Senate GOP campaign arm endorses Kari Lake

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Kari Lake’s months of courting the Republican establishment in Washington, D.C., are paying off.

Once the consummate outsider, Lake has been maneuvering since even before launching her Arizona Senate bid last fall to show party leaders she’s ready to play nice — and move beyond her antagonistic and election-denial-centered 2022 run for governor.

Her efforts’ biggest victory to date arrives Tuesday: Senate Republicans’ campaign arm is endorsing Lake, cementing her status as the national GOP’s candidate of choice for the swing state where they’ve struggled recently. It’s a move that indicates top Republicans believe she has put together a serious campaign, and it sends a strong message to donors that she is worth their investment.

And it’s a sign that this time, Lake is ready to work with the Washington establishment — in this case, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and its chair, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.).

“I am honored to have the endorsement of Chairman Daines and the NRSC,” Lake said in a statement, shared first with POLITICO. “We are uniting Republicans in Arizona and have a clear path to victory, The Senate Majority runs through Arizona.”

The NRSC will host a fundraiser for Lake in Washington on March 6 with both Daines and Senate GOP Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) listed on the invite. Barrasso, who previously endorsed Lake, plans to campaign for her in Arizona on Feb. 29.

The party’s endorsement has been months in the making. Lake met with Republicans in Washington — including the NRSC — before launching her run for Senate. The committee’s executive director attended her kickoff event.

Lake spent last weekend at the NRSC’s winter meeting at The Breakers luxury resort in Palm Beach, Florida, talking with senators and key donors. Several attendees told Senate campaign officials they were impressed with Lake, according to three people familiar with the interactions, granted anonymity to discuss internal conversations. Lake’s prepared remarks touched on her attempts to unify the party, take on the Democratic front-runner, Rep. Ruben Gallego, and reach out to those who didn’t support her in 2022, according to a person in the room.

“I did come away impressed. I thought she was not at all like the caricature that's sometimes painted of her in the media. She was very engaging, she was very warm,” said one GOP donor who met with Lake at the retreat and was granted anonymity to discuss a private conversation.

That donor, who is leaning toward supporting Lake, said Lake’s focus was on policy, not politics. “I don't know if I should have been surprised by that part, but I was.”

The support of national Republicans could be a game-changer for Lake, who in 2022 turned off many in Washington with her obsession with 2020 conspiracy theories during her gubernatorial bid. Arizona’s Senate race remains complicated by incumbent independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has not yet decided whether she will run for reelection. If she does, it could become an unpredictable three-way contest with Lake, Sinema and Gallego.

Arizona has become increasingly Democratic-leaning in recent years. Democrat Katie Hobbs beat Lake for the governorship in 2022. The state narrowly voted for President Joe Biden and Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in 2020 and in 2018 for Sinema, then a Democrat. But the state remains extremely competitive, making it a top target for Republicans seeking to flip a Democratic seat to win back control of the Senate.

Lake has sought to unify Republicans behind her, moderating her image and reaching out to those she attacked in her gubernatorial bid. Her outreach to national Republicans notched some early successes, and Daines has been warmly praising Lake for months. But he waited before formally pledging support. The decision came after Lake met certain NRSC metrics in areas such as fundraising and campaign infrastructure, according to a person familiar with the endorsement process.

“Kari Lake is one of the most talented candidates in the country,” Daines said in a statement. “Kari is building out an effective campaign operation that has what it takes to flip Arizona’s Senate seat in November.”

National Republicans in some ways had little choice in backing Lake, who has been the clear front-runner in the Arizona primary. Daines has worked to develop a partnership with former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Lake on her launch day via video and remains an enthusiastic supporter.

But privately, strategists are aware that a good working relationship with Lake could sour quickly. She has a history of publicly lambasting members of her own party — and just last month roiled Arizona Republicans by releasing a taped conversation of state GOP Chair Jeff DeWit offering her a job to keep her out of politics, which led to his resignation. And she could be baited into making comments that stray from middle-of-the-road talking points, creating distractions.

But for now, her campaign and Republicans in Washington are aligned.

And Lake has been projecting an entirely different campaign than she did two years ago.

She rose to national prominence in her run for Arizona governor as a MAGA darling with a campaign focused on election conspiracies and intensely personal attacks on rivals. She eschewed many professional consultants and stacked her staff with pro-Trump 20-somethings. She often refused traditional campaign activity like hobnobbing with donors or regularly commissioning polling.

“I don’t need a pollster or a consultant from D.C. or another big city to come into Arizona and tell me what Arizona is about,” Lake told POLITICO in the fall of 2022.

This year, Lake has scaled back her focus on the legitimacy of past elections, though she has not avoided that or other conspiracies entirely. And she has made concerted steps to broker a detente with major players in the Arizona GOP. Lake and her 2022 primary rival Karrin Taylor Robson have remained in contact since meeting in October and discussed getting together again, according to two people familiar with their conversations.

Lake’s combative style — including against those who tried to help her in 2022 — left some party strategists watching apprehensively as she considered a Senate run. The Republican Governors Association, then co-led by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, funneled millions to aid her failed campaign against Hobbs. Lake still attacked Ducey and she once walked out of a RGA conference to attend an event put on by Mike Lindell, the pillow salesman and prominent election conspiracy theorist.

But Senate Republicans have long concluded that Lake’s march toward the GOP nomination was inevitable even as other big names mulled runs. The NRSC has adopted a heavy-handed approach to primaries, recruiting candidates and trying to dissuade others from running. Lake has a nominal primary challenge from Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, but he has lagged in fundraising.

The NRSC threw its support behind candidates in other states, such as Dave McCormick in Pennsylvania and Tim Sheehy in Montana, as they launched. But an official endorsement for Lake did not come right away, an initial sign of caution.

As polling showed Lake would likely be impossible to beat in a primary, party leaders began to embrace her. Daines and Lake began texting shortly after the Montana Republican took over as head of the NRSC and quickly developed a rapport.

NRSC officials were also encouraged by general election polling that showed Arizona is a coin flip race in both a two-way or three-way scenario. Recent public polling found Trump running ahead of Biden in the state, making the Senate race even more enticing to the GOP.

“I was very impressed with Kari when I met her,” said Sen. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), who has met Lake on multiple occasions in recent months. “She is laser-focused on unifying Arizona Republicans. The polls look good in Arizona for Trump and Lake.”