In Kari Lake's campaign for governor, misinformation and deception remain hallmarks

View of Kari Lake through multiple camera tripods as she speaks at a news conference outside her office on Oct. 27, 2022, in Phoenix.
Stacey Barchenger
Arizona Republic

Kari Lake stood outside Paradise Valley Town Hall for a live on-camera interview with Steve Bannon, the conservative provocateur and former Trump adviser, as a gaggle of reporters and supporters stood by.

It was Aug. 2, the morning of the primary election that would ultimately make Lake the Republican nominee for Arizona governor. As she talked to Bannon, Lake took her familiar digs at reporters. 

“They’re part of the propaganda machine,” she said. “The news is propaganda. They’re putting out what they want people to hear.”

The circumstances of her visit that day could have fit into that category, too.

About an hour earlier, Lake wrote on social media that she and her husband were "about to head to the polls. What about you?!" Her campaign issued a press release with the headline "Kari Lake at the polls," notifying reporters of her plans. Lake marched into Town Hall, which doubled as a polling place that day.

But she wasn’t there to vote.

Despite months spent raising doubt about elections, in particular early and mail-in voting, her own ballot was already in the hands of Maricopa County election officials. They had received it in the mail six days earlier, records show.

While some might view the incident as a political white lie, misinformation and in some cases outright deception are hallmarks of Lake's 17 months on the campaign trail.

Lake’s adherence to former President Trump’s false claims he won the election in 2020 is widely known. Even beyond elections, she has repeated false and misleading statements about abortion laws in the state and her opponent's record.

Watch:Kari Lake one-on-one interview after Hobbs' refusal to debate

As Election Day nears, Lake hasn't repeated the claims of “stealing going on” that she made in the primary. Instead, she casts her doubt by questioning election procedures. In recent national television interviews, Lake has repeated multiple debunked claims about chain of custody and late-arriving ballots.

She also has refused to say if she'll accept a loss in November, raising concern about false election claims if she is defeated. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake at the studio of AZTV7 after a 30 minute televised Q&A with talk radio host Mike Broomhead on Oct. 22, 2022.

The former Fox 10 news anchor from Phoenix shows a willingness to say anything to speak to her base of support. Her campaign aides amplify her message, and attack her opponent, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, while not disclosing their campaign ties in advertisements and public hearings.

The tactics exemplify a broader pattern that experts who study propaganda see in politics today. 

“What we find is that when a politician embraces such a large-scale lie as the 2020 election conspiracy, it's not uncommon for them to just basically spin out and begin embracing a lot of other dis- and misinformation and making lies a hallmark of that campaign,” said Samuel Woolley, program director for the propaganda research team at the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas. 

Trump himself made over 30,500 false or misleading claims during his single-term presidency, fact checkers for The Washington Post found.

Candidates like Lake, who “don't feel the need to trade in the truth anymore,” have “exited free and fair politics,” he said.  

“We're moving more and more towards something that looks like the authoritarian playbook."

The Arizona Republic emailed Lake questions and a request for comment for this article. She responded on social media, saying the request read like a Democratic media advisory and taking a dig at The Republic, which she has not spoken to since July.

"We won’t be replying because we are busy campaigning & because nobody reads your rag of a paper," she wrote.

Read The Republic's email to Lake and her response at the end of this story.

Pushback from an icon's children

At a mid-October event in Chandler, Lake told a few hundred supporters that she believed civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and others, if they were still alive, would be “America First" Republicans.

Lake's guest at the event, former Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, said King and former President John F. Kennedy inspired her to join the Democratic Party, which she renounced just days earlier, launching a national tour campaigning for Republicans.

"I'm a true believer that if MLK, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., were alive today, if JFK were alive today, if our founding fathers were alive today, they would be America First Republicans," Lake responded. "I really believe that."

Two of King’s children decried Lake’s invocation of the term championed by Trump. Daughter Bernice King called it "false and dismissive" of her father’s legacy.

King’s life work was the fight for equality, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ended discriminatory policies like literacy tests and poll taxes that kept people of color from casting votes.  

To suggest King would support a political movement with divisive leaders advocating to end early voting, as Lake has done, misrepresents King’s legacy, his oldest son, Martin Luther King III said in an interview. 

“She just doesn't know what she's talking about,” he said. “That's not who Martin Luther King Jr. was. That's not what his message was about. To me, that’s just lying, for me personally. And it’s intentionally lying and intentionally misleading.” 

Lake's false claims have not abated in the runup to the general election, when any candidate in a statewide race must win independent voters who serve as the swing state's decisive voting bloc. Polling shows a majority of those independents believe Biden won in 2020.

More beds, more arrests:Kari Lake's plan for homelessness echoes Trump administration

Setting the record straight

The Arizona Republic checked several of Lake’s claims that she has made repeatedly along the campaign trail, in advertisements or at public events, including as early voting was underway. Multiple such claims were false.

Lake's claim: Hobbs “fought to keep these American cornerstones out of the classroom,” referencing the Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem and U.S. Constitution, Lake said in a Sept. 20 video shared to social media.

Kari Lake speaks at a press conference outside her office on Oct. 27, 2022 in Phoenix, AZ.

The facts: While a state senator in 2018, Hobbs voted against a bill that added the state motto — "Ditat Deus" or "God enriches" — to the list of documents that can be read or posted by teachers and administrators in schools. The bill didn't affect any other documents, such as those those referred to by Lake. Source: Senate Bill 1289 summary.

Lake's claim: Abortion providers aren't telling women about alternatives to the procedure. "They give you one option, and that is to take the life of your baby. They don't say to you, is there anything we can do to help you?” she said in her Oct. 23 interview on AZTV7.

