Jun 30, 2022 - Politics

Lake, Robson spar in debate ahead of GOP gubernatorial primary

Five people sit in a television studio.
(From left) Scott Neely, Kari Lake, Arizona PBS' Ted Simons, Paola Tulliani-Zen and Karrin Taylor Robson. Photo: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Arizona's Republican gubernatorial primary front-runners — former local news anchor Kari Lake and developer Karrin Taylor Robson — debated Wednesday night.

  • It was the only televised debate between all four GOP candidates.
  • Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Lake while Taylor Robson has collected endorsements from many traditional Arizona Republicans and groups, including Senate President Karen Fann and Americans for Prosperity.

Why it matters: The winner of the Republican primary likely will become the state's next governor.

  • Democrat Katie Hobbs, the expected Democratic gubernatorial candidate, faces an uphill climb against either of the GOP front-runners.

1 big takeaway: Both Lake and Taylor Robson said they would support and enforce Arizona's pre-Roe ban on abortion, which would prohibit the procedure in nearly all cases and would criminalize doctors who perform it.

  • Both also said they'd support increased state funding for foster care and social services for mothers.

Meanwhile: The rest of the debate was pure chaos.

  • Arizona PBS anchor Ted Simons attempted to keep the candidates in line, but the night quickly devolved into name-calling and finger-pointing with Lake and Taylor Robson both fighting to show why they were more conservative and why the other was unfit for office.
  • The two other candidates — Scott Neely and Paola Tulliani-Zen — kept interjecting with often unrelated comments, throwing the whole panel into side tangents.

Both front-runners blamed President Biden for rising inflation and immigration issues.

  • Lake said Biden undid Trump's work on immigration, exposing Arizona "to a criminal element, to dangerous drugs that are killing our young people, and he's taken away our ability to protect our own state."
  • Taylor Robson said she's running for governor because "Arizona is under attack from the cartels at our southern border to the liberals and Joe Biden in Washington, D.C."

The Trump card: Lake was quick to brandish her Trump endorsement and criticized Robson for not rejecting the results of the 2020 election.

  • Lake said the 2020 election was "corrupt and stolen" and that Biden lost the election.
  • Taylor Robson said the elections "weren’t fair" because media and big tech companies suppressed conservative voices and because new voting rules and laws helped Democrats.

Of note: No court has found evidence that Arizona's — or any state's — election results were inaccurate.

Robson poked fun at Lake's background as a longtime Fox 10 anchor, calling her a "card-carrying member of the liberal media" who donated to former President Barack Obama.

Lake tried to paint Robson as a rich RINO (Republican in name only) closely aligned with the likes of late Sen. John McCain and current Gov. Doug Ducey.

  • Lake lambasted Ducey for his pandemic policies, which forced some businesses to close temporarily and required masks in schools.
  • Robson stopped short of a full-throated endorsement of Ducey's leadership but praised Arizona's economic bounce-back and post-pandemic growth.

1 funny thing: Tulliani-Zen, an Italian immigrant, grew increasingly frustrated with getting interrupted by the other candidates, at one point exclaiming, "Mamma mia!"

1 cringe thing: Unprompted and out of nowhere, Neely said, "Listen, I haven't been on a stage with this many women since I've been to a baby shower."

  • "I don't know how that's gonna go over, Scott. But we'll let that hang," Simons responded.

Of note: Former Congressman Matt Salmon dropped out of the governor's race ahead of the debate and threw his support behind Taylor Robson.

What's next: Arizona PBS intended to host a democratic gubernatorial debate tonight, but Hobbs refused to participate with opponent Marco Lopez.

  • The primary is Aug. 2 and early ballots will be in the mail next week.
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