Katie Hobbs running away from a debate with Kari Lake is the debacle that just won't die

Governor candidate Katie Hobbs (D) speaking at a news conference at Barry Goldwater Park on Oct. 9, 2022.
Governor candidate Katie Hobbs (D) speaking at a news conference at Barry Goldwater Park on Oct. 9, 2022.
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If Katie Hobbs loses, remember Oct. 12 – the day she ran away from confronting Kari Lake.

Democrats in Arizona are known for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but Hobbs’ refusal to debate her opponent on Wednesday represents a new level of political malpractice.

It’s right up there with David Garcia, who while running for governor in 2018 gave a speech in which he waxed poetic. “Just imagine, no wall,” he said. “No wall in southern Arizona.”

He was never heard from politically again.

Hobbs acts as if it's an insult to debate Lake

Now Hobbs has left voters imagining something altogether different: A candidate who appears afraid to confront her opponent.

Hobbs has repeatedly gotten bristly when reporters ask why she won’t go toe-to-toe with Lake. Her campaign and her most ardent supporters act as if it’s an insult to suggest that Hobbs should debate Lake.

No debate: Lake to appear for solo interview as Hobbs skips event

“We will not engage in a circus that insults and embarrasses Arizonans,” her spokesman Joe Wolf has said. “We do not need to look further than the last debate Kari Lake participated in for such an example.”

But that Republican primary debate was a four-way clown free-for-all. This is two candidates, each asking to govern a state of more than seven million people for the next four years. Voters have a right to see them, side by side.

They should have seen them side-by-side on Wednesday, the day that early ballots were mailed out to millions of Arizona voters.

Lake can work a camera. Hobbs cannot

I understand Hobbs’ reluctance.

Lake spent 22 years as a TV news anchor. She’s a master in front of a camera; charismatic, concise and fully in charge. Hobbs, meanwhile, has a deer-in-the-headlights look about her and at times seems to have trouble directly answering questions.

But she made the decision to run for governor – one that kept more eloquent Democrats out of the race.  Democrats were rooting for Lake to win her primary, understanding that a win by the most extreme candidate in the race represented Hobbs’ best (read: only) chance to win in November.

That decision to run comes with an expectation that you will square off against your opponent – that you will lay out your policies and defend them. That you will show up and show us exactly why your hard-right opponent would be a disaster for Arizona.

At a time when democracy is under attack, who better than Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to authoritatively debunk the centerpiece of Lake’s campaign, her evidence-free claim of a stolen election?

PBS caved and offered Hobbs separate time

Instead, Hobbs refused.

The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission in September rejected Hobbs' request to appear on stage separately from Lake. The panel’s policy dictates a 30-minute televised interview of any candidate whose opponent refuses to debate. The penalty for refusing to debate your opponent: No air time.

But on Wednesday, Hobbs let it slip that the commission's debate partner, Arizona PBS, offered her a one-on-one interview as well.

PBS' capitulation was news to the commission, which called PBS's end run "disappointing" then pulled its sponsorship of Lake’s scheduled Wednesday interview with moderator Ted Simons of PBS Arizona Horizon.

“The decision is disappointing, especially following the multiple attempts on behalf of all the partners involved in producing this year’s General Election debates, to organize a traditional Gubernatorial debate between the two candidates,” the panel said.

PBS said it felt obigated to interview both candidates and to heck, apparently, with the rules set up by its debate partner.

Lake, meanwhile, called PBS “complicit in Katie Hobbs’ attempt to destroy twenty years of gubernatorial debate tradition”.

Hobbs can't assume she'll win independents

The entire debacle is ... well, a debacle. No candidate for governor has ever declined to debate his or her opponent in the 20 years the commission and PBS have hosted televised debates.

Hobbs has now done it twice – both in the Democratic primary and on Oct. 12.

She’s played right into the hands of a delighted Lake, who never misses the chance to point out that Hobbs is afraid of her.

Clearly, Hobbs made a political calculation that it’s better to take the hit for not debating than to allow Arizona voters to see the two candidates, side by side. She's banking on the fact that she will win by getting the anti-Lake vote.

BuThat’s a risky strategy in a deadlocked race.

While Lake revs up an already energized base, Hobbs has often seemed invisible to the independents and moderate Republican women she will need if she wants to win this election. She’s got to give them a reason to want to turn out and vote for her.

Facing Lake on Wednesday would have been her chance to do just that.

Instead, the story is all once again all about her refusal to face her opponent.

Hobbs isn’t just letting down Democrats; she may well be letting down Arizona.

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Katie Hobbs' refusal to debate Kari Lake blows up ... again