In Arizona’s race for governor, Hobbs takes a narrow lead

In Arizona’s race for governor, Hobbs takes a narrow lead

PEORIA, Ariz. – In a cramped campaign office tucked inside a strip mall, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs was hours away from Election Day trying to rally volunteers while tempering expectations.

“I think this state is still a red state,” Ms. Hobbs said, pointing to the Republican advantage over Democrats in the number of voters. “We’re right where we thought we’d be in terms of the closeness of this race. We knew it was going to come down to the wire.”

Mrs. Hobbs always warned that the race would be close. What some Republicans — and even some Democrats — in Arizona haven’t realized is how tight it is.

Ms. Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, rose to prominence when she helped certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, defending the integrity of the state’s election system against prolonged efforts by allies of former President Donald J. Trump to nullify the recount.

But she struggled to compete with her Trump-backed Republican rival, the charismatic and combative Kari Lake.

Ms. Lake, a former news anchor from Phoenix, has often used her media expertise to drive the media narrative, seeking to paint her opponent as “too weak” for Arizona and a “coward” for refusing to face her on the debate stage. It didn’t help that Ms. Hobbs was mild-mannered and soft-spoken, a former social worker and state politician who often seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight.

But on Tuesday, Ms. Hobbs beat expectations in the earliest votes, which mostly included Democratic-leaning early ballots. By Wednesday night, Ms. Hobbs was still hanging on — if only just with gentle guidance.

In an email to her supporters earlier Wednesday, she again urged patience, saying election officials were recording votes that would need to be counted in the next few days. On Twitter, Ms Lake also told her supporters to remain with us, adding, “We shall win a great victory.”

This is not Ms. Hobbs’ first race. When she won in 2018, she won by less than one percentage point.

The results are still coming in, and Republicans still believe that Ms. Lake could pull out a victory. But if Ms. Hobbs got this far, it was by following a strategy few thought would work. She tried to stay out of the spotlight and out of conflict. She relied on allies to make the case that she could fight for Arizona, even as she sometimes had trouble articulating the point herself.

“Katie – maybe she’s not flashy,” President Barack Obama said to cheering supporters at a rally in the final days of the campaign. “She could have been. She simply chooses not to because she is serious about her work.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under Obama, echoed Obama’s remarks the next day at a rally for Ms. Hobbs in Phoenix. Tonya Norwood, co-chair of the African-American Coalition for Katie Hobbs, said black leaders wanted to organize the event because they believed Ms. Hobbs stood for inclusive government.

“There may be two candidates running for governor, but only one has a vision for our state that is based on truth and experience,” Ms. Norwood said.

The governor’s race in Arizona is seen as crucial to the direction of the state. It’s also one of several across the country where the stakes of the election’s future are most clearly drawn.

Arizona has become a hotbed of conspiracy theories during the 2020 election since President Biden won the state by more than 10,000 votes. Ms. Lake participated in those lies, launching her campaign saying the 2020 election was stolen.

In the final hours of the race, she walked a fine line between encouraging supporters to get out and raising concerns about reports of malfunctioning tab machines. At her election night watch party, she told supporters she believed she would win the race, but also hinted that she would blame the loss on fraud and incompetence by election officials.

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