Kari Lake is seeking support from the GOP establishment in Washington as she looks to rehabilitate her image in the race for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (I) seat in Arizona.
Lake has met with the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) as well Senate Republicans, including members of leadership. She also notched an early and notable endorsement from the No. 3 Senate Republican, John Barrasso of Wyoming.
“This is going to be the most expensive campaign for office in Arizona history by a long shot, and Kari’s gonna need the resources of the national team to play at that level, so I believe that’s the main part of it,” said Stan Barnes, an Arizona Republican consultant who’s been close to Lake, referring to the role of national GOP groups.
But some Republicans in the state are unsure if her moves will ultimately translate into concrete support in what is expected to be one of the most competitive Senate races next year. And some are expressing skepticism of her early efforts to distance herself from the election-denying firebrand image she cultivated last cycle.
“I don’t know that you would say that they’re coalescing, but I do believe there is and will be a flirtation because they understand in the case of national Republicans what’s at stake,” said Arizona Republican consultant Jason Rose. “But the national Republicans are, at the end of the day, aren’t going to make a huge difference unless it’s the more establishment Republicans in Arizona that are willing to give her another look.”
Lake formally launched her candidacy last week to run for Sinema’s seat, putting to rest speculation over her next moves after she lost the Arizona gubernatorial race last cycle. Former President Trump endorsed her Senate bid shortly after she announced.
NRSC Chairman Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said in a statement that he’s “had productive conversations with Kari Lake and her team” and described the former local news anchor as “a talented campaigner with an impressive ability to fire up the grassroots.”
Meanwhile, a Republican strategist told The Hill that in addition to Barrasso, she has spoken to other senators such as John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). She has also met with advisers to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his aligned super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund.
The strategist described her conversations with GOP senators as “very productive,” noting “they liked that she’s been very on message.” The strategist pointed to issues she hit on in her campaign speech, including inflation and the U.S. southern border.
The strategist also noted that Jason Thielman, the executive director of the NRSC, was at her campaign rally when she launched her bid last week.
“She has the ability to not only unite the Trump wing of the party, but obviously the more establishment wing of the party as well,” the GOP strategist said.
“I think that moderate voters and swing voters don’t like high inflation. They don’t like rising gas prices. They don’t like an open border. And I think Kari has proven that she wants to win over all voters,” the strategist said.
But some Republicans note that there are few options for the GOP establishment in the Arizona Senate race, as members of the party see Lake as the heavy favorite to win the primary next August.
“Kari is going to be the Republican nominee. That’s a full stop — period certainty. And so if you are a traditional Republican, and you’re not necessarily down with the America First movement, what choice do you have?” Barnes said.
He said he suggested a “more Reagan, less Trump” approach during her gubernatorial bid last cycle, but Lake largely leaned into baseless claims about the 2020 election while isolating more moderate and centrist Republicans in the state.
A clip of a debate between her and her opponents before the GOP primary went viral in which she asked her rivals to raise a hand if they agreed that there had been a “corrupt, stolen election” in 2020. And after winning her Republican primary last year, she boasted that “we drove a stake through the heart of the McCain machine.”
“I think there’s a bit of a crossed-fingers hope by traditional Republicans that Kari has learned the hard lesson from losing the governor’s race and is going to find a way to turn the knob down, to dial it back from an 11 to a nine,” Barnes said.
Lake’s campaign speech last week suggested that she’s trying to sand down her image as a Trump-style, hard-right populist, though her speech also harkened back to her gubernatorial candidacy last cycle.
“I may disagree with Arizonans who voted for Joe Biden. I do, but I don’t think you’re a threat to democracy. You are a citizen just like me,” Lake said during her campaign rally in Scottsdale, Ariz.
At the same time, she lashed out at the media, referring to the reporters covering the event as “propagandists,” and she called the November midterms “the disaster of Election Day in Arizona.”
The speech comes as parties on both sides are gearing up for an unprecedented, potential three-way race between Lake, Sinema and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb is also running on the Republican side, but many Republicans see Lake as the clear front-runner.
Some Republicans aren’t reading too much into her campaign speech, saying the more telling sign will be how she campaigns throughout the race.
“I didn’t really see that she moderated. I mean, maybe she just didn’t talk so much about election denialism,” said Arizona Republican strategist Barrett Marson. “But again, that’s one event where she read off a teleprompter. I’d like to see how she does in all of her other events.”
Members of the party say that if Lake is able to effectively contrast her policy position with her opponents and campaign as a more traditional Republican, then she can gain ground in the race.
“I think she has smartly positioned herself already in somewhat surprising ways, and that is to make this a choice among two Democrats and a Republican. That if you support President Biden, you have two other choices. If you don’t, I’m here for you,” Rose said.
Lamb’s communications adviser, Rick Gorka, argued against counting out the Republican sheriff, describing it as “a simple scoreboard argument”: “Kari Lake can’t win an election and has not. Mark Lamb has.”
And Democrats are skeptical that Lake will be able to win over any of the voters she lost last cycle and have sought to remind voters about her past positions on issues such as abortion.
“Senate Republicans spent months pleading for Kari Lake not to run, but she’s really the poster child for their class of doomed recruits: a campaign loser with disqualifying vulnerabilities, dangerous views and harmful policies that will lead Republicans to defeat in 2024,” said Maeve Coyle, spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Gallego spokesperson Hannah Goss projected confidence in the race too, saying in a statement that “no amount of NRSC cleanup can change the fact that Arizonans spent the last two years hearing directly from Kari Lake about how she wants to ban abortion and undermine our elections.”
Republicans say that ultimately a Lake victory will hinge on whether she commits herself to recalibrating her image.
“So much is going to depend on her willingness, her ability to be more approachable to a wider-range audience,” said Barnes, the Arizona GOP consultant. “That’s where the rubber meets the road.”