when Biden won the state in 2020. They’ve highlighted Lake’s comments ripping Republicans who’ve criticized her as “a cavalcade of losers” and depicted her attempts to distance herself from previous hard-line remarks on abortion as duplicitous.

Hobbs might profit, too, from the strength of Senator Mark Kelly, a Democrat who’s polling comfortably ahead of Blake Masters, the Republican challenger in Arizona’s Senate race.

Democrats in Arizona are running a coordinated statewide campaign that permits them, in theory, to reap economies of scale, goal their spending and avoid duplicative efforts on traditional campaign activities like door-knocking and turnout operations.

In contrast, Republicans within the state are within the midst of an influence struggle between the fading establishment wing of the G.O.P., led by Ducey, and the emerging Trump-backed wing, spearheaded by Lake and Mark Finchem, the party’s nominee for secretary of state.

In a single small illustration of the infighting on the fitting, the Republican Governors Association has begun funneling its promoting money through the Yuma County Republican Party slightly than the official state party, an unusual arrangement that speaks to the extent of mutual mistrust between national Republican leaders and Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of the state Republican Party.

That has given Democrats barely more bang for his or her promoting dollar, because Republicans were paying higher rates before they made the shift to the Yuma County Republican Party.

Republicans, projecting increased confidence in Lake’s eventual victory, reveled within the Democratic shirt-rending over Hobbs — a welcome diversion, perhaps, from their very own internal squabbles.

“In a state where problems with illegal immigration and the economy are top of mind, Democrats were at all times going to be at a drawback because voters don’t imagine their party can adequately fix the problems,” said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the R.G.A. “What Democrats couldn’t plan for was Katie Hobbs’s self-immolation in front of a national audience.”

  • The House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol voted on Thursday to issue a subpoena to former President Trump, a move that may set off a fierce legal battle. Meet up with our live coverage of the day’s dramatic proceedings here.

  • In state after state, Republicans are paying double, triple, quadruple and sometimes even 10 times greater than Democrats are for television ads on the very same programs, Shane Goldmacher reports.

  • Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a Trump loyalist, has long antagonized Mitt Romney, the state’s other Republican senator. But now, as Lee finds himself in a surprisingly close race for re-election against Evan McMullin, an independent candidate, he’s pleading for Romney’s support. Jonathan Weisman explains.

  • Michael Bender examines a peculiar phenomenon: how Republican candidates talk much more glowingly about Trump on rally stages than they do in televised debates.

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