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Kari Lake has carried the mantle of Donald Trump as she has surged to the forefront of the Republican primary for governor, and she now gets to carry the former president’s endorsement, as well, a prize that GOP insiders say locks up her status as the frontrunner.
Trump on Tuesday endorsed Lake in the five-way Republican primary, calling her a “fantastic person” whose decades as a television news anchor with Fox 10 means “few can take on the Fake News Media like Kari.”
“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!). She is against Covid lockdowns, Cancel Culture, and will end ‘woke’ curriculum in our schools,” Trump said in an endorsement statement on Tuesday. “Kari will make her wonderful family, and the MAGA movement, very proud.”
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Trump also took a swipe at Gov. Doug Ducey, whom Lake is running to succeed. Ducey and Trump were allies through the former president’s administration. But Trump turned on him for certifying Arizona’s 2020 election results, which saw President Joe Biden become the first Democrat to win the state since 1996. Trump wanted Ducey to refuse to certify the results based on false and baseless claims of election fraud in Arizona.
“She will do a far better job than RINO Governor Doug Ducey — won’t even be a contest!” Trump said in his endorsement.
Lake thanked Trump for his endorsement, writing on Twitter, “This means so much to me because I know how much you love America and how much the people of this country love you! I promise to fight as hard for the people of Arizona as you have fought for us.”
Lake routinely praises Trump on the campaign trail and vows to emulate his policies in Arizona. She has also been a vocal supporter of the bogus election fraud claims that Trump has made over the past 10 months, as he’s falsely alleged that the 2020 election was rigged against him, including in Arizona, where Biden defeated him by 10,457 votes.
The impact on the race could be huge in a race where Lake’s opponents have sought to portray themselves as strong allies of Trump, but now face the prospect of running against an opponent with his blessing.
Chuck Coughlin, a longtime Republican campaign strategist from the firm HighGround, said there’s no doubt the endorsement cements Lake’s frontrunner status. And while other candidates have been “hugging” Trump, Lake has done so more aggressively — and the endorsement makes it harder for her GOP opponents to brandish their conservative credentials.
“In a multiparty race where 28% of the vote could lock up the election, and Trump’s popularity among Republicans is at 80%, that’s a pretty big boost to me. Locks that perception up,” Coughlin said.
Paul Bentz, also a consultant with HighGround, said the endorsement will have another benefit for Lake when it comes to fundraising. It will likely bring in more small donors, Bentz said, while discouraging bigger donors from backing Lake’s opponents.
“She has secured the frontrunner status which now dries up or gives hesitation to the big donors who might’ve been thinking about donating to these other candidates,” he said.
But Trump’s backing could come with a downside as well, Coughlin said, by putting more of a target on her.
Former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham agreed. Graham, an enthusiastic supporter of Trump dating back to the 2016 GOP primaries who is close with the former president, is skeptical of Lake and believes the endorsement will bring more scrutiny of her.
“People haven’t had time to vet her. And just wait and watch what comes out,” Graham said.
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The endorsement is a blow to Lake’s opponents, some of whom have aggressively tied themselves to the former president, as well. And perhaps no other Republican contender has done so as much as former Congressman Matt Salmon.
In response to Trump’s endorsement, Salmon issued a lengthy broadside against Lake, calling her a “fraud” who will betray Trump and the Republican Party. He pointed to Lake’s past campaign contributions to Democrats John Kerry and Barack Obama — she claimed the 2008 Obama contribution was made by her husband — and noted that she was previously registered as a Democrat.
“She is a lifelong member of the liberal media who knows how to put on a show, and she will parrot whatever convenient political slogan is on the teleprompter in front of her to get ahead,” Salmon said. “There is no doubt in my mind that Lake would betray President Trump and Republicans writ large the moment things get tough, just like she has done so many times in the past.”
In addition to Salmon, Lake faces businessman Steve Gaynor, regent and developer Karrin Taylor Robson and state Treasurer Kimberly Yee.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democratic frontrunner in the governor’s race, also took the endorsement as an opportunity to bash Lake, criticizing her for her support for Trump’s false election fraud claims and the state Senate’s so-called “audit” of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County.
“Arizonans are sick and tired of our government being run by conspiracy theorists — like Kari Lake — who wasted our taxpayer dollars and breached voters’ trust in their effort to discredit the 2020 election,” Hobbs said.
This is the second endorsement Trump has made in a statewide race in Arizona so far this year. Earlier this month he endorsed state Rep. Mark Finchem in the Republican primary for secretary of state.
***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include additional comments.
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