Here's how Republican voters helped Democrats win in Arizona

Kari Lake has suggested incompetence by election officials or cheating against Republicans by election officials hampered her failed gubernatorial bid.

Other top GOP candidates have offered similar explanations for Democratic wins in Arizona’s statewide U.S. Senate and secretary of state races.

But an Arizona Republic analysis of voting patterns, especially in Maricopa County, shows a simpler reason: Many Republicans just didn’t vote for the Republican candidates.

The GOP candidates who fumbled with voters in Republican-leaning districts are united by their denial of the 2020 presidential election results and support from former President Donald Trump. They were lionized at Trump’s rallies, painted as extremists by Democrats and rejected at the polls.

Consider Bayshore, an area in Gilbert wrapped around the Islands, an upscale planned community where Republicans have an 11 percentage-point registration advantage over Democrats.

Arizona state Treasurer Kimberly Yee, a Republican in a relatively low-profile race, won 57% of votes there. But Lake, described as a budding national star heading into the election, lost there to Democrat Katie Hobbs by about 20 votes.

Yee picked up about 230 more votes from that precinct than Lake received. The gap is even more striking considering about 130 fewer people voted in the treasurer’s race compared with the governor’s race from that precinct.

Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters lost to Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., there. Mark Finchem, the Republican secretary of state candidate, lost to Democrat Adrian Fontes there, too.

But it wasn’t the case that voters in Bayshore only wanted Democrats in 2022: They chose a Republican for Congress, the state superintendent of education, the Maricopa County attorney, the state House of Representatives and the state Senate.

It was a story repeated in varying degrees across the Valley, where Republicans running in a Republican-leaning environment in a traditionally Republican-friendly state fell flat in Republican areas.

According to unofficial election results, Lake lost to Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs by about 17,000 votes. In Maricopa County, Lake collected 58,000 fewer votes from precincts that Yee won.

Rachel Mitchell, Maricopa County’s Republican prosecutor, garnered nearly 23,000 more votes than Lake even though about 79,000 fewer people voted in that race at all.

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Why did some GOP voters not vote for Lake?

Chuck Coughlin, president and CEO of HighGround, a political consulting firm, said GOP voters rejected a political style that didn’t suit them.

“There are practical Republicans. They want government to work,” he said. “They expect Republican institutions that serve them and not serve themselves. … They’re generic people that make pretty good livings and they pay for the government and they want it to work. They’re not part of this conspiratorial environment and partisan behavior.”

Fred Solop, a politics professor at Northern Arizona University, said the results show the GOP remains at war with itself, choosing nominees who were too much even for a swath of Republicans.

“When democracy was on the ballot,” he said, “a significant number of Republicans were rejecting Republican candidates.”

The surprising strength of Democratic candidates in the three highest-profile races does not seem to be attributable to Republicans just skipping the GOP option on their ballot in greater numbers than typically happens. Many voted for the Democrats.

The rate of undervotes — when voters don’t make a choice in a race when they could — actually dropped in those races in 2022 compared with 2018. It suggests voters were less willing to leave their ballots blank in the top races.

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That isn’t the message coming from Lake.

She is updating Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in 2020, in part by latching onto problems across an estimated 30% of Maricopa County’s tabulation centers on Election Day this year.

While it created at least temporary confusion for some voters, it obscures the fact that less-controversial Republicans had enough votes to win, sometimes easily.

An Arizona Republic analysis found that 37 percent of voters across precincts where the troubled polls were located were registered Republican. That's about the same as the proportion of registered Republicans throughout Maricopa County.

And printer problems don’t seem to have deterred Lake’s supporters from heading to the polls: the Republic analysis found that Lake’s supporters cast Election Day ballots in precincts with troubled polls at about the same rate as they did in precincts without printer issues.

The problem for Republicans especially in those three high-profile races played out in other places beyond an enclave in Gilbert.

Many of Yee’s biggest vote leads over Lake trace a line that cuts roughly from the northern edge of Maricopa County diagonally to its southern border with Pinal County. 

It is an area that roughly corresponds to areas with higher educational attainment, a demographic that has drifted to Democrats in recent years. 

Much of that same geographic span saw strong split-ticket voting in 2018 with support for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Gov. Doug Ducey. 

