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Semafor LogoDavid Weigel
David Weigel
politicsNorth America

Kari Lake and ‘Stop the Steal’ make their final stand in Arizona

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REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

The effort to overturn Arizona’s gubernatorial election entered its final stage on Tuesday, after a judge set a late-December schedule for Kari Lake’s challenge to Democratic Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs.

Democrats have until Thursday to file a motion to dismiss Lake’s lawsuit, which blames “illegal votes,” “intentional misconduct,” and a “botched” election in Maricopa County for Hobbs’s 17,117-vote victory last month. If the motion is denied, evidentiary hearings will be held on Dec. 21 and 22 — not long after Lake addresses Turning Point USA’s “AmericaFest” in Phoenix, where two candidates to run the Republican National Committee will also speak.

“I've read a lot of crazy election contest lawsuits and this is one of the craziest I've seen,” said Marc Elias, a Democratic election attorney whose firm is representing Hobbs’s campaign. “Kari Lake's legal team might as well have unveiled this lawsuit from the parking lot of an Arizona landscaping company.”

Christina Amestoy, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association, called the lawsuit Lake’s “final act” in a “constant ploy for attention,” and the continuation of “the assault on Arizona’s election process that began in 2020.”

Neither the Republican Governors Association nor the Republican National Committee has backed Lake’s lawsuit, though the RNC is part of attorney general nominee Abe Hamadeh’s challenge to his 509-vote loss to Democrat Kris Mayes.

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The law firm of RNC chair candidate and California RNC member Harmeet Dhillon is representing Hamadeh; its filing begins by stating that the plaintiffs are not “alleging any fraud, manipulation or other intentional wrongdoing that would impugn the outcomes of the November 8, 2022, general election.”

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If you stopped paying attention to Kari Lake last month, you are not alone. She’s the last high-profile GOP candidate endorsed by Donald Trump this cycle who has not conceded defeat. Her profile in most media has shrunk since the election was certified for Hobbs last week. Lake filed her lawsuit on Friday; there was no mention of it on any of Fox News’s prime time shows, where candidate Lake had been a frequent guest.

In other conservative media, the Lake challenge has been covered closely, not just as a Hail Mary chance to overturn a painful defeat but as a wedge between the party’s grassroots and its national party leadership. Lake herself has argued that RNC chair Ronna McDaniel should be replaced, joining conservative activists who believe that the national party lost winnable races by not immediately replacing the voting infrastructure — from electronic machines to skeptical county commissioners — that was in place when Joe Biden won.

“I think we probably need some new leadership,” Lake said in a Monday interview on Facebook with Kristi Leigh, who like Lake is a former TV news broadcaster who went independent after airing her grievances with mainstream media. “We've had some big setbacks, and I think you can't keep rewarding failure.”

McDaniel is the heavy favorite to win a fourth term as RNC chair, even after the Texas GOP’s executive committee unanimously voted that she “must be replaced.” But some conservatives are using the contest as a proxy for a different argument — whether the party must adjust to the reality of early voting and widespread mail balloting, or whether it can transform the voting system.

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Lake was supposed to do that if she won. Arizona was the wellspring of the “Stop the Steal” movement, and Turning Point USA had, and has, considerable political clout there. Arizona RNC Committeeman Tyler Bowyer has been the COO of TPUSA for five years; Jake Hoffman, a TPUSA consultant, got elected to the state legislature in 2020 and advocated that Maricopa County be split into three smaller counties, demolishing the power of GOP county supervisors who conducted and defended the 2020 election.

“The Republican Party should have had an army of lawyers here months, if not years, in advance,” Bowyer told TPUSA president Charlie Kirk last week on Kirk’s podcast. “Kari Lake is the best candidate that’s probably ever run in the state of Arizona, probably the Southwest, probably the West, probably west of the Mississippi, maybe ever — certainly in this century, for governor.”

Like Lake, her supporters in the movement insist that most Arizonans wanted her to be governor, and were undone by ballot-printing problems that affected 70 of 223 Maricopa voting centers — though those problems were fixed during the day, and occurred in both blue and red parts of the county. On Monday, a Lake ally in the state Senate even filed a lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs in deep red Mohave County, arguing that their “voting strength” had been “diluted” by Maricopa.

If these efforts fail, two years of Stop the Steal organizing will have come to nothing. It would be a defeat for attorneys who tried to overturn the 2020 election, then audit it, then avenge it. It will determine whether Lake becomes a cautionary tale for Republicans, or a figure to rally around — the embodiment of a weak party that the base can’t trust.

Title iconNotable
  • In the Washington Post, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez reconstruct the Kari Lake campaign’s losing strategy — a total confidence that the MAGA theory of 2020 was right, and that Republicans didn’t need to win over swing voters or lock in early ballots to beat Katie Hobbs.
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