Lake looks for reset button in Arizona Senate race

Lake looks for reset button in Arizona Senate race
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Kari Lake is looking to hit the reset button with Republicans she isolated during her gubernatorial bid last cycle as she vies for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (I-Ariz.) seat next fall.

Lake sought to strike a more conciliatory tone with Republicans during a phone interview with The Hill on Tuesday, saying she had been “meeting with and having conversations with Republicans in Arizona who have been skeptical of me.”

“I want to meet with everybody who is kind of on the fence — I truly do — and people who maybe in the past we were foes. I don’t want to be foes with any Republican,” she told The Hill. “We have way too much to solve and accomplish to turn America around, and I don’t want to be enemies with any Republican.”

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It’s a stark contrast from the tone she set more than a year ago in which she lashed out at several of her opponents in the Arizona gubernatorial race and claimed that “we drove a stake through the heart of the McCain machine” just days after she won her GOP primary.

A GOP source confirmed Lake had met with former gubernatorial rival Karrin Taylor Robson, as was first reported by The Arizona Republic, and was also reaching out to other people within the McCain faction of the party. Though Republicans and political observers think it’s a good move, it’s uncertain how effective it will be.

“It’s smart. I mean, I think she’s got to try and do that. How it’s received is a whole different ball game,” Republican strategist Chuck Coughlin said.

“But that’s clearly what she has to do is, you know, tidy up the Republican base, and then additionally make herself available to unaffiliated voters,” he added.

Lake, who spent more than two decades as a local news anchor for Fox 10 Phoenix, quickly gained notoriety during the 2022 midterm campaign season, when she launched her bid to replace then-Gov. Doug Ducey (R). The Trump-aligned candidate made baseless claims about the legitimacy of the 2020 election and took jabs at the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), suggesting to supporters in remarks before the GOP primary that it was “time to replace that disgusting, dirty McCain Swamp” with “a Lake.”

She has traded barbs with 2022 gubernatorial rivals Robson and former Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), calling Robson a “Ducey-clone RINO” who was “trying to buy the election with her 95-yr-old husband’s millions.”

Lake also defended retweeting a controversial post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that claimed Salmon was OK with special needs children being sexually assaulted after he voiced opposition to her proposal to have cameras allowed in the classroom. Arizona Capitol Times noted the post was referencing to a Scottsdale child abuse case.

Fast-forward more than a year later, and Lake is now trying to win some of those detractors back in a race that also includes GOP contender Mark Lamb, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and potentially Sinema, who has not yet said whether she’s running for reelection.

“I want to bring people together, I truly do. I 100 percent do, and when I reach out to people, it is in good faith. And even if they don’t come around to me, I am not planning to go to war with Republicans,” Lake told The Hill.

She called McCain “absolutely a war hero,” while adding, “I do think that his voting record was up for scrutiny.” She argued that some of her comments about McCain Republicans were misinterpreted and made long before the November election.

Lake also noted that some Republicans who might be unlikely backers of her have endorsed her, such as Senate Republican No. 3 Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

While Lake is looking to woo over moderate Republicans in Arizona, she hasn’t backtracked from disputing the results of her gubernatorial race, which she lost to Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) by just more than half a percentage point.

She filed an appeal brief in court this week over Maricopa County’s handling of the 2022 election, arguing she was entitled to a new election — a brief that was filed after a lower court rejected her challenge of her election loss earlier this year.

Asked how she would make her case to voters who were concerned she was an election denier or had concerns about her comments on the 2020 election, Lake argued, “I’m not an election denier.”

“I’m not denying there was an election, I’m denying that the election was run fairly and honestly, and I’m continuing with my court cases,” she continued.

“I am about having election reform so that all Arizonans — all Americans, frankly — whether they’re Democrat, independent or Republican, know that their one legal vote counted, and that they can trust in the results,” she added.

Some Republicans don’t see much of a difference between the candidate that ran last cycle and the one running for Senate.

“I know she’s making attempts to try to come off as a little bit more of a moderated candidate, but that doesn’t necessarily match with what she’s saying and doing in the state,” said Lorna Romero Ferguson, a former McCain campaign aide.

“I think it might work with some people, and others, probably not. I think with some part of the electorate, too much damage has been done,” she said, referring to Lake’s attempts to reset with the moderate GOP.

There has been concern among some within the party that it risks losing a winnable Senate seat with Lake as the nominee, though polling shows a tight race. The Republican firm National Research Inc.’s poll has shown Lake maintaining a 4-point lead over Gallego, while one commissioned by Gallego’s campaign showed him 5 points ahead in a three-way match-up with Lake and Sinema.

Republican strategist Barrett Marson expressed surprise over Lake’s comments to The Hill that she wanted to make amends with those she had been at odds with and said “she’s got a lot of work to do to mend those fences,” suggesting one way might be to offer a public apology to the McCain family.

At least one of her opponents isn’t quite sold that he could support her in the general election.

“I would have a very, very difficult time jumping up and supporting her for anything to be honest,” said Salmon, who ran against her in the Arizona governor’s race and later dropped out to support Robson.

“It’s one thing to criticize somebody, somebody for a bill that they supported or a vote that they cast — that’s all fair game,” he said. “But when you get really personal and you employ the politics of personal destruction, it’s hard to come back and win those people.”

But other members of the party think her comments to make amends with Republicans she’s been at a crossroads with is a good political move.

“If Kari Lake is doing, ironically, a different version of a Hillary Clinton listening tour, it is and will be very smart for her prospects,” said Arizona GOP consultant Jason Rose.

One Republican strategist who requested anonymity to speak candidly argued that members of the party didn’t have a choice.

“[At] the end of the day, these Republicans have to make a choice here, if they’re gonna vote for Kari Lake again, who they agree with almost 90 percent of the time if not more, or Krysten Sinema and Ruben Gallego, who agree with Joe Biden 100 percent of the time,” the strategist argued.

On Capitol Hill, some Senate Republicans have offered her praise. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) called her “impressive.” Barrasso told The Hill she’s “going to be a terrific United States senator — the next senator from Arizona,” and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), last cycle’s chair of the Senate GOP campaign arm, said she “has a really good chance.” All three are senators she’s spoken with.

And in a recent memo obtained by The Hill, Lake’s campaign has also sought to make the case that Arizona is worthy of Republican investment, calling the state “the best pickup opportunity for Senate Republicans in 2024 outside of West Virginia.”

The memo pointed to an internal poll from the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm that suggested 38 percent of voters had either never heard of Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) or had no opinion of him, compared to 7 percent who said the same about Lake.

“By defining him on this record, the case can be made to Arizonans that Gallego’s brand of politics is not in line with the common-sense voters of Arizona. If executed properly, come Election Day, this portion of the electorate will have a much more informed view of Gallego’s progressive record, giving Lake an opening to overtake him,” the memo said.

Though it’s unclear how much Lake’s efforts to reach across the Republican aisle to win back detractors might work, members of the party say it’ll be needed either way.

“I think she’s going to have some success, not total success, with mending fences with not only key individuals but … more broad constituency groups. It’s a necessary effort,” explained Republican strategist Stan Barnes, who’s been close to Lake. “And if it’s successful, she can win. And if it’s not successful, it was still necessary, because she simply cannot win without it.”

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