In Arizona’s Race for Governor, Hobbs Takes a Narrow Lead

PEORIA, Ariz. — In a cramped campaign office tucked in a strip mall, Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for governor, was hours away from Election Day and trying to rally volunteers while also tempering expectations.

“I think this state is still a red state,” Ms. Hobbs said, pointing to Republicans’ advantage over Democrats in voter registration numbers. “We are exactly where we thought we would be in terms of the closeness of this race. We knew it was going to come down to the wire.”

Ms. Hobbs always cautioned the race would be tight. What some Republicans — and even some Democrats — in Arizona did not realize was just how tight.

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

But she struggled to compete against her Trump-endorsed Republican rival, the charismatic and pugilistic Kari Lake.

Ms. Lake, a former Phoenix news anchor, 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 did not help that Ms. Hobbs was mild-mannered and soft-spoken, a former social worker and state politician who often appeared uncomfortable in the limelight.

But on Tuesday, Ms. Hobbs outperformed expectations in the earliest vote tallies, which largely included early ballots that tend to favor Democrats. By Wednesday evening, Ms. Hobbs was still holding on — if only with a slight lead.

In an email to supporters earlier Wednesday, she once again urged patience, saying election officials were tabulating votes that would need to be counted for the next few days. On Twitter, Ms. Lake also told supporters to stay tuned, adding, “We’re going to win big.”

This isn’t Ms. Hobbs’ first tight race. When she won in 2018, she won by less than one percentage point.

Results are still pouring in, and Republicans still believe Ms. Lake could eke out a victory. But if Ms. Hobbs has come this far, it has been by following a strategy that only some thought would work. She tried to stay out of the spotlight and out of the fray. She relied on allies to make the case she could fight for Arizona, even when she at times has had trouble articulating that point herself.

“Katie — she may not be flashy,” President Barack Obama told cheering supporters at a rally in the campaign’s final days. “She could have been. She just chooses not to be because she is serious about her work.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under Obama, echoed Mr. Obama’s remarks the next day at a gathering for Ms. Hobbs in Phoenix. Tonya Norwood, co-chair of the African American Coalition for Katie Hobbs, said that Black leaders had wanted to put together 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 in truth and experience,” Ms. Norwood said.

The governor’s race in Arizona is seen as a bellwether for the direction of the state. It is also one of several across the country where the stakes of the future of elections have been most clearly drawn.

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

In the final hours of the race, she walked a fine line between encouraging supporters go to the polls and stoking concern over reports of malfunctioning tabulator machines. At her election night watch party, she told supporters she believed she would win the race, but also hinted that she would blame a loss on malfeasance and incompetence by election officials.


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