For the past 30 years, Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake thrived in the highly competitive world of TV journalism — and then, she says, “fake news” drove her out of the biz and into politics.
She spent two decades in the Phoenix market and became a local celebrity, someone Arizonans trusted to deliver the news of the day.
Now, as a front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor, Ms. Lake fuels her campaign by railing at “fake news” and the dishonesty of the industry she once revered.
Her metamorphosis began with her reaction to news outlets’ coverage of former President Donald Trump, whom she said she secretly supported since 2016.
“I thought, ‘Wow, what a great candidate to cover, what a great person to get into politics because he‘s representing the people.’ But, the people in the media didn’t see it that way. They just wanted to tear him apart and destroy the man,” Ms. Lake, who received Mr. Trump‘s endorsement, told The Washington Times.
She is advocating for Mr. Trump‘s “America First” policies and increasing security on the southern border.
She is among a new wave of Republican candidates who were energized by Mr. Trump and are now echoing his message and trying to follow the path he blazed through America’s political landscape.
Gina Woodall, a political science professor at Arizona State University, argues Ms. Lake‘s background reporting straight news gives her a legitimacy in her tirades against the new industry, more so than other pro-Trump candidates making similar accusations.
“She can definitely make that argument and say, ‘Hey, I was in the media. I know the way that it works,’” Ms. Woodall said. “I think, for some voters, that does bring some legitimacy to her, like not only do I kind of talk the talk with disliking the media, but I was actually in the media.”
The race to replace Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who is ineligible by state law to run for a third term, is crowded.
Ms. Lake is vying with several GOP gubernatorial hopefuls, including Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee and former Rep. Matt Salmon.
Democrats angling to succeed Mr. Ducey include Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and ex-state Rep. Aaron Lieberman, who announced his resignation from the statehouse last week to focus on his campaign.
Mr. Ducey became a target of Mr. Trump‘s wrath after he refuted the former president’s claims that he had lost the 2020 election due to mass voter fraud.
The Trump endorsement no doubt added momentum to her primary run as the 2020 election audit in the state has kept the Trump base electrified. However, ties to Mr. Trump also energize the Democratic base and pose a liability in the general election in a swing state such as Arizona.
At a Trump rally in Phoenix this summer, Ms. Lake caught the attention of the former president as he called out Arizona’s Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates by name. The crowd’s enthusiastic reaction to Ms. Lake outshined the others, prompting the former president to take pause.
“Whoa,” Mr. Trump said. “This could be a big night for you.”
In her speech at the rally, the crowd chanted Ms. Lake‘s name as she vowed to “Make Arizona Great Again” and urged them to reject the mainstream media.
“I worked for 27 years in the media and when I left, I pulled the plug and I told them what was going on,” Ms. Lake told the crowd. “The media is nothing more than a propaganda machine trying to destroy this country by dividing us, and we’re not going to let them do that anymore. Turn it off.”
Her journalism background also posed an early challenge in her campaign, she said in an interview with The Times, recalling how she struggled to shed her hard-practiced objectivity.
After one of her first interviews on the other side of the microphone, she got some pointed advice that she‘d better speak out and take a stand or else risk losing the race.
“I’ve just kind of retrained myself [on the idea] that I’m running for governor. I’m not running to be a news anchor,” Ms. Lake said. “We’re in real trouble in Arizona, if we don’t get a Republican, a true conservative in office. That’s what I feel.”
In his endorsement, Mr. Trump cited Ms. Lake’s media background, challenging reporters to contest her candidacy.
“She is a fantastic person who spent many years working as a highly respected television anchor and journalist,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “Because of this, few can take on the Fake News Media like Kari.”
Though a newcomer, Ms. Lake also garnered the interest of members of Arizona’s congressional delegation. GOP Rep. Paul Gosar, one of Mr. Trump‘s staunchest allies, said he‘s known the candidate for a year and expressed confidence in her campaign, despite her being a political novice.
“She‘s a good lady,” Mr. Gosar said. “She doesn’t have a record because she hasn’t held office, but there’s a bunch of good people in that race.”
Ms. Lake, who has interviewed Mr. Ducey and Mr. Trump throughout her career, said while she thinks the governor is “a nice man,” she disagreed with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his refusal to take a strong stance on the controversial election audit that recently concluded in Maricopa County.
“I was the only candidate to go down to the audit site and tour that here in Arizona,” Ms. Lake said. “Our own governor, Doug Ducey, wouldn’t go down there. He just sat on the sidelines and criticized it without even taking a look at how things were done.”
However, at least one other Republican primary candidate, Mr. Salmon, did also visit the audit site.
“A big thank you to @BennettArizona for taking the time to give me a tour and update me on the progress of the Arizona audit this morning,” Mr. Salmon tweeted on June 30. “There is little more important than ensuring all Arizonans have confidence in the electoral process. #ArizonaAudit”
The audit’s results, which were announced late last month, affirmed President Biden’s 2020 victory in Arizona, which broke the state’s longtime course of being a Republican stronghold.
Mr. Trump, however, used the findings that alleged that there were inconsistencies related to mail-in balloting and potential duplicate ballots to continue his accusations that voter fraud cost his loss to Mr. Biden.
In a radio interview on the “Joe Pags Show” this week, Ms. Lake echoed Mr. Trump, saying the main aspect of the report “was how many of those ballots were fraudulent.”
She also blamed Mr. Ducey and Ms. Hobbs, who is a front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, for certifying the 2020 election.
“He and Katie Hobbs, I mean, I don’t know how they’re living with themselves putting us all through this by certifying this in the first place,” Ms. Lake said. “[It] shouldn’t have happened. [It] needs to be decertified and we need to really start looking at criminal charges here.”
The primary election will be held in August 2022.