LAURIE ROBERTS

What if Katie Hobbs is incapable of stopping the Kari Lake juggernaut?

Opinion: The Arizona governor's race seems to be about one thing: Kari Lake. It's easy to forget Katie Hobbs, who has not yet inspired much confidence that she's prepared to stop the Lake juggernaut.

Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community President, Martin Harvier, left, shakes hands with Democratic nomination for Arizona governor, Katie Hobbs, after she toured the River People Health Center on Aug. 5, 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Laurie Roberts
Arizona Republic

Anybody seen Katie Hobbs lately?

For awhile now, I’ve been thinking about grabbing a milk carton and pasting her picture on its side with the caption: Have you seen this woman?

OK, so that’s a slight exaggeration. But as we round into the heart of Arizona’s general election campaign, the governor’s race seems to be wholly and solely about one thing: Kari Lake.

Lake, the Trump dynamo who will save us from the end of days. Or Lake, the total nutjob who will doom us to disaster.

Then there’s Hobbs, who occasionally seems to surface but as yet has not inspired much confidence that she’s prepared to thwart the Lake juggernaut.

If Katie Hobbs is campaigning, no one sees it

Where Lake is charismatic and fully in command in front of a camera or a crowd, Hobbs comes across as shaky and uncomfortable.

Where Lake is revving up an already energized base, Hobbs often seems invisible to the independents and the moderate Republican women she will need if she wants to win this election.

Hobbs’ campaign spokesman vehemently disagrees, insisting that Hobbs is dominating Lake in both fundraising and ad time as well as on the campaign trial.

5 things to watch:In governor's race between Katie Hobbs and Kari Lake

“The campaign is going very well,” Hobbs spokesman Joe Wolf told me. “Katie is working tirelessly. She’s meeting with voters across the state, talking about the issues that matter most to Arizonans: Inflation, water, education, reproductive health. She’s meeting them where they are, talking about issues in ways that connect with them.”

If so, that’s news to some of the state’s political consultants.

“I’ve not talked to a single person that has said Katie Hobbs is getting out into the public square,” said one Democratic consultant, who asked not to be named so as not to anger the Hobbs campaign. “I don’t know anybody that would claim that’s true. Everybody I talked to says the exact same thing. She’s not getting out there enough.”

“I don’t see her out there and I've talked to other candidates that won their primaries that have been complaining they never see her,” said another Democratic consultant. “She needs to raise her game.”

Does she think Kari Lake will defeat herself?

When Senate candidate Mark Kelly went to the border last week, it was all over the news.

When Katie Hobbs did her post-primary Solutions Can’t Wait tour through Arizona, it mostly … wasn’t.  At every turn, she’s overshadowed by Lake.

That’s on the media, which covers Lake like a blanket, never knowing what outlandish thing will pop out of her mouth. 

But it’s also on Hobbs, who seems to be banking on the belief that Lake eventually will hang herself with her extreme views.

You know, sort of like the strategy employed by Hillary Clinton in 2016?

“I think they’ve gotten into a mindset of hoping that Kari Lake is so toxic she’s just going to defeat herself,” one Democratic consultant told me. “I think it’s probably true but it’s still concerning, I think, for many of us. It’s not a sure thing, obviously.

“Kari Lake is a better version of Donald Trump. She’s more articulate, more polished and she knows how to work it on TV. In some ways, she’s scarier.”

Hobbs must inspire moderates to win

To beat her, Hobbs will have to not just win over moderates but inspire them to vote in the Nov. 8 election. Yet she doesn’t appear to be following the playbook employed by former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano or Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly. All three charted a middle-ground strategy designed to vacuum up those voters.

Meanwhile, Hobbs offers no border plan beyond boosting funding for law enforcement, hospitals and community centers. She notes that border and immigration enforcement is a federal issue. She’s right but I wonder if she’s misreading the room given the present border mess and President Joe Biden’s evident inability to address it.

She was forced to backtrack in April after appearing to support Biden’s short-lived plan to lift the Title 42 public health policy that has been used to expel asylum seekers at least 1.7 million times since the start of the pandemic. (She now says "lifting Title 42 without a clear plan to secure our border would be irresponsible".)

And she opposes any restrictions on abortion, saying it’s a decision that “should rest solely between a woman and her doctor.” That may not play so well with some middle-ground voters. Third trimester abortions may be exceedingly rare but they make for great attack ads.

“She needs to campaign like she’s Janet Napolitano but she’s campaigning like she’s Beto O’Rourke,” Republican consultant Marcus Dell’Artino told me.

Hobbs has some things going for her

Democrats, however, say anyone worried about a “border invasion” probably already is voting for Lake. As for abortion, they say Hobbs’ no-restrictions stance will trump Lake’s support of an extreme territorial-era abortion ban that is out of touch with most Arizona voters.

The abortion issue, Democrats believe, is the key to Hobbs winning cross-over voters. That, and the fact that she would serve as a check on what is shaping up to be the most conservative Legislature in modern history.

And the fact that as secretary of state she can authoritatively debunk Lake’s incessant, evidence-free claims of a stolen 2020 election.

“There are some things that are positive,” said Roy Herrera, a former congressional staffer who now is a Democratic election attorney. “She has won statewide. She’s going against an extremist who just in the last week has gone after own party, which I think is going to damage her. And you’ve got Hobbs who is the only mainstream candidate.

“But she, along with all Democratic candidates, is going to have to work to make sure there isn’t a drop off in voter turnout. Make sure there is voter enthusiasm for their candidacy and that’s going to require getting out there and talking to voters.”

Remember Hillary Clinton?

In other words, she’s got to inspire moderate voters with a reason to get excited about her.

“It’s not about position (on issues),” one Democratic strategist told me. “It’s about style and that is what concerns me is style. Kari Lake has style and right now Katie has not got the public profile that shows her style. She just hasn’t shown a style of leadership yet to the public.”

Thus far, about the only reason Hobbs has given moderates to vote for her is this: She isn’t Kari Lake.

“People will come out if they believe that Kari Lake is going to lead the state into a crazy negative place,” Herrara explained.

Funny, I remember a Democrat named Hillary ...

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.