PHOENIX – Vying to become Arizona’s first Democratic governor since 2009, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs maintained a narrow lead Wednesday over former television anchor and Trump ally Kari Lake.
“We have seen the first results come in, and we are feeling good about what we are seeing,” Hobbs told supporters at a watch party Tuesday night, cautioning them that final results may not be known for days. “I know we’re eager to find out who won each of these incredibly important races. But we all need to be patient and wait for every vote to be counted.”
Some polling places saw long lines and wait times as voters turned out to cast ballots in a race the Hobbs campaign called “a toss up” in the lead up to Election Day.
Lake, on the other hand, expressed confidence when she addressed supporters.
“Guess what: We are going to win this,” she said, reminding her backers that “it’s very early” still in the counting. “And if we have to take this fight through, we will. If it takes hours or days, we will.”
The contest drew national attention, with Politico calling it one of the “most consequential” gubernatorial races in the nation.
Lake built a contentious campaign on the coattails of former President Donald Trump, repeatedly denying the results of the 2020 election between him and President Joe Biden – calling the race “rigged,” “corrupt” and “stolen” and deriding Biden as an “illegitimate president.”
She struck a similar note even as she went to cast her own ballot Tuesday, telling reporters that voters had called her in tears earlier in the day because of problems with tabulation machines at some Maricopa County polls.
“We have had problems after problems,” she said, vowing to reform the election process if elected. “When we win, there’s going to be a come to Jesus for elections in Arizona.”
Lake was referencing problems with tabulation machines that failed to properly count ballots at 60 voting centers in Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous. Some ballots were too faint to be read by the machines. The problem was resolved after technicians changed printer settings, and Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates said “people were still able to vote.”
Lake, nevertheless, joined other Arizona Republicans and the Republican National Committee in filing an emergency request to extend voting hours in the county – a judge rejected the motion within hours.
While Lake was focused on election fraud, Hobbs ran a campaign centered around a message of preserving democracy by fighting “sham audits” and “anti-democratic extremism.”
Her platform spotlighted economic issues, abortion rights and clean energy, mirroring the platforms of Democratic candidates across the state. Throughout the campaign, Hobbs said a vote for her was a vote for “sanity versus chaos,” referring to Lake’s views on abortion and elections.
At an event Tuesday morning on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, Hobbs predicted the race would be tight and reminded students of the importance of their votes.
“This election can really determine the future of democracy,” she said, “not just in Arizona but in the country.”
Voters who cast their ballots in person on Tuesday were driven by an increasingly polarized political field.
Mike Phillips, a registered independent from Phoenix, said he voted Democrat down the ballot out of a sense of moral duty and concern about Republicans.
“When you get older, maybe it’s more the moral compass stuff becomes more important — (like) social issues,” Phillips said.
“I’m concerned about certain candidates and certain parties, in a big way.”
Mary Ellen Barker of Phoenix was driven by similar sentiment – but she voted the opposite of Phillips, citing concerns about immigration, drug trafficking and inflation.
She also said she thought both the Democratic and Republican parties were corrupt, and that she supports Lake and Trump “because they’re not politicians.”
“They’re just there to do the job,” Barker said.
Trump held rallies for Lake and other Arizona Republicans this year in Florence, Prescott and, most recently, in Mesa in October.
Lake’s campaign was heavy on negative hits on Hobbs. She called Hobbs a racist and coward many times during the race. The strategy, along with Hobbs’ refusal to debate her, led to her moving ahead in the polls in the final weeks before the election.
Hobbs defended her decision to avoid debating Lake, citing her opponent’s behavior in a June GOP primary debate, during which Lake repeatedly questioned the validity of the 2020 election. In an interview with Arizona PBS, Hobbs said Lake “is only interested in a spotlight.”
With Hobbs falling slightly behind in the polls in the final weeks before Election Day, the Arizona Democratic Party brought in former President Barack Obama to rally voters. Obama endorsed every Arizona state Democratic candidate, including Hobbs, at an event in Laveen on Nov. 2.
Hobbs has served in state office for 11 years, moving up the ranks from state representative to state senator and then, in 2019, to her current position as secretary of state.
Arizona has not had a Democrat as governor since 2009, when Janet Napolitano left to join the Obama administration as secretary of homeland security.
The ongoing debates around election integrity didn’t keep voters like Angela Willeford from the polls. Willeford, a member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, said Election Day represented something larger than herself. It’s participating in history.
“It’s Democracy Day!” she said to voters as she passed out breakfast burritos and T-shirts outside a community center turned polling place Tuesday morning.
Willeford, 42, volunteers to help get out the Indigenous vote.
“That’s what democracy is about, making sure we’re celebrating voting and encouraging our community members to step up. Whether you’re Republican or independent or Democrat, we want you just to participate in the process,” she said. “That’s what democracy is for me.”
Reporters Lauren Irwin, Francesca D’Annunzio, Jordan Gerard contributed to this story.