Katie Hobbs did not come to play. How Arizona's secretary of state became an election news star

Bill Goodykoontz
Arizona Republic

Every election year some unlikely candidates emerge — not as political figures but as media darlings. 

The 2020 election is no different. As votes were being counted toward Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump in the long and dragged-out presidential race, social media duked it out over surprise "chartthrobs" Steve Kornacki on MSNBC and John King on CNN, who basically pointed at touch-screen maps and did math. There’s no question they led the pack in media attention. 

But Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs hasn’t been too far behind. 

To some extent this isn’t surprising. Arizona was touted as a swing state throughout the campaign, and there was added drama when first Fox News and later the Associated Press called the state for Biden — and then no one else did. Until states like Pennsylvania and Georgia stole the thunder, Arizona was squarely in the spotlight.

The moment that Katie Hobbs became an election media star

As was Hobbs, who seemingly has been everywhere lately: local news, national news — even Sky News Arabia came calling, requesting an interview.

“I was accessible, and I think that was really appreciated,” Hobbs said Tuesday, after things had cooled down a bit. “And I just really felt like that was my job last week, was providing that information.”

Her office knew things would be busy, but this was something beyond that.

“Certainly we usually prepare,” Hobbs said Tuesday. “But all of that last week was really so last minute. I didn’t go on George Stephanopoulos and plan to make him crack up with a blunt answer.”

No matter whether she meant to, she did. And that is when she really became a star.

“The Trump campaign has had some complaints about the voting systems and other irregularities inside your state,” ABC News’ Stephanopoulos said. “Have you seen any problems that you think are going to need to be adjudicated in the courts?”

“No,” Hobbs said. “There have been no irregularities going on. Quite frankly, if he’s saying that, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Stephanopoulos started to ask another question but cracked up instead.

“OK, well that’s about as blunt as it gets right there, thank you,” he said. You could hear off-camera laughter, as well. The clip took off on Twitter, and if you were wondering how Hobbs felt about it — and about how the state is handling vote counts in Arizona — she retweeted the clip from her personal Twitter account and said, "I did not come to play."

(Hobbs has two Twitter accounts, one personal and one official. The latter is limited to state business.)

Why her straightforward style was welcome on TV news

Watching the clip, you see that it wasn’t a planned attack or anything of the sort. It was just Hobbs answering Stephanopoulos’ question. She’s straightforward. If you watch enough TV news, you know it's a trait in short supply — and thus all the more welcome.

“What you saw, that was me,” Hobbs said. “So yeah, I didn’t plan (it). But I think they kept having me back because they like me. So I’m not mad about it.” She laughed.

That said, this isn’t something Hobbs was seeking.

“I certainly didn’t set out at the beginning of last week, like, ‘Arizona’s going to be in the spotlight, and that means I’m going to be in the spotlight,’” Hobbs said. “Like, that wasn’t my goal at all. I just wanted to make sure that we ran a good election and that we were in a position to provide the information that people wanted. I think we did that really well. It wasn’t like anything that was orchestrated or planned, and it all just sort of happened.”

Something else she didn’t anticipate: Sharpiegate, the baseless conspiracy theory conservatives spread, saying that markers bled through ballots, making them unreadable. The theory has been debunked, but it, too, dragged Arizona into the news cycle.

“That came out of the blue,” Hobbs said. “I got home at 1:30 or something on election night and woke up later in the morning and was like, ‘What is all this stuff about Sharpies?’ And that’s what I ended up talking about all day. I think that was maybe the first question Wolf Blitzer asked me (on CNN), and I was like, ‘Geez, I’ve been talking about markers all day.’”

SHARPIEGATE:How the disproved conspiracy theory made Arizona a national media punchline

'The role of secretaries of state has really come to the forefront'

A nice side effect of all this coverage, not just in Arizona but elsewhere, is how it has highlighted the often thankless work most public officials perform. Democrats or Republicans, they’re just trying to do their job. In this era, that makes them not just admirable but practically heroic.

“This election in particular, the role of secretaries of state has really come to the forefront, just because we’ve seen such unprecedented attacks on the election and the voting processes and everything that’s been associated with it,” Hobbs said. “And really, an attempt to undermine the public’s confidence in all that.”

As the dust starts to settle on the election, the requests for Hobbs from media outlets have been more local. She had been scheduled for more national appearances this past weekend, but when Pennsylvania was called for Biden they canceled, “which was not unexpected,” she said.

“It has slowed down, and we’re all relieved a little bit.”

Relieved too, no doubt, that at least unlike in Georgia — where the entire Republican congressional delegation and the two Republican senators have called for the Republican secretary of state to resign — no one’s gone that far with Hobbs.

“Well, they have,” Hobbs said. Not formally, however. “Just on Twitter and stuff like that, so, whatever.”

Reach Goodykoontz at Facebook: Twitter: @goodyk.

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