The facts: Healthcare providers in Arizona are required by law to tell women 24 hours before providing an abortion about the possible health implications to the procedure and possible alternatives. Source: Arizona Revised Statute 36-2153.

Lake's claim: A discrimination case Hobbs is involved in will cost taxpayers millions. “It's going to be about $3 million that you and I are paying for, the taxpayers of Arizona," she said in Oct. 12 press conference.

The facts: In September, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Administration confirmed the state cut Senate aide Talonya Adams a $300,000 check, the only damages she will receive. Adams twice proved she was discriminated against while Hobbs was her boss in the Senate, resulting in a $2.7 million judgment in her favor, but that amount is capped by law at a significantly lower figure. Hobbs was not a named defendant in the cases, for which legal fees topped $415,000 as of March.

There's no debate:CNN's Dana Bash interviewing Katie Hobbs and Kari Lake was essential TV

Lake's claim: "Seven-hundred forty thousand ballots violated chain of custody requirements in Maricopa County," she said in an Oct. 23 interview on ABC's "This Week," echoing a claim she made a week earlier on CNN that "those ballots shouldn't have been counted.

The facts: Maricopa County officials have debunked this claim, finding a less than 1% error rate for the 1,900 statements filed in 2020 that document how early ballots are transported, meaning most of the forms that document how and when ballots are picked up from early voting sites and dropboxes were complete. Further, the claim relates to a form being completed, "not the integrity of the ballots, which were sealed in envelopes that, in turn, were sealed in boxes that the couriers were prohibited from opening," a May letter from Maricopa County Record Stephen Richer and the Republican-majority Board of Supervisors reads.

Lake's supporters don't disclose ties

It is routine that when Lake addresses the media, she’s rallied a small group of supporters to stand behind her. Some of these same supporters fill the front rows of her events.

At least four of these same people urged the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission to require Hobbs to debate Lake, without disclosing they were supporters, donors and staffers for the Lake campaign. 

One frequent bystander is Jim Clark, a gold dealer and CEO of Republic Monetary Exchange. Clark recently claimed Arizona talk radio station KTAR refused to run an advertisement in which he targeted Hobbs’ record in the discrimination case when she was in the Arizona Senate. KTAR declined to comment about the situation.

Future plans:Here’s what Lake, Hobbs want for education in Arizona

In it, he says the “ad is paid for by me, Jim Clark, a private citizen, not affiliated with any campaign or political action committee.” While Clark may have funded the ad on his own, he has several ties to Lake’s campaign. He serves on her finance committee, which typically helps with fundraising, and subleases his office space on Camelback Road to her. He’s received over $25,000 from the campaign so far, records show.

While KTAR rejected the advertisement, others aired it. And conservative platforms like The Gateway Pundit and Arizona Daily Independent ran with stories about the advertisement, too, amplifying Clark's claims.

Misinformation a final stretch issue

The frantic final days of the gubernatorial race have included an unexpected twist: a break-in at Hobbs’ campaign headquarters that prompted Lake to accuse her opponent of spreading misinformation.

Hobbs’ campaign manager, Nicole DeMont, suggested in a statement following the burglary that Lake and her allies were responsible after “spreading dangerous misinformation and inciting threats against anyone they see fit.” 

Lake pushed back by implying Hobbs had staged the event, referencing the infamous case of television star Jussie Smollett, who claimed he was a victim of a hate crime in Chicago but was convicted of fabricating the incident. A day later, Lake said she referenced the incident to blame the media for a story she said was designed to hurt conservatives.

Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and  former President Donald Trump rally in Mesa on Oct. 9, 2022.

Most public polls put the Lake and Hobbs race at a tie. Polling averages tracked by the politics website FiveThirtyEight signal Lake with the momentum through October, while she’s led a drumbeat of attacks against Hobbs for her refusal to debate.

Hobbs has dismissed the attacks as a cover for Lake’s weaknesses. 

"She distorts the truth all the time to distract from her actual extreme positions, and the fact that she has no substantive plans on how to actually govern,” Hobbs said in a brief interview last week, calling some of Lake’s claims “ridiculous.” 

Hobbs has flirted with misinformation herself, in particular with a mid-October advertisement launched with the state Democratic party that claims Lake is "serious about secession," based on statements Lake made following the FBI search of Trump's Florida home that "we need to fire the federal government."

Lake hasn't made these statements part of her talking points or stump speeches.

Contradiction raises questions

Lake’s decision to vote by mail ahead of the August primary was first reported by the newsletter Fourth Estate 48. 

Mailing in her ballot appears to contradict Lake's stance on elections by mail.  

“Not a fan of them,” she said of mail in ballots during a July rally in Prescott Valley with Trump. “Mail-in ballots can be fraught with error,” she said in an Oct.23 interview with ABC news. 

Asked by reporters on Oct. 11 about sending her ballot by mail, Lake offered more misinformation. 

“I was sent a ballot, so I was forced to vote by mail,” she claimed. “This time around I will be voting in person. I encourage people to vote in person. However, if you have a ballot, I think that you should mail it in. I want people to vote, and vote whatever way you want to vote."

Nothing in Arizona law required her to return that ballot, and she could have voted in person on primary day.

Woolley, who studies propaganda, said Lake's record should raise questions about how she would lead.

“If a politician running for such a high office shows a willingness to lie about simple things, and major things, how can we trust any of the promises that they make on the campaign trail?” Woolley said.

Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at stacey.barchenger@arizonarepublic.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.