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Democrat Katie Hobbs defeats MAGA favorite Kari Lake in high-stakes race for governor in Arizona

Arizona Democrats, who boosted Lake during her primary, had hoped that her refusal to moderate her stances, which include declaring an invasion at the southern border and to enforce new abortion bans following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, would help Hobbs court independent voters. In Arizona, voters are essentially split into thirds, among Republicans, Democrats and independents. 

Hobbs and her allies centered the campaign on abortion rights, putting Republican-endorsed restrictions at the forefront of their message. But they also sought to contrast their plans on inflation and immigration with Lake, a political newcomer.

NBC News exit polling bore out Hobbs’ theory of the case, with 58% of Arizona voters feeling either dissatisfied or angry about the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe V. Wade and 80% of those voters casting ballots for Hobbs.

NBC News exit polling also found Hobbs winning the majority of independent voters and 59% of self-described moderates, who made up a plurality of the electorate. More than 70% of voters 29 and under, who made up about 12% of the electorate, backed Hobbs, who also won over a higher percentage of Republican voters than Lake won Democrats.

At a Trump rally in the state last month, Lake made clear she was still fully aligned with the former president: “I have some of these know-nothing consultants who say, ‘You know, you really need to back away from President Trump right now.’ And I say to them, ‘Put down Hunter’s [Biden] crack pipe right now.’”

Days earlier, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., urged Arizonans at a forum at Arizona State University not to vote for Lake because of her refusal to accept the upcoming election results should she lose, saying if she lived in Arizona, she would back Hobbs.

Cheney’s PAC put more than $500,000 toward an ad in Arizona that targeted Lake and fellow election denier Mark Finchem, who ran for secretary of state.

Lake at the time issued a statement thanking Cheney, claiming her ad was doing “just the opposite” and was leading to more votes.

“You’re welcome, @KariLake,” Cheney tweeted Monday night after the election was called for Hobbs.

During the primary, outgoing GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, who drew Trump’s ire for certifying Biden’s 2020 win, condemned Lake and endorsed her Republican opponent, Karrin Taylor Robson. But Ducey and Lake patched their relationship up following her victory, and the Republican Governors Association, which Ducey chairs, spent millions to boost Lake.

Lake seized on Hobbs’ refusal to debate and centered it in her campaign’s closing weeks. She even disrupted the start of a forum where both candidates were supposed to appear separately last month, asking that Hobbs come out and debate her, before agreeing to leave the audience until it was her turn to speak.

Responding to concerns from allies about her own campaign, Hobbs told NBC News last month: “I am out here. I’m fighting.” 

NBC News has already projected that Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and Democratic nominee for Secretary of State Adrian Fontes defeated Republicans Blake Masters and state Rep. Mark Finchem, respectively. The battle for attorney general featuring Democrat Kris Mayes and Trump-backed Republican Abraham Hamadeh remains too close to call.

On the election denial movement, for which Arizona was in many ways ground zero, Hobbs told NBC News in an interview ahead of Election Day she saw little evidence such conspiracies would recede after the votes were counted.

“I think 2020 was the start of this long campaign,” Hobbs, who pledged to accept the results regardless of who won, said. “And, depending on the outcome of a lot of these elections, I think it could get worse because Kari Lake has already said she will only accept the result if she’s the winner. And so I don’t think any of these folks are going to go away quietly if they lose their races.”

Zoë Richards and Vaughn Hillyard contributed.

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