Lake expected to keep fighting in court as advisers debate where their strategy went wrong

Stacey Barchenger
Arizona Republic

Leer en español

Kari Lake’s campaign headquarters were quiet Friday morning, betraying all other indications that the firebrand former gubernatorial candidate and her loyalists are gearing up for a fight. 

Lake has spent the weeks since Democrat Katie Hobbs won the race to be Arizona’s next governor raising concern about the election in Maricopa County, gathering and sharing stories of voters who experienced long lines and ballot printer issues on Election Day. 

The former television newscaster has made clear in media appearances that her next move will be filing a lawsuit over those issues and what she calls a “botched” Maricopa County election.  

That lawsuit is likely to come this week, and it promises future fireworks from a campaign for state office unlike any seen before in Arizona.  

As Lake anticipates a legal battle, four of her campaign staffers and advisers offered their reflections on the campaign that at one point seemed on a glide path to victory — but fell just short.

They point to a late-in-the-game shift to focus too narrowly on the playbook written by Donald Trump and on Maricopa County versus pitching Lake’s plans for the future of the state to all Arizonans, namely rural residents and swing voters.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake speaks at a campaign event at Social Tap in Scottsdale on Nov. 2, 2022.

Now multiple former aides, outside consultants and even leaders of Hobbs’ campaign acknowledge that had Lake stuck to slightly more traditional advice, Arizona's next governor might be a Republican and not a Democrat.

“I blame the campaign for Kari's loss, not fraud," said Ed Morabito, a former Lake adviser. "She was poorly served by advisers who had no idea what they were doing. We never fully welcomed moderate voters, and the anti-McCain and Trump nonsense killed us.”

Hobbs bested Lake by just more than 17,000 votes of more than 2.5 million cast, a razor-thin 0.6 percentage point gap, in a year that saw Arizona voters largely reject candidates for statewide office who closely aligned with Trump. The Associated Press called the race for Hobbs on Nov. 14, almost a week after Election Day. 

Concession, certification and an upcoming case 

Lake has not conceded, though some of her former aides and allies say she should do so.  

“My advice would have been to immediately concede and wish Katie Hobbs well,” said Morabito, who joined the Lake campaign after working for GOP candidate Steve Gaynor, who dropped out of the gubernatorial race in April. “That’s how our system works. No court will overturn the election.” 

Across the country, Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin — who visited Scottsdale in October to stump for Lake — told a television reporter for 8News in Richmond, the state’s capital city, that when elections “have been fully counted and reviewed, folks need to go ahead and accept the results and move on with them.” 

Lake has committed to a lawsuit, one that will likely be meatier than the civil case the campaign is pursuing seeking election-related records from Maricopa County. The public records case is set for hearings this week as well, and attorneys for Maricopa County signaled they will seek to have the matter dismissed.  

Under Arizona law, Lake has five days to file her challenge to the election result once the statewide canvass is complete, a timeline she acknowledged in a radio interview last week.  

Hobbs, who is Arizona’s secretary of state, will certify the result despite Lake’s protests that doing so is a conflict of interest. The secretary of state collects results from all 15 counties, tallies them and declares the winner, with the governor and attorney general witnessing the process. Hobbs’ office has noted that there is no legal requirement to step aside, and that doing so would upset decades-long precedent.  

Certification, which is also called canvassing, is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday. 

Election conspiracy theories are nothing new. Why do we keep falling for them?

An inside look at Lake’s strategy 

As soon as Lake entered the race to replace term-limited Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in June 2021, she was seen as a formidable foe. A first-time candidate, she had been on Fox 10 news for more than two decades, making her an already familiar name to millions of voters.  

She was tough-talking, charismatic onstage and unafraid to take on the media. Her instincts guided her along the campaign trail and on a meteoric rise to the national stage in Trump’s wing of the Republican party.

Lake gained national media attention for tossing aside traditional campaign advice, and in an October interview with Politico she bragged about ignoring political consultants and intentionally not courting donors.

Sometimes those instincts created division and controversy, like her claim she’d drove a “stake through the heart of the McCain machine” just days after committing herself to unifying the Republican party. 

Lake's advisers all spoke highly of Lake as a candidate, describing her as a hard worker who stayed true to her beliefs. But the aides also said the campaign erred in not focusing more on rural counties and should have appealed to moderate and swing voters to add support to the campaign. And urging votes to be cast on Election Day itself was a mistake in hindsight, they said. 

Lake’s policy adviser Sam Stone said the election outcome was attributable, in part, to the broader GOP effort to cast doubt on early voting and not doing enough to compete with Democrats and their allies when it came to turning out those votes.  

For years in Arizona, Republicans mastered early votes, turning them into an advantage going into Election Day, which helped to focus on mobilizing remaining voters. Trump’s war on early voting shifted that pattern in 2020 to favor day-of voting, which Lake predicted would carry her to victory over Hobbs this year but did not come to fruition. 

“We spent years teaching people to use early ballots, then we spent the last couple of years telling them to be afraid of them, and meanwhile Democrats are making use of the system we have,” said Stone, who in addition to advising Lake ran for a seat on Phoenix City Council this cycle and is headed toward a March runoff election. 

'Furthering false narratives': Lake, Finchem lawsuit draws sanction order from judge

Stone said he believed the campaign underestimated the use of paid advertising to overcome some voters’ superficial views of Lake: that she was all about Trump or concern over elections.  

Meanwhile the strategy unfurled by Hobbs’ team banked heavily on paid media; the campaign and state Democratic Party estimated they spent at least $25 million on advertising.  

A shift in staff and strategy 

The Lake campaign had planned to focus on policy issues in the runup to Nov. 8 — showing what Lake would do for Arizona in an effort to contrast the negative attacks from Hobbs’ campaign.

But that focus was overshadowed by an approach that made Lake inseparable from Trumpworld and ultimately narrowed her appeal.  

One week before the election, Lake appeared in Chandler with Steve Bannon, the former Trump adviser and conservative media host convicted of criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.  

On the eve of Election Day, Lake claimed at a rally the media didn’t want her talking about “stolen elections.” Days after the race was called, Lake traveled to Trump's Florida home at Mar-a-Lago for an event. 

That shift centered on Caroline Wren’s increasing prominence in the Lake campaign, which created fault lines with others on the campaign. Wren was a fundraiser for Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, rally at the Ellipse near the White House in Washington, D.C., and her role prompted a subpoena from the congressional committee investigating the insurrection later that day. 

Stone called Wren's style demanding but effective, while Morabito called it an “unmitigated disaster” to elevate a fundraiser to a strategy role.

An Arizona Republic review of precinct level data in Maricopa County confirmed as much: Lake and other candidates who falsely claimed Trump won in 2020 bled moderate GOP voters who supported their Democratic rivals instead

A young staffer who answered the doorbell at Lake’s otherwise sleepy campaign headquarters in a Camelback Road office building on Friday morning referred comment for this story to Lake’s spokesperson. The spokesperson, Ross Trumble, did not respond to a voicemail or email. 

Lake herself has not taken questions from The Republic since late July, when she alleged "stealing going on" in her primary race.

Wren, reached by phone Saturday morning, also declined to comment by echoing Lake's frequent campaign attacks on The Republic.

“We’re used to negative press from The Republic,” she said.

Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at stacey.barchenger@arizonarepublic.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.