Democrats Worry Katie Hobbs Is Stumbling in Arizona’s Governor Race – The New York Times

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Hobbs, the Arizona secretary of state, has often been overshadowed by her Republican opponent, Kari Lake, in one of the country’s closest and most important contests.
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It’s angst season on the left — and perhaps nowhere more so than in Arizona, which appears determined to retain its crown as 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 chance to defeat Kari Lake in one of the most 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 about the 2020 election, has taken a hard 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 decision by Hobbs, who has served as Arizona’s secretary of state since 2019, to decline to debate Lake. Instead, Hobbs arranged a one-on-one interview with a local PBS affiliate, a move that prompted the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, a group 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 able to 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 eager to participate in a town-hall-style event” but would not join a debate that “would only lead to constant interruptions, pointless distractions and childish name-calling.”
On Wednesday, Lake repeated her challenge to debate Hobbs and accused Arizona PBS, which did not respond to a request for comment, of cutting “a back-room deal with that coward to give her airtime that she does not 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 Lake conducted herself during a Republican primary debate in June, in which she dodged questions and repeated falsehoods about what happened in 2020. “I have no desire to be a part of the spectacle that she’s looking to create, because that doesn’t do any service to the voters,” Hobbs said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Among 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 would debate, and I would want the people of Arizona to know what my platform is,” Kennedy told NBC News.
Much remains uncertain. For the second Election Day in a row, election night ended without a clear winner. Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, takes a look at the state of the races for the House and Senate, and when we might know the outcome:
The House. Republicans are likelier than not to win the House, but it is no certainty. There are still several key races that remain uncalled, and in many of these contests, late mail ballots have the potential to help Democrats. It will take days to count them.
The Senate. The fight for the Senate will come down to three states: Nevada, Georgia and Arizona. Outstanding ballots in Nevada and Arizona could take days to count, but control of the chamber may ultimately hinge on Georgia, which is headed for a Dec. 6 runoff.
How we got here. The political conditions seemed ripe for Republicans to make big midterm pickups, but voters had other ideas. Read our five takeaways and analysis of why the “red wave” didn’t materialize for the G.O.P.
Laurie Roberts, a liberal columnist for The Arizona Republic, published a scathing column on Hobbs this week in which she wrote that the Democratic nominee’s refusal to debate Lake “represents a new 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 think 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 rather than prosecuting a political argument against her opponent. Democrats called it a missed opportunity to highlight’s Lake’s slippery answers about the 2020 election.
One reason for the fraying nerves among 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 during the 2024 presidential election and help usher Trump back into power. Her charisma and on-camera skills make her uniquely dangerous, they say.
Privately, while Democrats acknowledge that anxiety about the governor’s race is running high, they insist that Hobbs is running about as well as any Democrat could.
They note that the contest is essentially tied in polls even though Arizona is a purple state with a deep reservoir of conservative voting habits. The current Republican governor, Doug Ducey, won re-election by more than 14 percentage points in 2018. (Ducey is stepping down because of term limits.) And they say that Hobbs, unlike Lake, is aiming her pitch primarily at swing voters rather than at her party’s base.
According to 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 failed to campaign vigorously enough, in contrast to the seemingly omnipresent Lake. Allies of Hobbs defend her by noting that she has been bopping around the state, but in something of an acknowledgment that she could do more, they say she is planning a third statewide tour as Arizona’s scorching heat dissipates this fall.
“Katie Hobbs has been running an incredibly strong campaign, and the fact that this race is so competitive speaks to that,” said Christina Amestoy, a communications aide at 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 as well as from partisan Democrats — a recognition, she said, that voters want “substance” over “conspiracy theories.”
With the help of the governors group, which has transferred $7 million to the Arizona Democratic Party, Hobbs has spent more 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 one spot that Arizona law enforcement officers could 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 worker who drove for Uber as a state lawmaker to help make ends meet, an implied contrast to Lake, whose career as a newscaster made her moderately wealthy.
Democrats are counting on appealing to crossover voters in the suburbs, as they did when Biden won the state in 2020. They have highlighted Lake’s comments ripping Republicans who have 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 benefit, too, from the strength of Senator Mark Kelly, a Democrat who is polling comfortably ahead of Blake Masters, the Republican challenger in Arizona’s Senate race.
Democrats in Arizona are running a coordinated statewide campaign that allows them, in theory, to reap economies of scale, target their spending and avoid duplicative efforts on traditional campaign activities like door-knocking and turnout operations.
In contrast, Republicans in the state are in the midst of a power 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 one small illustration of the infighting on the right, the Republican Governors Association has begun funneling its advertising money through the Yuma County Republican Party rather than the official state party, an unusual arrangement that speaks to the level of mutual mistrust between national Republican leaders and Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of the state Republican Party.
That has given Democrats slightly more bang for their advertising 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 in the Democratic shirt-rending over Hobbs — a welcome diversion, perhaps, from their own internal squabbles.
“In a state where problems with illegal immigration and the economy are top of mind, Democrats were always going to be at a disadvantage because voters don’t believe their party can adequately fix the issues,” 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 will set off a fierce legal battle. Catch 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 more than Democrats are for television ads on the exact 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 far more glowingly about Trump on rally stages than they do in televised debates.
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