Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Earlier this week the candidates for Governor of Arizona appeared onstage at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix. But they didn't appear together.

Arizona Secretary of State and Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs and former Fox 10 anchor and 45-endorsed Republican candidate Kari Lake were both presented at a "Town Hall" event, connected to the National Conference of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Hobbs has declined to publicly debate or engage with Lake, which kept the main body of the event dull, but led to a bit of striking political theatre in its opening minutes.

Sitting in one of two armchairs, the moderator, Univision's Leรณn Krauze, announced that he would interview the candidates separately, and that the format, which both sides had agreed to, would not include questions from the audience. Not exactly a town hall, but whatever (I wasn't recording and had no way to take notes, by the way, so I'm relying on memory for these quotes). He cautioned the audience to be respectful of both candidates on pain of expulsion, and then, after some remarks from USHCC bigwigs... there was an uncomfortable pause. Krauze turned to a corner of the front row and said "Ms. Lake, will you go to your agreed-upon area backstage?"

Lake rose from a seat, resplendent in purple, saying that she would like a chance to be onstage with Hobbs. Krauze gently but firmly reminded her that she had agreed to the terms of the event, and would she please go. All wounded innocence, she kept up the resistance for a while. Krauze even offered to let her go first, but of course she wasn't about to let herself be the opening act; she departed, to applause, with an entourage in her wake. The stunt was effective--she painted Hobbs as chicken.

Krauze then left the stage, came back, and repeated his opening speech almost word for word. This time Hobbs came out from the opposite wing, took the seat opposite him and started answering his questions. It was the first time I had ever heard her speak outside of her campaign commercials, and I felt bad for her. She gave sensible mainstream answers about immigration, education, water conservation and abortion rights, but in a diffident, almost apologetic manner. She seemed less like a candidate and more like a nervous staffer pressed into service in a spin room.

Toward the end of her time, Hobbs was asked if her lifetime in Arizona had given her an appreciation of any particular aspect of Hispanic culture here. She seemed caught off guard by the question, and haltingly talked about how much she enjoys spending time with the family of a Hispanic in-law. Listening to her ramble, I was whispering to myself "hard work...strong family...hard work...strong family..." Finally she got there, noting that she admired the community's "family values and hard work," but it was the kind of softball question that an Arizona candidate ought to be able to riff on endlessly (and sincerely) without effort.

After Hobbs was excused to polite applause, Lake was invited out, and swept onstage like she owned the place, while three or four people in the row in front of me gave her a standing ovation. She responded smoothly and confidently to the questions, making frequent direct eye contact with the audience. She was every inch a broadcast veteran, with an impressive command of the rhetorical skills at which Hobbs was at best adequate.

She complained again about Hobbs refusing to debate her, calling her "a coward" and saying that she had also taken a pass on debating her Democratic primary opponent, former Nogales mayor and Obama staffer Marco Lopez, who Lake conceded is a "smart guy"; she said that if Hobbs had debated him he'd be onstage instead of Hobbs, and she fretted that Hobbs had "denied the people of Arizona" this. It didn't seem to occur to Lake that if she was right on this point, Hobbs had clearly chosen the better strategy in her run against Lopez, since she did win the primary.

As to the issues, Lake spoke in a folksy, easygoing way about the usual incendiary Fox News talking points, claiming that she would, for instance, declare an "invasion" at the southern border in "the first hour" of her administration, not only mobilizing the Arizona National Guard but bringing in troops from Texas and Florida. Asked if Joe Biden was the legitimate President of the United States, she shrugged and said "he's sitting in the White House"; Krauze was having none of this attempt to punt and pressed her, so she said that "the election was corrupt" and that no, in her opinion his presidency was illegitimate.

On to the main course: When Krauze asked her, as a "hypothetical which sadly isn't so hypothetical" case, whether a 12-year-old who was raped by a family member should be able to get an abortion, she tried briefly to dodge the question, but when pressed admitted that she thought such a victim should be able to get an abortion "if she wants one." She quickly added that such cases were extremely rare, and went on to say that her opponent believes in late-term abortion up to the point of birth "and after." She did not cite any information as to whether late-term abortions are more or less common than pregnancies caused by rape of the underaged, or suggest how the exceptions she apparently believes in to the abortion ban would be provided for legally.

In terms of presentational polish, there can be no denying that Lake is much the more capable and media-savvy candidate. It's very probable this is indeed the reason that Hobbs prefers not to spar with her face-to-face. But listening to Lake talk, it overwhelmingly seemed to me--and there were clearly many people in that audience who felt differently--that she was both condescendingly phony and, well...guano-esquely unbalanced (politically and socially speaking, that is).

Hobbs may feel that she's no match for Lake in a public forum, and if so she's probably right, and it unfortunately hands Lake a stick with which to beat her. But Hobbs is also quite justified, I think, in feeling that "debating" this person, allowing herself to be heckled and interrupted by a slick, experienced media professional who's also a political nutjob, is unworthy of her time.

At one point, Lake noted that pro-abortion activists all had "the luxury of being born." Listening to Lake for twenty minutes, I admit that I was less certain that being born was a luxury.

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