In Arizona, Kari Lake’s Next Move Splits Factions of G.O.P.
PHOENIX — Kari Lake’s defeat in the governor’s race in Arizona has set off a high-stakes tug of war within the Republican Party, as Ms. Lake’s right-wing allies pushed her to mount a Trump-style challenge to the results, while some establishment leaders — including a former Republican governor — urged her to concede her loss and move on.
Ms. Lake’s next move could prove a turning point for her party and the far-right faction of election deniers that propelled her rapid rise this year. Ms. Lake stands as the last high-profile candidate in a class of strident promoters of 2020 conspiracy theories to lose her bid, and many of her followers view her race as a sort of last stand for a battered movement.
But, should she concede her defeat, it could be the latest evidence that Republicans are reading the midterm results, eyeing their political futures and heeding the advice of the establishment that has sought to return some normalcy to elections.
On Tuesday, Blake Masters, the Republican who lost his Senate race in Arizona, called to congratulate Senator Mark Kelly, the Democratic incumbent. Adam Laxalt, the Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, also conceded his loss on Tuesday, three days after the race was called for his opponent, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat.
“Kari Lake has lost the race in my opinion. There’s no way for her to have a pathway,” former Gov. Jan Brewer, a conservative Republican, said in an interview Tuesday. “If I was in that position, I probably would concede. Our democracy is so important to what our country and state stands for. We vote people in and we vote people out.”
Other establishment Republicans sent a similar signal on Tuesday by congratulating Katie Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state, on her victory in the race. Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who is term-limited, called Ms. Hobbs on Monday morning. Ms. Brewer said she was planning to call her later Tuesday.
It’s unclear what Ms. Lake’s legal challenge would look like. Election officials have said that despite scattered problems, there were no issues that prevented voters from casting ballots on Election Day.
Still, Ms. Lake has given no sign that she is preparing to concede. Her only public words so far have been to suggest, without evidence, that the vote was tainted. “Arizonans know BS when they see it,” she tweeted on Monday night, after The Associated Press called the race.
The Lake campaign is working in tandem with other Republican state campaigns to prepare a legal fight, according two people familiar with the planning who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The campaign and its allies have for days been collecting testimonials from voters that could be used in court.
Understand the Outcomes of the 2022 Midterm Elections
What we know. It seemed as if the conditions were ripe for a red wave in the 2022 midterms, but in the end Republicans generated no more than a red ripple, leading to an improbable, still-undecided election. Here’s what the results tell us so far:
Biden beat the odds. President Biden had the best midterms of any president in 20 years, avoiding the losses his predecessors endured and maintaining the Democrats’ narrow hold on the Senate, which provides him with a critical guardrail against Republicans should they win the House.
G.O.P. faces a reckoning. A thin Republican majority in the House appears likely, but a poor midterms showing has the party wrestling with what went wrong: Was it bad candidates, bad messaging or the electoral anchor that appeared to be dragging the G.O.P. down, Donald J. Trump?
Trump under fire. Mr. Trump has faced unusual public attacks from within the G.O.P. after a string of losses by his handpicked candidates. There are also signs of an effort to inch the party away from the former president ahead of his expected announcement of a third White House bid.
Abortion mattered. In the first major election since the fall of Roe v. Wade, abortion rights broke through, as Democrats seized on the issue to hold off a red wave. In all five states where abortion-related questions were on the ballot, voters chose to protect access or reject further limits on it.
Voters rejected election deniers. Every 2020 election denier who sought to become the top election official in a critical battleground state lost at the polls this year. Voters roundly rejected extreme partisans who promised to restrict voting and overhaul the electoral process.
Moderation won. In battleground states and swing districts, voters shunned extremists from the right and the left. Republicans received an especially sweeping rebuke from Americans who made clear they believe that the G.O.P. has become unacceptably extreme.
With a presidential campaign announcement pending from Donald J. Trump, Ms. Lake’s most important supporter, she appeared content to keep a low profile on Tuesday — and keep people guessing — for at least another day. The adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Ms. Lake was fielding advice from across the gamut of Republican politics but, as she had done her entire campaign, she would ultimately keep her own counsel, as she was doing at home in Scottsdale with her tight circle of advisers.
