Local news anchor Kari Lake resisted announcing that Joe Biden had won Arizona on election night two years ago. Now, she’s the telegenic new face of Maga Republicanism, poised to possibly become the state’s next governor.
With early voting under way, polls show Lake in a dead heat with her opponent Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state. The contest will test the strength of Donald Trump’s enduring influence on the Republican party and its supporters. And the entire enterprise of free elections in Arizona hangs in the balance.
If Lake wins, her administration will oversee the 2024 elections in a key state that could help determine who wins the presidency. She could work with the likes of Mark Finchem, the far-right Oath Keeper who is running to become the state’s top election official. Already, she has said she will only accept the 2022 election results if “fair, honest and transparent” by her standards, declining to say whether she would accept defeat.
On the night Lake won the Republican primary, she walked on stage carrying a sledgehammer and vowed to use it on electronic voting machines if elected governor. Instead of machines, Lake wants to use hand counts to tabulate elections – a method that is both more time-consuming and less accurate – while also insisting that results should be declared on election day. She has threatened to punish journalists for publishing content she disagrees with and imprison her opponent over fictional accusations of election rigging.
“We’re dealing with a really dangerous candidate,” said Alejandra Gomez, co-director of the progressive advocacy group Lucha. “This election is incredibly consequential for the future of our democracy.”
For 22 years, Lake was a familiar face on local TV – delivering the evening news at Fox 10 Phoenix in her smooth, deep voice. But on election night in 2020, she resisted calling the election for Biden, as her co-anchor awkwardly insisted that they follow protocol.
In recent years Lake had joined the far-right social media platform Parler, and left an online trail of implicit endorsements of rightwing positions and conspiracy theories, much to the consternation of her station’s management. But it was her seemingly sudden and dramatic resignation that laid the foundations for her future political career.
“I found myself reading news copy that I didn’t believe was fully truthful,” she said in March 2021, announcing that she was quitting. “I’ve decided the time is right to do something else.”
A few months later, Lake said she was running for governor – almost immediately launching herself into rightwing stardom.
In August, she defeated her GOP establishment-backed opponent to win the primary, and has since managed to gain the support of the outgoing Republican governor, Doug Ducey, and the state’s big Republican donors.
Instead of network crews, it is now her husband, Jeff Halperin, who serves as her videographer. An independent producer, Halperin trails Lake and captures practically her every move, including combative exchanges with reporters to promote on social media.
Lake’s platform in the race now contradicts her own from just a few years ago. In 2008, Lake was a registered Democrat and donated to the Democratic presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Barack Obama. In 2016, Lake proposed a plan to provide amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Today, she says she would declare an “invasion” at the southern border and evoked the white supremacist “great replacement” theory in describing immigrants.
She once considered a local drag queen a friend and often attended performances, but now runs ads featuring an extremist homophobic pastor and attacks drag performers as a threat to children.
On abortion, too, she has been inconsistent. The vast majority of Arizonans believe that abortion should be legal in at least some cases. Lake has called abortion “the ultimate sin” and has endorsed Arizona’s pre-statehood ban, though, in recent weeks has provided muddled messages about her stance. Lake also told a conference of young, conservative women that “God did not create us to be equal to men.”
Lake’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, and declined to respond to specific questions about her past politics. She told Time magazine that she previously supported Democrats in protest of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Lake’s broad appeal has surprised both Democrats and moderate Republicans, especially given that many of her espoused views are more fundamentalist and rightwing than those held by most Arizona voters.
Former co-workers and friends have said they have been alarmed by her sudden conversion to Maga Republicanism while political pundits have speculated over whether this transformation is genuine or a shrewd career calculation.
Regardless, it seems to be working. Her almost daily campaign events have become a sensation. In recent weeks, her intimate receptions with donors, and her rallies alongside fellow rightwing politicians from across the country have drawn supporters across demographic groups.
Of all the far-right, Trump-endorsed Republicans on the ballot this election cycle, Lake might just have the most star power. Trump himself has told other candidates to be more like her. Republican insiders are already speculating that she could be Trump’s vice-presidential nominee in 2024, or run for president herself.
“You can call me Trump in a dress any day,” she told cheering crowds at a recent rally, embracing comparisons between herself to the former president.
Over the past few months, Hobbs’s quiet, at times stiff demeanor has been no match to Lake’s larger than life persona. At a town hall event hosted by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Lake reportedly positioned herself in the front row in an apparent stunt designed to rattle her opponent. She was eventually booted out of the room – but it seemed to work. Hobbs delivered an uneven performance, fumbling on softball questions.