Kari Lake, the former longtime Fox 10 news anchor and current gubernatorial candidate, was endorsed by Donald Trump last week. And for the other Republican candidates who are jockeying to become Arizona’s next governor, that’s a problem.
On September 28, Trump issued his formal statement giving Lake his “Complete and Total endorsement” in the race. He said that she is “strong on Crime … Second Amendment, Military, Vets” and that she opposes “Covid lockdowns” and Cancel Culture.” The former president also worked in a dig at sitting Governor Doug Ducey; he claimed that Lake will do a “far better job” than Ducey and called him a “RINO” (meaning “Republican in Name Only”).
The endorsement didn’t come as a total surprise. Aside from aggressively courting local Republican voters for months by unabashedly promoting the so-called Arizona “election audit” and opposing vaccine mandates, Lake got a warm reception at Trump’s recent rally in Phoenix back in June, and he seemed to take notice. The former news anchor is also the frontrunner in the GOP primary, according to recent polling.
With the base of the Republican party still fiercely loyal to Trump, his endorsement of Lake creates a sticky situation for her Republican opponents in the 2022 primary.
“It’s a crowded race, the president still has an 80 percent approval ratings among Republicans, he’s the most popular Republican in the state, and she just got his endorsement,” said Paul Bentz, vice president of research and strategy at HighGround, a polling and consulting firm based in Phoenix. “She’s the frontrunner, and to go against her will be perceived as going against the former president.”
He added: “I think it probably came as a shock to some of the campaigns that the president decided to weigh in this early in the race.”
Some candidates are just choosing to ignore the endorsement altogether. Karrin Taylor Robson, a former member of the Arizona Board of Regents, did not issue any kind of public statement about it, and her campaign did not respond to Phoenix New Times’ request for comment. Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee did not comment on the endorsement publicly and also did not respond to a request for comment.
Steve Gaynor, a businessman who unsuccessfully ran for Arizona Secretary of State in 2018, took a different tack, issuing a September 28 statement calling Lake a “RINO” and saying Trump had been “poorly advised,” citing Lake’s history of donating to Democratic presidential candidates and her lengthy former career as a journalist.
“She has no business running as a Republican for Governor,” Gaynor said. “Lake has zero executive experience, and zero leadership experience. She has been a newsreader — part of the liberal media establishment — her entire life. If Trump knew what we knew, he wouldn’t be supporting her, he’d be exposing her.”
Through his campaign manager, Ed Morabito, Gaynor declined Phoenix New Times’ request for an interview.
Former congressman Matt Salmon, who is also a GOP gubernatorial candidate, took a similar line in his own statement. Salmon said that he disagreed with Trump’s endorsement despite having a “great deal of respect” for him.
“Kari Lake isn’t a conservative or even a Republican, and she certainly isn’t the MAGA candidate in this race. She is a former registered Democrat who donated to Barack Obama and John Kerry, who refused to support Republicans” he said. “We’ve seen time and again that Lake can’t be trusted and isn’t being honest about who she is or what she’s done.”
Salmon’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Bentz said that it remains to be seen if the attacks on Lake’s credentials will stick. But he noted that Lake has many local Republican Trump supporters “pretty well locked up at this point.”
“She’s the one that right now has sort of sparked within the primary [election] audience,” Bentz said. “The Arizona Republican Party is the party of Trump.”