Politics

Kari Lake, a Trump acolyte, struggles to find her way

Kari Lake opened her senatorial campaign in Arizona, showing her firm intention to shed the trappings of Trumpism that made her a star in conservative circles but cost her the gubernatorial race two years ago: baseless allegations of election fraud, merciless attacks on fellow Republicans and obsequious tributes. to former President Donald J. Trump.

Ms Lake, a former TV presenter, contacted her critics. She sought to appeal to the Republican establishment in a way that Mr. Trump did not, presenting his Make America Great Again movement as a natural evolution of Reaganism, which attracted legions of voters to the party over 40 years ago. And she moderated it message about abortionopposing a federal ban on the procedure she once called the “ultimate sin.”

But after six months as a Senate candidate, she is struggling to abandon controversial positions that have discouraged independents and alienated potential allies, attacking methods that Republicans who now support her campaign say would result in another defeat.

At a campaign event last week in Cave Creek, Ariz., she announced plans to pursue legal challenges following her 2022 election defeat, lambasted Republicans as cowards who did not support her fight and claimed, without evidence, that Democrats were orchestrating illicit voting schemes. involving undocumented immigrants.

“This is the only way they can win – with the illegal vote,” Ms Lake said.

Ms. Lake built a national political persona in record time with applause lines that electrified every corner of MAGA Nation. Now, in his second high-profile campaign in as many years, his attempt to temper his approach enough to win a Senate seat is proving to be a difficult task, even for someone with communications skills honed after decades in the local television news business. .

Many moderate Republicans in Arizona remain opposed to her candidacy, criticizing Ms. Lake's overtures as inadequate and insincere. Some conservatives who supported her in 2022 have expressed concerns about her authenticity and questioned her ability to win in November.

“Kari Lake makes a lot of rookie mistakes, and you just don't know what you're going to get with her or where she's going to land,” said Dan Farley, chairman of the Arizona Tea Party and former supporter. who now supports his main opponent, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb. “It’s a powerful force but a bit like a bazooka without a target. She blows up her own garage instead of blowing up her enemies in the driveway.

Public polls show Ms Lake the clear favorite against Mr Lamb. She's also within reach of Rep. Ruben Gallego, the front-runner for the Democratic Senate nomination. The race for the seat, which is being vacated by independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, is one of few this year that is expected to determine control of a closely divided chamber.

Washington Republicans, eager to win back a seat the party held for 14 years before Ms. Sinema won it in 2018 as a Democrat, have rallied around Ms. Lake, who has been endorsed by the party's Senate leadership . Mr. Trump also supported his campaign.

But Ms. Lake still faces convincing difficulties within her own party.

In a survey last month, according to Noble Predictive Insights, 27 percent of Republicans said they had a negative opinion of Ms. Lake, more than double the share of Democrats who said the same of Mr. Gallego. Among all Arizona voters, 49 percent had a negative opinion of Ms. Lake, compared to 40 percent who viewed her positively.

Ms. Lake's team highlighted her public appeal and successful fundraising efforts. She raised about $2.3 million in her first three months as a candidate, one of the strongest showings for a Republican. Much of this amount came from small donations, reflecting strong popular support.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to bring our country together under conservative ideals,” Ms. Lake said in an interview. “I meet people every day who are not Trumpers. I sit with them and I don't change who I am. I say, “Look, we agree on this, this and this. »

The open question is whether Ms. Lake can renounce the public's conservative supporters long enough to communicate this message convincingly.

Jeff Fleetham, an Arizona Republican who was a Trump delegate to the last two Republican national conventions, endorsed Ms. Lake two years ago but said he didn't think she could move on from old fights. If she wins his party's nomination, he said, he will not vote in the race, which would be the first time he has not voted in a contest with a Republican candidate.

“She seems to just want to be in the spotlight,” said Mr. Fleetham, who is supporting Mr. Lamb in the primary. “She can’t be trusted with everything she says or does.”

Mr. Lamb, who gained national attention in refusing to apply stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic, said in an interview that he was campaigning on his experience as sheriff of a county on the U.S.-Mexico border, adding that the Washington Republicans' endorsement of Ms. Lake would backfire.

“Having the people who ruined this country support you doesn’t play well in Arizona,” Mr. Lamb said.

Ms. Lake contacted one of Mr. Lamb's supporters, former Rep. Matt Salmon, who ran against Ms. Lake in 2022. Mr. Salmon said he ignored a text message from Ms. Lake the month last one, received a few days after she made fun of it. him during a radio interview for refusing to meet her.

“There’s nothing authentic about her,” Mr. Salmon said. “She praises himself, but two years ago she would have criticized anyone with those same endorsements and declared them a swamp creature.”

At her Cave Creek rally last week, some of Ms. Lake's supporters said she should drop her false claims that she was cheated out of the 2022 governorship.

“It alienates a lot of people,” said Julee Miller, 47, of North Phoenix. “It would be nice if she tried to moderate herself a little, to compromise here or there.”

But others said the issue demonstrated his fighting spirit.

“Amplify it — we like it,” said Gary Savage, 67, of Cave Creek. “The opposite of an election denier is someone in the dark.”

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