Election Day 2022: Democrat Hobbs leads Republican Lake for Arizona governor

The state is a battleground this cycle.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2022
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The Republicans running for Arizona's three top statewide offices have said they wouldn't have signed off on the 2020 presidential results if they were in office at the time of that election.

PHOENIX -- Democrat Katie Hobbs led Republican Kari Lake in the race for Arizona governor, but the battle for control of the crucial battleground state was too early to call.

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.

Hobbs, Arizona's secretary of state, 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.

Governor Election

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.

Republicans nominated for statewide offices a slate of Trump-endorsed candidates who have promoted falsehoods about the 2020 election as a centerpiece of their campaigns. All trailed their Democratic rivals in initial election returns, which reflected mail ballots received ahead of the election. Those margins were expected to diminish as more ballots were counted.

Hobbs and other Democrats told supporters they were encouraged by the early returns but warned a long slog of counting was ahead.

"I have every confidence that the counties administering this election conducted a free and fair election, and their results will be accurate," Hobbs told supporters gathered in Phoenix. "But they will take time, so prepare for a long evening and a few more days of counting."

Mail ballots returned Tuesday or shortly before were not yet reported and will be counted in the coming days.

With razor-thin margins between the parties, it often takes days to know the results of key races in Arizona, and it's not uncommon for the candidate leading on election night to end up losing when all votes are counted.

Trouble with vote-tabulation machines at about 25% of polling places in Maricopa County, Arizona's most populous, generated criticism on social media, but officials said every vote would be counted.

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.

Nine in 10 voters say the future of democracy in the U.S. is a factor in their voting decisions, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,200 voters in Arizona. They were evenly split between the two candidates for governor. Roughly 4 in 10 say it is the single most important factor.

A majority - roughly 7 in 10 voters - say they are confident that votes will be counted accurately in this year's election. Among these voters, about 6 in 10 backed Hobbs. Among the roughly one-quarter who said they were not confident that votes would be counted accurately, about 8 in 10 backed Lake.

Lake predicted she will make up the gap and overtake Hobbs, reminding her supporters that she was down in early returns from the GOP primary before overtaking her establishment-backed rival as more ballots were counted.

"God did not put us in this fight because it was going to be easy," Lake told supporters at a GOP celebration in Scottsdale. "Not one thing that we've had to go through has been easy."

She condemned the printer mishap in Maricopa County, calling it "another stark reminder that we have incompetent people running the show in Arizona" and pledging that her "first line of action is to restore honesty to Arizona 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.

Hobbs, a social worker before turning to politics, was weighed down by her decision not to debate Lake. 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.

Nearly half of Arizona voters say the economy is the most important issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast. And nearly all voters said inflation was a factor in their votes, with about half saying it was the single most important factor.

For about two-thirds of Arizona voters, the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the ruling that recognized a constitutional right to abortion, was an important factor. Those voters overwhelmingly favored Hobbs over Lake.

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.

Sen. Mark Kelly takes early lead in battleground Arizona

Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly led his Republican rival, venture capitalist Blake Masters, but the race that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate was too early to call.

Kelly's 2020 special election victory gave Democrats both of Arizona's Senate seats for the first time in 70 years. It was propelled by the state's fast-changing demographics and the unpopularity of then-President Donald Trump.

This time, the unpopular president, Joe Biden, is from Kelly's own party, and the environment looks less favorable for Democrats.

The Arizona race is one of a handful of contests that Republicans targeted in their bid to take control of what is now a 50-50 Senate. It's a test of the inroads that Kelly and other Democrats have made in a state once reliably dominated by Republicans and will offer clues about whether Democratic success here was an aberration during the Trump presidency or an enduring phenomenon.

Kelly led in the initial results Tuesday, which reflected mail ballots returned ahead of Election Day. Masters was expected to narrow that lead as ballots cast in person are tabulated. Mail ballots returned on Tuesday or shortly before were not yet reported and will be counted in the coming days.

With razor-thin margins between the parties, it often takes days to know the results of key races in Arizona, and it's not uncommon for the candidate leading on election night to end up losing when all votes are counted.

Senate Election

Kelly thanked his family and supporters gathered in Tucson and said he was confident he would prevail once all ballots are counted.

"It's been the honor of my life to represent Arizona in the United States Senate," Kelly said. "And for as long as I'm there, I'll be honest with you, I will protect our country and our democracy."

Kelly, 58, has distanced himself from Biden, particularly on border security, and plays down his Democratic affiliation. Masters emerged bruised from the contentious Republican primary and struggled to raise money, but polls suggest the race is nonetheless close.

Kelly's political identity as been defined by two pieces of his biography. He flew in space four times as a NASA astronaut. And he's married to former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who inspired the nation with her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head. The shooting during a 2011 constituent event in Tucson killed six people and injured 13. Kelly and Giffords went on to co-found a gun control advocacy group.

Kelly's campaign has largely focused on his support for abortion rights, protecting Social Security, lowering drug prices and ensuring a stable water supply in the midst of a drought, which has curtailed Arizona's cut of Colorado River water.

He's styled himself as an independent willing to buck his party, in the style of Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, whose death led to the special election that Kelly won in 2020.

Masters has tried to penetrate Kelly's independent image, aligning him with Biden's failure to secure the U.S.-Mexico border and tamp down on rampant inflation.

"Mark Kelly is no John McCain. He's not even a Kyrsten Sinema," Masters said at a campaign event last month, referring to Arizona's senior senator known for political fights with her fellow Democrats. "He's a rubber stamp vote for Joe Biden's agenda."

Nearly half of Arizona voters say the economy is the most important issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,200 voters in Arizona. And nearly all voters said inflation was a factor in their votes, with about half saying it was the single most important factor.

Nearly 6 in 10 voters say Biden's policies are more to blame for inflation than are factors outside of Biden's control.

Almost two-thirds of voters say they are confident they can keep up with their expenses. Of that group, about half supported Kelly. Among voters who are not confident about meeting their expenses, about half backed Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters.

Masters won Trump's endorsement after claiming "Trump won in 2020." Under pressure during a debate last month, he acknowledged he hasn't seen evidence the election was rigged, but later doubled down on the false claim that Trump won.

Masters, 36, worked for most of his adult life for billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel, who bankrolled Masters' primary run but was stingier during the general election. Masters endeared himself to many GOP primary voters with his penchant for provocation and contrarian thinking. But since then, he has struggled to redefine his image for the more moderate swing voters who will decide Tuesday's election.

During the primary, Masters called for privatizing Social Security, took a hard-line stance against abortion and promoted a racist theory popular with white nationalists that Democrats are seeking to use immigration to replace white people in America.

Masters later scrubbed some controversial positions from his website.

For about two-thirds of Arizona voters, the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the ruling that recognized a constitutional right to abortion, was an important factor, according to AP VoteCast. Those voters overwhelmingly favored Hobbs over Lake and Kelly over Masters.

A slight majority of voters approve of outgoing Gov. Doug Ducey's decision to send migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to northern Democratic states. A large majority - almost 8 out of 10 - favor increasing law enforcement presence at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a state that has been a center of baseless allegations of election fraud, 9 in 10 voters say the future of democracy in the U.S. was a factor in their voting decisions. Among these voters, more favored Kelly than Masters.

Roughly 4 in 10 named the future of democracy in America as the single most important factor in the election.

Latino or Hispanic voters made up roughly 2 in 10 Arizona voters, according to the survey. They are more likely to favor Kelly over Masters.

Roughly one-fifth of Kelly's supporters are Latino or Hispanic; slightly more than 1 in 10 of Masters' backers are.

House Election