Trump ally and former journalist who says the 2020 election was stolen emerges as early frontrunner in Arizona GOP governor contest

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Former President Donald Trump’s favored candidate for Arizona governor has an early lead in polls and a track record of falsely saying the 2020 election was stolen.

Kari Lake, a longtime local news anchor, received Trump’s endorsement in the 2022 gubernatorial race last month.

“She is strong on Crime, will protect our Border, Second Amendment, Military, and Vets, and will fight to restore Election Integrity (both past and future!),” Trump said in a statement. “She is against Covid lockdowns, Cancel Culture, and will end ‘woke’ curriculum in our schools.”

Former Fox News Anchor Kari Lake speaks during the Rally To Protect Our Elections conference on July 24, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Former Fox anchor Kari Lake at the Rally to Protect Our Elections in Phoenix on July 24. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The election is more than a year away, yet Lake is already attracting large crowds to her rallies. “I’ve never seen hundreds of people go to an event over a year out,” Tyler Montague, a Republican strategist in the state, told the Arizona Mirror about Lake’s speeches. And the few polls of the race so far indicate she is a very early frontrunner for the GOP nomination to replace Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who can’t run again due to term limits.

Lake has described having children wear masks as “child abuse” and said the COVID-19 vaccine is “a nightmare that will never stop.” She’s also been outspoken in her belief that Joe Biden was not the rightful winner of the 2020 election, and was a vocal supporter of the much-maligned partisan “audit” conducted in Maricopa County, where most Arizonans reside. That review, which was undertaken by Trump allies over the objections of local Republican officeholders, eventually concluded that Biden had indeed won the state last November.

Lake has also secured the backing of Mike Lindell, the MyPillow founder and a leading conspiracy theorist about the 2020 election. Lake appeared on Lindell’s podcast last month and celebrated his endorsement, writing on Twitter, “Mike Lindell is one of the Great Patriots of our time. I am so incredibly honored to have his Endorsement. He has put EVERYTHING on the line to restore our Elections.”

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona's Electoral College prior to them casting their votes in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. December 14, 2020. (Ross D. Franklin via Reuters)

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of the state’s Electoral College before they cast their votes on Dec. 14, 2020. (Ross D. Franklin via Reuters)

Democrats have eked out narrow statewide victories in Arizona in the past two elections, winning two U.S. Senate seats in addition to Biden’s victory. Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, is seen as the frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Lake, for her part, has accused Hobbs of aiding in the imaginary effort to steal the election, and has called for her to be “locked up.”

Lake also said she wouldn’t have certified the 2020 election results, as Ducey and Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich did.

Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Arizona since 1996, and the state has produced a number of leading Republican politicians, such as Sens. Barry Goldwater and John McCain. But in recent years the Arizona GOP has been riven by infighting between its far-right and more moderate wings.

In January, the Arizona Republican Party voted to censure Ducey for implementing COVID-19 protocols. It also censured McCain’s widow, Cindy, and former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, who both endorsed Biden prior to the election. Flake is now Biden’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Turkey.

Kelli Ward, a right-wing former state senator who unsuccessfully ran against McCain in the 2016 GOP primary, was elected chair of the state GOP in 2019. A staunch Trump ally, she backed the former president’s attempts to reverse the results of the 2020 election.

“Congress is adjourned,” Ward tweeted as pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to block certification of the election. “Send the elector choice back to the legislatures.”

Arizona state representative Mark Finchem (R-AZ) speaks at a rally in Iowa State Fairgrounds, in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., October 9, 2021. (Rachel Mummey/Reuters)

Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, a Republican, at a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Oct. 9. (Rachel Mummey/Reuters)

In addition to Lake, Trump has also endorsed state legislator Mark Finchem — another promoter of election falsehoods who attended the Jan. 6 rally at the Capitol — for Arizona secretary of state. Finchem has consistently pushed the notion that the election was stolen from Trump while supporting the Maricopa “audit.”

“The Maricopa County 2020 election cannot be allowed to stand. It must be decertified and set aside,” Finchem said at a recent Trump rally in Iowa. He is one of at least 10 Republicans running for the top election posts in their respective states who say the 2020 contest was stolen from Trump.

Trump’s ongoing insistence that he won the election appears to have swayed a majority of Republicans. Poll after poll has indicated that most Republican voters do not believe Biden was legitimately elected, while many who dispute that fantasy — such as Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who was ousted from House Republican leadership after rebutting Trump’s lies — have been ostracized by their own party.

Former Rep. Matt Salmon, who is running against Lake for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, called for a statewide audit of the 2020 election last month, continuing to cast doubt on the results. Following Trump’s endorsement of Lake, Salmon referred to her as a “fraud,” citing her time as a journalist and a 2004 donation to John Kerry’s presidential campaign.

State Treasurer Kimberly Yee and Karrin Taylor Robson, a developer, are among the other candidates vying for the nomination to follow Ducey on the party ticket.

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