TUCSON, Arizona (AP) – Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has already helped block one of former President Donald Trump’s allies of winning the Republican nomination for governor in a pivotal battlefield. Now he hopes for a repeat in his own backyard.
Ducey is part of a burgeoning effort among established Republicans to lift little-known housing developer Karrin Taylor Robson against former TV news anchor Kari Lake, who is backed by Trump. Other prominent Republicans, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christiehave also lined up behind Robson in recent days.
The push is reminiscent of how many leading Republicans gathered around Georgian Governor Brian Kemp in the latest stretch of his ultimately successful bid to fend off a Trump-backed primary challenger.
Few states have been so central to Trump’s election lies as Georgia and Arizona, the two closest battlegrounds of 2020 where he pushed aggressively to nullify the results and was furious when Kemp and Ducey refused to go along. Trump has already had a setback in Georgia, and the August 2 race in Arizona is one of his last chances to settle scores and install allies to lead states that could be decisive if he decides to run again in 2024.
“In Arizona, people are independent-minded, just like in Georgia, and they choose the person they think is best for the responsibility,” Ducey told The Associated Press. “In Georgia, the voters said Brian Kemp, and I’m hopeful in Arizona, they’ll say Karen Taylor Robson.”
As an incumbent seeking reelection, Kemp had an advantage over his main rival, David Perdue, eventually beating him by nearly 52 percentage points.. Without a voter in charge – Ducey faces term limits – the GOP game in Arizona will likely be much closer.
But what once looked like an insurmountable lead for Lake could end in a more competitive finish. With the early voting already underway, Robson is taking advantage of her family’s vast fortune to vote out Lake, who, despite Trump’s approval, has fallen behind in raising money. By the end of June, Robson Lake had spent more than 5 to 1.
The final maneuvering by some leading GOP figures could be important in a close race. In addition to Ducey and Christie, Robson has received support from former U.S. Representative Matt Salmon, who stepped out of the governor’s race and backed her. The Border Patrol union, meanwhile, broke with Trump and backed Robson, citing earlier statements by Lake supporting a path to citizenship for people living illegally in the country.
Former Vice President Mike Pencewho most notably broke up with Trump in Georgia and campaigned with Kemp has yet to choose a side in Arizona.
For her part, Lake is an unlikely MAGA champion.
A well-known former local newscaster who donated to Barack Obama and spent years hanging out with drag queens at a gay bar near the television station, Lake was once the antithesis of Trump’s kind of politics.
Still, she’s shot to the top of the field since walking away from her three-decade television career, declaring that “journalism is dead,” and taking a sledgehammer to a stack of TVs.
She built on the powerful bond she had built over 27 years with viewers in the Phoenix media market with the local Fox affiliate and created a uniquely strong bond with the grassroots that propelled Trump to the White House in 2016 and still believes. not that he lost in 2020.
Even Trump seemed impressed by the ovation that inspired her name when he mentioned it at a rally in Phoenix last year. He supported her a short time later.
She, in turn, has adopted his combative style, his story of the 2020 election – she falsely says it was corrupt and stolen – and his tough approach to border security. She has severed her close ties to John McCain’s family and now has feuds with the children of the late US Senator.
“We’re either going to take the path of the past, which is the McCain mob running the show, or we’re going to go with America first,” Lake told a crowd of hundreds at a Tucson country western bar last week. Many arrived well over an hour early, waiting in the southern Arizona heat for a chance to get in.
Lake, 52, routinely berates journalists who try to question her and posts the footage on social media.
Last year, she said she wants to put cameras in classrooms to monitor teachers, nodding at the repercussions on the right to race and history teachings in public schools.
If elected, she says, she would immediately invoke an untested legal theory that illegal immigration constitutes an “invasion” of the United States and gives the governor war powers to remove people from the country without procedures in immigration courts.
Ever since Robson and her allies started their full-court press, Lake has argued without evidence that “they may be trying to clear the way for another bargain.”
“They’ve been such RINOs for so long and I don’t trust that they have our country as a priority,” said Rosa Alfonso, a 60-year-old speech therapist in Tucson. “That’s a big problem.”
Robson, 57, is making her first run for office, though she has lifelong ties to GOP politics. His father and brother both held elected office as Republicans.
As a real estate developer’s attorney, she has been at the center of the suburban sprawl that has propelled the Phoenix area’s prodigious growth. Ducey appointed her to the board of directors that oversees Arizona’s three public universities, her most high-profile public role before dropping out to run for governor.
“These are serious times,” Robson said during a recent debate. “We need a serious candidate with a track record.”
Her husband, housing developer Ed Robson, 91, is one of the wealthiest residents in the state and amassed a fortune building planned retirement communities. She says the 2020 election was “unfair”, but she no longer called it fraudulent. Like Lake, she runs like a border hawk.
Calling her rival “Fake Lake,” she highlights a $350 donation she made to Obama’s 2008 campaign, though Robson himself contributed large sums of money to Democrats.
“It’s all an act,” Ducey said of Lake. “The campaign she’s running doesn’t resemble the life she’s led for the past three decades, nor the interactions she’s had with me. She puts on a show. We’ll see how many people buy it.”