See the map: Take a look at which precincts voters came out for Kimberly Yee but not Kari Lake

There were other Republican-leaning areas that stood out.

McCormick Ranch, an area in Scottsdale between Scottsdale and Pima roads and north of Indian Bend Road, has a 14 percentage-point registration advantage for Republicans.

Yee won 56% of votes there, while Lake got 47% from the same voters. It was another 316 votes Yee could get, but not Lake. And about 150 fewer people voted in the treasurer’s race compared with the governor’s race from that precinct.

Masters and Finchem also lost there.

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Even places where Lake, Masters and Finchem won, they didn’t win by the kind of margins that other Republicans received.

In PebbleCreek, an area in Goodyear north of Interstate 10 and east of the Loop 303, the GOP trio won comfortably in a precinct where half the registered voters are Republicans. They garnered totals in the mid- to upper-50% range. But Yee collected 67% of the votes there; Horne got 60%; and Mitchell got 64%.

It was a difference of more than 450 fewer votes for Lake, nearly 600 less for Masters and more than 700 less for Finchem in a pattern that rippled across the county.

'The MAGA movement is about subtraction'

Across Arizona, Lake lost by a relatively narrow margin, hardly reflecting a broad rejection of her political brand. But in America’s newest swing state — and arguably its fiercest — little differences can be decisive.

In the wreckage of a midterm outcome most Republicans and many analysts didn’t see coming, people have seized on missteps by the GOP’s polarizing, Trump-approved candidates.

Lake, for example, practically ordered supporters of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to not vote for her.

“We don’t have any McCain Republicans in here, do we? All right, get the hell out,” she said in December 2021.

Masters didn’t respond to the offer of an endorsement from Karrin Taylor Robson, who finished a close second to Lake in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

During an October appearance in Tempe, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., noted that Lake and Finchem “have said that they will only honor the results of an election if they agree with it. If you care about the survival of our republic, we cannot give people power who will not honor elections.”

Cheney’s words were featured in an ad circulating in the final days before the election.

Coughlin said Lake, in particular, violated a basic rule of politics: winning requires addition, not subtraction.

“The MAGA movement is about subtraction. It’s about cleaning your bloodlines instead of acknowledging that you need more people to govern and bigger majorities,” he said. The Republicans who chose Hobbs over Lake essentially did what Lake instructed them to do.

“Everybody was down on the Hobbs campaign, how bad it was. The reality is the Lake campaign was worse. It actually told people not to vote for them," Coughlin said. "They succeeded in being their own worst enemy."

Solop was surprised the Trump ticket didn’t move more to the center after their primary wins.

“Kari Lake just did not pivot to the center. We know that Blake Masters tried to pivot somewhat to the center, but he really didn’t do it either,” Solop said. “As we went further down the ticket, Kimberly Yee, who has solid Republican credentials, we see her doing quite well. 

“A lot of Republicans just went for the Republican label. Republicans still prefer the Republican brand, but when people are putting out that MAGA rhetoric, it just really turned enough voters off.”

The 2022 election seems destined to be defined by what Republicans did and didn’t do.

Turnout in the two Democratic-leaning congressional districts with outsized Hispanic populations in Maricopa County was 23 percentage points lower than it was elsewhere in the county. Simply put: Tens of thousands of Democrats, concentrated in the southwest Valley, sat out the midterms.

Democrats did show up in Pima County and once again put Republicans in massive vote holes.

Lake lost in Arizona’s second-most-populous county by 84,000 votes. Masters, who lives in Tucson, lost there by more than 100,000 votes. Finchem lost there by 106,000.

The 2022 elections are the third cycle in a row of notable Democratic success, and in some ways the most disappointing for the GOP. Unlike 2018 and 2020, this year had a strong undercurrent of a Republican uprising.

Historic inflation remained a top issue, and with Democrats in charge of the White House and Congress, it seemed voters were poised to swing to the right.

Republicans did pick up two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona's recently redrawn congressional map, a feat that looks more impressive after the GOP’s underwhelming showing nationally.

But Republicans went from nine straight Senate victories in Arizona beginning in 1992 to their third straight loss since 2018.

Republic reporter Sahana Jayaraman contributed to this report.