In races where a candidate refuses to participate in a debate, it is usually the frontrunner who avoids the podium – the calculus is that they have a lot more to lose with a poor performance than they gain with a strong performance. But in Arizona’s gubernatorial race, the opposite scenario is playing out: Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs, who is a little behind her Republican opponent, kari lake, according to FiveThirtyEight, she still refuses to meet her opponent on the debate stage.
Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, has defended the move, insisting that any debate would be derailed by Lake’s refusal to view the 2020 election as legitimate. “How do you discuss someone who refuses to accept the truth? Who does not live in facts?” Hobbs recently told MSNBC, referring to Lake’s status as a proud election denier. “All she’s going to do is scream all over me, interrupt me and spit out lies.”
The election denial is effectively on the ballot in November. Along with Lake, two other Republicans running for Secretary of State – Secretary of State Candidate Mark Finchem and attorney general candidate Abraham Hamedh—said they would not have signed the 2020 election results, in which Joe Biden Arizona won. Lake and Finchem have “expressed support for a major overhaul of the electoral rules,” according to the Associated Press.
Lake could be formidable in a TV debate format, given her experience in front of the camera. She spent more than two decades as a local news anchor before leaving Phoenix’s Fox affiliate last year to go to office. For a political rookie with no previous campaign experience, Lake seemed extremely ready for confrontation Interviewseven if her answers often not rooted in reality. As The Washington Post‘s Ruby Cramer put it in a recent profile, “People have said Kari Lake is”Donald Trump in heels,’ but really, she’s Donald Trump with media training and Polish.”
Rather than confront Lake on her own turf, Hobbs chose to participate in a 30-minute interview with Arizona PBS, the station that would have spearheaded a debate had there been one. The Tuesday interview was held after Arizona’s PBS split with the state’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission because the station chose to interview Hobbs despite her refusal to debate.
During the Q&A held at Arizona State University, Hobbs said it is “disqualifying” for Lake to continue to claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, adding: “She has made it her platform. to dismantle our democracy and overthrow the will. of voters for the former president to whom she owes more than the people of Arizona.” She went on to argue that Lake would embarrass Arizona on a national stage if the two went head to head, while insisting she’s not a “coward” — a label Lake has leveled at her during the controversy of the debate. After the PBS interview ended, Hobbs didn’t answer follow-up questions and left the building via a freight elevator. Reporters were held in a room at Arizona’s largest journalism school on Tuesday and were not allowed to interview a governor candidate [Hobbs]” noticed Republic of Arizona‘s Robert Hoek.
Breaking debate norms may have had some strategic benefits, given the obvious problems associated with arguing over a telegenic election denier, but that route could end up being more of a headache for the Democrat than a poor debate performance. In much of the national coverage of the Hobbs campaign, including interviews with the candidate, her refusal to debate has drawn much attention, while Lake has made steady gains. A Fox 10/InsiderAdvantage poll last week found Lake to be about four points higher, a six-point swing from the same poll last month.
Even those sympathetic to the Hobbs campaign were highly critical of the move. “If Katie Hobbs loses, remember October 12 – the day she ran away from the Kari Lake showdown,” wrote Republic of Arizona columnist Laurie Roberts, who concluded that “Hobbs’ refusal to debate her opponent on Wednesday represents a new level of political malpractice.” Roberts also described the unprecedented nature of the controversy, writing that no Arizona governor candidate “has ever refused to debate his or her opponent in the 20 years that the committee and PBS have hosted televised debates.”
During an appearance on CNN last Sunday, Hobbs again defended her debate stance, saying: Dana Bash that Lake “has made it clear time and again that she is not interested in substantive, in-depth conversations about the issues that matter to Arizonans.” Of course, if Hobbs can overcome this setback and win on November 8, there’s no guarantee her opponent will give in. “I’m going to win the election and I’m going to accept that result,” Lake told Bash on Sunday before suggesting that her victory is inevitable because “the people of Arizona will never support and vote for a coward like Katie Hobbs.”