Ms. Lake, a former Phoenix news anchor who Republicans saw as a breakout star this election season, lost to Ms. Hobbs by less than a percentage point. Online and in her campaign’s war room over the past few days, election-denying firebrands have been urging Ms. Lake to fight the results.
Their arguments hang largely on a printing problem that slowed the tabulation of scores of ballots in Maricopa County on Election Day and caused confusion at some polling places. Maricopa County officials, many of them Republicans, have said the issue did not deny anyone the opportunity to vote.
Mr. Trump appeared to be among those goading Ms. Lake to fight. On Sunday, he called her and falsely suggested Democrats were trying to steal her victory as they had his in 2020, according to a person familiar with the conversation. On social media, he wrote, “They just took the election away from Kari Lake.”
Mr. Trump went silent on the matter on Tuesday, as he prepared to announce his bid for president.
Ms. Lake’s other election-denying allies — some who were involved in efforts to overturn Mr. Trump’s loss in 2020 — continued a drumbeat. Steve Bannon, the radio host who advised Mr. Trump on the effort to overturn the 2020 election results and stumped for Ms. Lake and other top Republicans in Arizona, and his guests called on election officials not to certify the results. The right-wing election denial influencer Seth Keshel said on Truth Social, Mr. Trump’s social media platform, that Ms. Lake, who he said he knows, “won’t be conceding a damn thing,” and Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s fired national security adviser, demanded a hand count of the results.
“Spent hours last night working with Lake team on a continuing war for Arizona,” tweeted Floyd Brown, founder of the right-wing publication The Western Journal. Mr. Brown is the operative behind the notoriously racist Willie Horton ads during the 1988 presidential campaign and conspiracy theories of the Clinton and Obama eras. “She will not go quietly into the night. She intends to stand and fight.”
Officials in Maricopa County, home to more than half of the state’s voters, said the problems at the polls on Election Day affected ballot tabulation machines in about 70 of the county’s 223 voting centers. They blamed printers that were not making dark enough markings on the ballots. Voters who experienced problems, however, were told to drop their ballots in a secure box, so that they could be tabulated later.
Republicans intervened on Election Day, seeking to extend voting hours. Their request was denied by Judge Timothy J. Ryan of Maricopa County Superior Court, who said parties had not presented evidence that voters were denied the opportunity to vote. The judge agreed to keep the case open, but on Tuesday, Republicans dropped the case.
Republican groups have been collecting stories of voters who witnessed the technical problems at the polls, setting up an online form and email address for voters to submit their accounts. Mr. Brown and others associated with The Western Journal also have been publicizing such stories, often in videos being spread on social media.
The affidavits could become fodder for lawsuits claiming the election was troubled.
In 2020, many of the lawsuits trying to overturn the presidential election on behalf of Mr. Trump similarly relied — in that case unsuccessfully — on the collection of witness accounts from the polling places making various unfounded or inconclusive accusations.
But some establishment Republicans pointed out a case could be difficult to argue when the party had notched other victories: Kimberly Yee, Arizona’s Republican state treasurer, accrued the most votes of any candidate in a contested race. Republicans also won two House seats on Monday that edged them closer to control of the House.
Another factor weighing on Ms. Lake’s decision is the race for attorney general. The Republican candidate, Abraham Hamadeh, was trailing his Democratic opponent, Kris Mayes, by around 2,000 votes — well within the 0.5 percent margin that triggers an automatic recount. Republican campaigns were still working on locating and contacting supporters whose ballots may need to be “cured” of errors before they can be counted.
Some in Ms. Lake’s campaign were holding out hope the margin could drop and force a recount, according to an adviser with the campaign.
Turning Point USA, a group whose leaders have been promoting Ms. Lake’s campaign, has sent out conflicting messages about what comes next. On his live podcast on Monday, Charlie Kirk, the group’s leader, went from expressing optimism about Ms. Lake’s chances of winning to shock at her dismal performance. His guest, Wendy Rogers, a state lawmaker who was censured by the State Senate after giving a speech at a white nationalist gathering, seemed introspective: “We wonder now if we were in echo chamber. I don’t know. I’m just beginning to get some perspective.”
Ken Bensinger and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.