Exactly one week before Election Day, Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Arizona, held a boisterous rally with Steve Bannon, the indicted former Donald Trump aide whom Lake dubbed a “modern-day George Washington.” Local and national media outlets covered the event.
On the identical day, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Katie Hobbs, hosted a housing policy roundtable to attract attention to her inexpensive housing plan. Eleven people participated, including Hobbs. The event didn’t receive media coverage.
The contrasting campaign appearances capture the campaign dynamic. Lake wanted the highlight. Hobbs wanted Lake to have the highlight.
Hobbs was widely counted out after she refused to debate, saying, “It’s clear that Kari Lake is way more focused on making a spectacle and having the highlight than actually having a substantive discussion in regards to the issues.” Lake pounded Hobbs as a coward, a message bolstered by pundits and even fellow Democrats. Laurie Roberts, the left-leaning columnist for the Arizona Republic, wrote in mid-October that Hobbs “played right into the hands of a delighted Lake” and “Hobbs isn’t just letting down Democrats; she might be letting down Arizona.” Sandra Kennedy, who cochaired Joe Biden’s Arizona campaign in 2020, fretted to NBC News, “I’d debate, and I’d want the people of Arizona to know what my platform is.”
However the wisdom of Hobbs’s decision became apparent throughout the autumn campaign.
To be blunt, Hobbs will not be good on television. She awkwardly clings to talking points. Her sentences are infected with “um”s. Lake, nonetheless, is a literal pro, a 30-year on-air veteran of TV news. The gap between Hobbs’s media skills and Lake’s is as wide because the Grand Canyon. Like history’s biggest demagogues, Lake dazzled on the stump. She famously did her own makeup for TV interviews. When broadcasting from her home studio, she looked absolutely ethereal.
Nonetheless, to say Hobbs was “afraid” to debate Lake is to embrace the logic of the schoolyard playground. Let’s not forget: That is the secretary of state who presided over Arizona’s wafer-thin 2020 election and is the goal of essentially the most ridiculous and dangerous conspiracy theories peddled by Trump’s loyalists. That is the official on the receiving end of a Republican state senate election review so bonkers that auditors investigated whether fake ballots were shipped from Southeast Asia by checking for traces of bamboo. Hobbs was the recipient of death threats and needed protection from Arizona’s state troopers. Despite that harrowing experience, she stepped back into the world to run for governor. It is a woman of courage, not cowardness.
Hobbs’s debate decision was based on a clear-eyed assessment of her own strengths and weaknesses. A high-profile media event advantages the candidate with superior media skills.
Such a gambit wouldn’t work if the general public viewed a successful debate performance as akin to a job interview, a vital bar to clear. But in my exploration of the talk over debates on this space last month, I observed that modern debates are a far cry from Lincoln-Douglas. They’re reality TV shows marked with soporific talking points and low cost insults. It’s not only that voters don’t care about debates. Voters have good reason to not care about debates. They will not be especially useful at helping voters resolve who’s best suited to manipulate.
So as a substitute of playing a game on her opponent’s turf, Hobbs modified the sport.
The drama across the debates peaked in mid-October. By late October, the story had played out. Still, within the campaign’s final days, Hobbs didn’t do much to generate a way of momentum. She generally eschewed big rallies (apart from a visit from Barack Obama) in favor of policy roundtables and grassroots organizing events. Meanwhile, Lake was commanding the media stage and holding rallies with the U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters and other Republican election deniers on the Arizona ballot, attempting to carry your entire party on her back. Almost every poll had Lake within the lead—the ultimate FiveThirtyEight average had her up 2.4 points, and Real Clear Politics had her up 3.5 points. As victory seemed near, Lake was the beneficiary of increasingly more media profiles. Perhaps my Google skills have atrophied, but I actually have yet to seek out a single Katie Hobbs profile from any outlet, local or national.
The deal with Lake suited Hobbs just tremendous. Ultimately, the race was not a alternative between who was higher on TV but, effectively, a referendum on whether Kari Lake was too crazy for the job. Despite having already consolidated conservative support, Lake made little effort to appeal to moderates, independents, and even Republicans still keen on the late Arizona Senator John McCain. At considered one of her final rallies, she told “McCain Republicans” to “get the hell out.” (McCain’s daughter Meghan issued an announcement saying, “My father will all the time be an icon and the people of Arizona deserve someone higher than Kari Lake.”) At the identical time, Lake praised state Senator Wendy Rogers, who was censured for making threats against her own colleagues and recently spoke at a white nationalist conference.
And simply because Hobbs took a low-key approach to the campaign trail doesn’t mean she was passive. In interviews, she diligently framed the race as “a alternative between sanity or chaos,” adding that “election denial is the core of that chaos.” She also closed with a one-two TV ad punch. One was an ostensibly positive ad that recounts the death threats Hobbs faced after the 2020 election and proclaims that “Katie Hobbs protected our democracy” as secretary of state, with the hard-to-miss subtext of Lake’s unwavering election denialism. The second ad hit Lake from the suitable, charging that her fiscal plans would turbocharge inflation, worsen the state’s water crisis, and “defund police departments.”
In my prediction of a Hobbs victory on the net DMZ Show, which I cohost with Matt Lewis, I argued that within the homestretch of the midterm campaign Democrats, in Arizona and nationally, were sounding the alarm that “democracy is on the ballot,” which might help make the gubernatorial race a referendum on Lake. The Democrats’ exhortation proved powerful. Election-denying candidates for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and secretaries of state in competitive states were largely eviscerated. Add Kari Lake to the list, because Katie Hobbs had a plan to beat crazy and the courage to keep on with it.