On Monday night, NBC News called the Arizona gubernatorial election for Democrat Katie Hobbs over Republican Kari Lake. It resolved the last big outstanding statewide race of the 2022 cycle to be called besides the Georgia Senate election that will be decided in a runoff vote next month.
In the lead-up to the midterms, Lake, a former TV news anchor who issued bombastic threats to the news media and was a lead cheerleader of Donald Trump’s big lie, had been billed as a future MAGA star. The Atlantic’s Elaine Godfrey described her as Trumpism’s “leading lady” and “the new face of the MAGA movement.” Then, as votes were being counted this past week, Lake’s ridiculous pivoting—between election denialism when she was trailing and accepting the results as fair when she was ahead—was so ostentatious that a parody of it was the highlight in SNL’s cold open on Saturday.
At some points through the weekend, as she slowly closed the gap on Hobbs through late-arriving ballots in the redder parts of Maricopa County, Lake still had hopes that she would be the last woman standing of Trump’s hand-picked swing-state election-denying candidates. But it was not to be. Hobbs put together a coalition of independents, disaffected Republicans, and progressive Democrats to eke out a win by the slimmest of margins in the deeply purple state.
Now, on the other side of Lake’s defeat—as well as that of the entire election-denying slate of secretary of state candidates in swing states across the country—I’ve been rethinking something I wrote before the election. As part of Slate’s attempt to decide what these midterms were about, I declared that “despite the continued threat to free and fair elections, this midterm cycle is not about the attempted coup of Jan. 6 and legitimate concerns that it may be replicated successfully next time around.”
I came to that conclusion because national polling showed that voters ranked concerns about Jan. 6 very low in their list of important issues. In the lead-up to last Tuesday, there was an overall sense that MAGA candidates from coast to coast could destroy future elections and American democracy itself if given the chance. But ultimately, all of those candidates lost. Securing democracy did resonate with voters, in a number of critical states.
In Arizona, for instance, Democrat Adrian Fontes cruised to victory over one of the most dangerous election deniers in the country, Mark Finchem. And in the gubernatorial race, Hobbs won with a low-key campaign because Arizona’s swing voters just couldn’t trust Lake with the power over the state’s future elections (governors in Arizona certify presidential election results, and Lake has pushed for the 2020 election to have been decertified, while refusing to say if she would certify a Democratic win in 2024). According to a CNN exit poll, Hobbs dominated the 63 percent of Arizona voters who thought Biden “legitimately won in 2020” and the 57 percent of voters who had an unfavorable view of Trump.
This pattern was replicated in swing states with election deniers on the gubernatorial ballot across the country. In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers mopped up with the 60 percent of voters who thought Biden won legitimately, eking out a victory over Tim Michels, who had said that “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.” In Michigan, meanwhile, a full 59 percent of voters said that they didn’t trust Republican nominee Tudor Dixon to “handle Michigan elections.” On Tuesday, 56 percent of Michigan voters cast a ballot against her. Similarly, in Pennsylvania, 57 percent of voters did not trust Doug Mastriano—one of the state Senate leaders who helped Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election in the state—to handle the state’s elections. About 58 percent of Pennsylvania voters cast a ballot against Mastriano.
While we don’t have exit polling, the secretary of state races yielded a similar result with the “America First” slate of election-denying candidates getting swept everywhere except in ruby red Indiana. In New Mexico, Audrey Trujillo—who claimed on Steve Bannon’s podcast that Trump had won in the state he had lost by more than 10 points—was routed by 12 points. Things were closer in Nevada, where the “America First” leader Jim Marchant—who had promised to “fix” the entire country so that “Trump is going to be president again in 2024”—lost by just 2 points.
Last month, I asked Fontes, the secretary of state candidate who won Arizona, about the fact that, in national polls, concern about election denialism consistently ranked near the bottom of the list of issues voters were thinking about heading into the midterms.
“I don’t pay a lot of attention to national polls because this isn’t a national race, this is an Arizona race,” he told me. “This is important and it is real here in Arizona. I don’t know that there’s any issue about the secretary of state in California, or in Kansas, or in Arkansas, or in any other state. But I do know that it’s important in Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania through the governor’s race.”
Indeed, Democrats dominated these races, except in Georgia where both Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger easily retained their positions. Notably, both of them certified Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 and were considered persona non grata to Trump, who tried and failed to have them ousted in the primaries in the spring.
These were the races, ultimately, where Jan. 6 mattered. These candidates were running on a serious attempt to stage a new coup in 2024. And they were considered by voters to be legitimate threats if they won.
“I bet you if you narrowed it down to those states it would rank a hell of a lot higher,” Fontes told me, about election denialism, when we spoke last month.
Fortunately for the rest of us, he appears to have been right.