Oct 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Dems fear Kari Lake could be Arizona's governor—and a major MAGA star

Former President Donald Trump standing next to GOP governor nominee Kari Lake

Former President Trump with Kari Lake at a rally in Arizona. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Democratic Party strategists are watching Arizona's Kari Lake with growing alarm.

Why it matters: As some see it, Lake — a 2020 election denier — could easily win the state's gubernatorial race and threaten its 2024 election processes. And with the talent she's already displayed even as a political novice, they see her potential to soar to a vice presidential spot or a post-Trump presidential candidacy.

Zoom in: Of this year's midterm elections slate of "ultra MAGA" candidates, Lake has perhaps the best chance of winning.

What they're saying: David Plouffe, the architect of Barack Obama's 2008 victory, told Axios that Lake looks like a "plausible presidential candidate."

  • David Axelrod, another key former Obama adviser, offered this assessment of Lake's 20+ years in Arizona local TV before her entrance last year into politics: "If you get a candidate who has the performance skills of a major-market local TV anchor and the philosophy and thinking of Steve Bannon, that's a potent and dangerous combination. ... Look at Italy."

Former President Trump's advisers view Lake as the most politically potent of the "stop the steal" candidates. She is every bit as hardcore an election denier as Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano but infinitely more suited to the age of social media videos and quick TV hits.

  • Lake is skilled at creating viral moments by dressing down reporters and eviscerating the mainstream media.
  • The 53-year-old former news anchor left journalism altogether in 2021, saying she didn't like how much media has changed since she started.

Behind the scenes: Lake has other advantages that are less visible. Unlike Mastriano, she has been embraced by top figures in the Republican establishment. She is benefiting from their money and connections.

  • Doug Ducey, Arizona's outgoing GOP governor and chair of the Republican Governors Association, opposed Lake in her primary. But now, he's backing her with great energy.
  • Lake has also charmed Arizona GOP donors, including members of the state's political establishment, according to sources who have witnessed the interactions.
  • In private meetings and on calls with donors, RGA officials have made clear they are prepared to spend aggressively to get Lake across the finish line. "Voters have a clear choice and we're confident they'll make Kari Lake their next governor," RGA spokesman Jesse Hunt told Axios.

Between the lines: If Lake wins the governorship, Democrats anticipate that her future endorsements will be sought after, that she will be giving fiery speeches around the country, and that she will have a standing invitation on Fox News.

  • Her absence of governing experience and decades of daily TV experience make her a perfect match for aspects of this political moment.
  • "That's what's changed a lot in our politics. There's a performance aspect to it in both parties," Plouffe said.
  • "Obama and Trump accelerated that change in many respects, which is that you don't have to sit around for 20 years building your case," he said. "If you've got something compelling to say and you can organize a campaign online, you're a plausible presidential candidate."

The bottom line: Former senior Hillary Clinton adviser Karen Finney said Lake represents "a more polished version" of MAGA.

  • "I'm sure a big part of why Trump likes her is that TV experience," Finney said. (Fact check: True!) "In the same way he understood how to use media and avoid questions that he didn't want to answer, she certainly has that."

The other side: “Kari Lake is all spectacle and no substance and we’re confident voters will see right through it," said Josselyn Berry, a spokesperson for the Arizona Democratic Party.

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