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

Hobbs defeated a Republican many thought was the strongest of the pro-Trump election deniers running in swing states President Joe Biden carried in 2020.

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has defeated Republican Kari Lake in Arizona's race for governor, NBC News projected Monday.

Hobbs' victory is key for Democrats in a presidential battleground state and a rebuke to a prominent election denier — although the closeness of the contest left the result up in the air for nearly a week.

“I am honored to have been selected to serve as the next Governor of Arizona,” Hobbs said in a statement Monday night. “I want to thank the voters for entrusting me with this immense responsibility. It is truly an honor of a lifetime, and I will do everything in my power to make you proud.”

Image: Democratic Gubernatorial candidate for Arizona Katie Hobbs during a campaign event in Phoenix on Nov. 2, 2022.
Arizona Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs at a campaign event in Phoenix on Nov. 2.Patrick T. Fallon / AFP - Getty Images

A record number of early ballots were dropped off on Election Day in Maricopa County, officials said, which had to be processed in a more time-intensive manner that includes signature verification. Maricopa, the state's most populous county, said Sunday that it estimated that its count was 94% complete after it received a historic 290,000 of those early ballots on Election Day.

Lake, a MAGA firebrand and former local newscaster who closely linked her campaign to former President Donald Trump and his false claims of a rigged election in Arizona, ultimately fell short after polling in the final weeks of the campaign suggested she was grabbing the lead from Hobbs, who as secretary of state in 2020 vocally defended the state's election system and the accuracy of the count.

About 90 minutes after NBC News called the race for Hobbs, Lake tweeted: "Arizonans know BS when they see it."

Hobbs’ low-key approach during the campaign contrasted sharply with that of Lake, who seemed omnipresent on the trail. Lake’s television charisma boosted her in the race but did not appear to make up for voter concerns about her positions on the 2020 election and abortion rights and how closely she aligned herself with the former president, who saw independent voters in the state abandon the Republican Party during his presidency, allowing Joe Biden to flip the once-ruby-red state.

The stakes were high. Arizona presented perhaps the greatest chance for an election-denying candidate to win a swing-state governor’s race this fall, with the winner having a direct role in the state’s certification of the 2024 presidential vote.

But Arizona was subjected to some of the highest inflation rates anywhere in the country, and voters were also concerned about high numbers of undocumented immigrants crossing into the state from Mexico. In the closing weeks of her campaign, Lake focused on the economy, education and crime rather than her push to change election laws.

Still, election administration took center stage in the final days of the campaign, on Election Day itself and in the days that followed as election officials faced a series of snafus and votes took days to count at a slow pace. Lake and other statewide GOP candidates blasted the process, some suggesting without evidence that nefarious activity was afoot.

At her election night event, Lake said, “We had a big day today, and don’t let those cheaters and crooks make you think anything different,” adding that she predicted victory “within hours.”

“We will declare victory, and we will get to work turning this around,” she said.

Kari Lake speaks at a rally in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Nov. 7, 2022.
Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake speaks at a rally in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Nov. 7. Jon Cherry for NBC News

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 vowing to enforce new abortion bans after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, would help Hobbs court independent voters. In Arizona, voters are essentially divided 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 those of 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 it 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 election results should she lose, saying that 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 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 up their relationship after 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 she agreed to leave the audience until it was her turn to speak.

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

NBC News has already projected that Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and the 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.

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

"I think 2020 was the start of this long campaign," said Hobbs, who pledged to accept the results regardless of who won. "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."