Kari Lake, a former local news anchor, was declared the GOP primary winner in Arizona’s gubernatorial race on Thursday night after she had spent days fuming over unfounded voter-fraud allegations. Lake, who was endorsed by Donald Trump early in the primary, is an outspoken proponent of the former president’s “stolen election” claims, with so-called election integrity being a top priority of her campaign. But then she declared victory, executing Trump’s election theater playbook—one better suited for WrestleMania than a campaign trail—to a tee.
The former Fox 10 Phoenix broadcaster, who hours before polls closed Tuesday announced, “If we don’t win, there’s some cheating going on. And we already know that,” prematurely declared victory on election night. At the time votes were still being counted in the close race against her opponent Karrin Taylor Robson. “We out-voted the fraud, we didn’t listen to what the fake news had to say,” Lake told reporters, per the Arizona Mirror claiming the win before the race was called. “The MAGA movement rose up and voted like their lives depended on it.” When asked to substantiate these claims of fraud, Lake told the press that she didn’t “expect to turn you guys around,” and called them a “lost cause.”
Robson, a former member of the Arizona Board of Regents, received endorsement from GOP governor Doug Ducey—who cochairs the Republican Governors Association, the national campaign arm for GOP gubernatorial races—and from Mike Pence. Both Trump and Pence have visited Arizona in recent weeks to campaign for their preferred candidates. On Wednesday, when the race still hadn’t been called, Lake was raising alarms about “major issues” on election day.
But by Thursday, when the votes were counted and her lead stayed intact, Lake cooled on her skepticism of the results. She said in a statement that “the results took longer than they should have,” but has since touted her win in every Arizona county. She turned her attention to attack Katie Hobbs, the outgoing Arizona secretary of state and the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, for “[failing] to ensure an efficiently-processed election” in 2020. “Arizona just sent a clear message: our state is done with failed politicians like Katie Hobbs,” she added.
Lake is what happens when an election denier is confronted with being on the ballot. She is one of several Republican candidates across the country who have cynically co-opted Trump’s election denialism in their own races, as an Axios report pointed out. Ryan Kelley, a Michigan gubernatorial candidate who was hit with federal misdemeanor charges related to the Capitol riot (Kelley has pleaded not guilty), rejected his campaign’s loss this week, despite finishing the primary in fourth place. Kelley condemned the results as a “predetermined outcome.” Likewise, Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, a GOP state lawmaker and supporter of the “Stop the Steal” movement, implied that a shady election scheme was afoot in his race, as he claimed to have received reports from “people all over the state saying, ‘I’ve gotten ballots that I didn’t ask for.’” But like Lake, Finchem ultimately won his primary after casting doubt on the legitimacy of his own race.
Lake’s and Finchem’s victories mark the latest step in Trump’s apparent plan to upend election norms in Arizona, a state that became ground zero for voter-fraud conspiracy theories after Trump lost the state to Joe Biden in 2020. Trump’s picks in the Arizona Senate race, former venture capitalist Blake Masters, and the attorney general race, Abraham Hamadeh, also secured GOP nominations this week. Lake, Finchem, Masters, and Hamadeh are all election deniers who, if elected, could push for sweeping changes to Arizona’s electoral process ahead of the 2024 presidential election.