Kari Lake zeroes in on likely Senate race with Ruben Gallego, insisting, ‘Nothing’s changed in me’

Written by on March 20, 2024

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(PHOENIX) — Arizona Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake is gearing up for a likely contest against Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, one she’s warned will get “nasty,” by leaning into former President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies.

“I’m going to spend the next seven months working my tail off. You all know I did that in the governor’s race. I’m going to work even harder,” Lake said Tuesday at a “victory party” she hosted to celebrate Trump, before someone shouted to the stage — falsely — “You won!”

Lake narrowly lost the Arizona governor’s race in 2022 to Democrat Katie Hobbs after campaigning as a firebrand on immigration, voting and other issues. But has not conceded either that defeat or Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden in 2020.

Instead, she has primed supporters for a “too-big-to-rig election on Nov. 5, 2024.”

She called on Tuesday for Republicans, independents, and “disaffected Democrats” to join the “America First” movement — a slight softening from her previous “MAGA” branding — to defeat Gallego, whom she characterized as a “mini-me Joe Biden.”

“I don’t think anyone in here agrees with Joe Biden 100% of the time, except Ruben,” she said, seeking to depict Gallego as soft on crime and border security. “There’s really not a difference between the two — except maybe like 50, 60 years of age, probably like 8 or 9 inches in height.”

Gallego, meanwhile, in his sixth congressional term representing a safely Democratic district, was in Washington on Tuesday after holding a press conference in Nogales on Monday to urge Republicans to pass bipartisan border legislation that would tighten immigration laws, but which some conservatives argue is insufficient.

He has painted Lake, a former news anchor, as a “loser” and an “extremist” while leaning into his experiences as a Marine and son of an immigrant.

On social media this week, he slammed Lake as “an election denier and conspiracy theorist,” citing her baseless attacks on the 2020 and 2022 races.

Their expected general election fight, in November, will be closely watched in Washington since the outcome could help determine control of the narrowly divided Senate.

While Lake and Gallego weren’t on the ballot Tuesday in Arizona — their primary race is July 30 — she told her supporters to be prepared to get out the vote this year “whether that’s by mail, whether you vote in person,” after previously questioning the integrity of mail-in ballots.

“We can’t throw our hands up and say the system doesn’t work. Of course it doesn’t,” she claimed. “But we need to get out and get more people to vote.”

However, speaking to reporters later, Lake reiterated her previous position that she wants see a single Election Day, despite early, mail-in-voting being a hugely popular method in Arizona for at least three decades.

“I’d like to get back to Election Day … but we’re not in that world right now,” she said.

Arizona state Senate President Warren Peterson, standing alongside Lake at Tuesday’s election party, and likely well aware that upwards of 70% of Arizonans vote by mail, was quick to chime in.

“I was encouraged to hear President Trump encouraging people to get their early ballots.” he said, adding, “I fill [my ballot] out and I turn it in immediately, and for me, that’s the best thing I can do to help my candidates because then you stop spending money on trying to get me to vote.”

“Republicans used to be the absolute leader on early voting ballots, and I think we’re going to do that this time,” Peterson said.

‘The same person’

Lake is facing criticism or praise, depending on who’s asked, regarding whether she’s rebranding her image after she disparaged Republicans in the state like the late Sen. John McCain during her unsuccessful gubernatorial run.

“I’m the same person I’ve always been,” she told ABC News on Tuesday. “I’m somebody who cares greatly and deeply about this great state, and I care about my family. I care about our future, care about the U.S. Constitution. I’m working to bring even more people together and nothing’s changed in me.”

Earlier in the day, as Lake cast her ballot for Trump as the 2024 GOP nominee, asked by another reporter whether she regrets any past statements about Republicans in this state, she indicated some comments were a mistake but didn’t offer an outright yes.

“We’re all human. We make mistakes. Occasionally, I do as well. I’m not perfect and I never want to hurt feelings. But politics is a rough and tumble game, and sometimes things are said,” she said.

Lake recently reached out on social media to McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain, a commentator, who swiftly rejected Lake’s appeal.

Peterson, the state senate president at Lake’s watch party, said that he sees an improving politician.

“I see Kari Lake is learning and she’s improving, just like all of us,” he said. “We’re always learning, we’re improving every single day. Now what I’ve seen that she’s doing is she’s really focusing on broadening the base, uniting Republicans, and that’s why she’s leading and that’s why she’s going to win.”

Moving on from 2022?

As Lake campaigns for Senate, she’s also lifting up the campaign of fellow Trump endorsee Abe Hamadeh, who narrowly lost the Arizona attorney general’s race in 2022 and is now running for the 8th Congressional District.

Asked about former Senate candidate Blake Masters, who unsuccessfully ran alongside Lake and Hamadeh in 2022 — but who is also now running for the same congressional seat as Hamadeh — Lake appeared taken aback by the question.

She called it “random” after, not along ago, she touted a “Lake and Blake” ticket.

“I can’t even remember the last time I talked to him,” she told ABC News. “I haven’t even heard anything about if he’s even running, if he’s got the signatures yet. Has he made the ballot yet? Not sure. We’ll find out. … I’m supporting Abe Hamadeh for that congressional seat.”

Masters told ABC News on Wednesday that he’s not thinking about his relationship with Lake.

“Kari very kindly reached out to me after my son was born a few weeks ago – we had a nice exchange and I appreciated her well wishes very much,” he wrote in a text message. “I’m focused on winning in [my district] and then helping our Republican nominees to victory up and down the ballot in this critical state.”

Last August, amid reporting that Masters was considering running for Senate again, Lake posted on X that he had been “quite silent” on election fraud issues. (Masters is the only Republican candidate in Arizona who campaigned regularly with Lake to concede their loss.)

Lake didn’t ask the crowd on Tuesday to donate to her ongoing election challenges, which have been repeatedly rejected. Instead, she asked supporters, several of whom also donned Make America Great Again baseball caps, to pray for Trump as she does “every day, every meal” and to donate to his campaign.

“The evil is just working so hard to try to bring him down, and he will not fold,” she said.

She also said she’s had conversations with Trump about coming to Arizona “hopefully soon” after it was rumored that he was going to travel to Phoenix last weekend, before he went to Ohio to campaign with Senate candidate Bernie Moreno instead (something Lake did herself, too, on Monday in Ohio).

“There were other campaigns where he went and helped out some of the people he supports — I wasn’t on the ballot today, so we can wait,” she said. “We’re patiently going to wait for President Trump to come to Arizona.”

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