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Kari Lake running in Arizona sharpens contours of 2024 Senate race

Republican who rejected loss in governor’s race committed to ‘honest elections’

Newly announced Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake campaigns for governor of in Flagstaff, Ariz., on July 4, 2022.
Newly announced Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake campaigns for governor of in Flagstaff, Ariz., on July 4, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Kari Lake’s Senate campaign launch in Arizona makes clear the contours of another Republican primary in a key race on the 2024 map.

The attack lines in Lake’s campaign announcement focused as much on President Joe Biden as on her prospective general election opponents.

“You know what he did? He came to Arizona and he demonized … Trump supporters. He called us MAGA extremists, and he called us a threat to democracy,” Lake, a former TV news anchor, said Tuesday night in Scottsdale, referring to a recent Biden appearance in the state.

Lake has a significant national profile and fundraising ability, but she already lost a statewide election when she ran for governor last year. And like former President Donald Trump, she has repeatedly contested the results of that election and the media’s coverage of it.

“I am never going to walk away from the fight to restore honest elections,” she told supporters Tuesday. “I don’t care who you vote for. If you vote Democrat, if you vote Republican, that’s between you, God and the ballot box, OK? You vote how you want, but I want your vote to count. I even want those fake news fools back there, I want your vote to count as well.”

But Lake did not spend the bulk of her nearly hourlong remarks to a crowd of supporters gathered in an aircraft hangar talking about the past. Instead, she focused on themes likely to dominate 2024 races around the country, including inflation and the fentanyl crisis.

Her entrance into the race leaves Washington Republicans with a decision they have faced before when Trump-aligned candidates ran in battleground states.

“We have had productive conversations with Kari Lake and her team,” Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said ahead of Lake’s event. “She is a talented campaigner with an impressive ability to fire up the grassroots. We have a clear path to victory with two Democrats on the ballot in Arizona.”

Lake is likely to run a general election-style campaign, in part because of the prospect of a complicated multi-candidate general election. Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego is already running, and incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who gets her committee assignments from Democrats, has declared herself an independent. Sinema has not said whether she’ll run for another term.

“Arizonans know exactly who Kari Lake is — and that’s why they rejected her the first time around,” Gallego said in a statement. “While she runs her same, tired playbook of undermining our democracy and pushing to ban abortion, I’m focused on addressing the very real problems that impact Arizona families, like creating good-paying jobs, securing our water future, and taking care of our veterans.”

Lake, who was recently in Washington, had what a source close to the campaign said were positive meetings with a number of Republican senators, including Conference Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas.

Arizona Democratic Party Chairwoman Yolanda Bejarano said in a statement after the launch event that Lake’s positions were not in line with Arizona on topics from abortion rights and Social Security to “putting cameras in classrooms.”

“Her announcement showed all the reasons Republicans — and Arizonans of every political party — didn’t want her to run, and all the reasons she’ll lose again in 2024,” Bejarano said.

Western battlegrounds

Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate with 51 seats. Republicans hoping to win back the Senate majority have their sights on Senate races in West Virginia, Montana and Ohio, where the GOP has had success in the last several election cycles. States including Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Michigan also provide other opportunities for Republicans to flip seats. 

Daines has particular interest in the Senate race in his home state of Montana, where businessman Tim Sheehy is the preferred candidate to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

Sheehy’s campaign announced Tuesday that it had raised $2.8 million, including $650,000 from the candidate’s personal coffers.

“Our campaign is growing stronger every day, and it’s clear the people of Montana want a new generation of conservative leadership to represent them in Washington. Together, we’re going to finally retire Jon Tester, take back the Senate, and save our country.”

Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale has also been pondering a 2024 Senate bid in Montana, though national Republicans are clearly behind Sheehy, who they think gives them a better opportunity to unseat Tester. Rosendale, who was one of the eight House Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy from the speakership last week, lost to Tester in 2018.

The other key western contest is in Nevada, where the Republican campaign arm’s recruit is Sam Brown, a Purple Heart recipient who finished behind Adam Laxalt in the GOP primary last cycle. But that state is setting up for another potentially raucous primary against former congressional and statewide candidate Jim Marchant, who like Lake has denied results of past elections.

Manchin vulnerable

Contests in the Midwest and Appalachia could also be opportunities for Republicans. Pennsylvania is high on their list of pickup opportunities after former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick launched his campaign last month. McCormick narrowly lost a Senate primary in the state last year, but Pennsylvania Republicans have coalesced around his campaign this year in an effort to oust three-term Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. 

In Michigan, Republican former Rep. Mike Rogers is running for the open seat currently held by retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. State Board of Education member Nikki Snyder and other Republicans are also running, and former Rep. Peter Meijer hasn’t yet ruled out a run. On the Democratic side, Rep. Elissa Slotkin is considered the front-runner, although actor Hill Harper and state Board of Education President Pamela Pugh are among those also running. 

And in West Virginia, Rep. Alex X. Mooney and Gov. Jim Justice are locked in a Republican primary contest in a state that could be the easiest pickup opportunity for the GOP next year. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III has not said whether he will run again, and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilt Republican.

In Wisconsin, Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin is considered vulnerable, but the GOP hasn’t yet landed a top recruit. Republican Reps. Mike Gallagher and Tom Tiffany both passed on runs, while potential candidates like businessmen Eric Hovde and Scott Mayor and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke haven’t yet announced their plans. 

Ohio is the only one of these key races where the NRSC appears to be staying neutral, with a three-way primary between Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno (who ran in last cycle’s Senate primary before dropping out), State Sen. Matt Dolan and Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is running, and his race along with Sinema’s and Tester’s are all rated Toss-up by Inside Elections.

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