Trump and Pence will campaign in Arizona for competing gubernatorial candidates
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Today, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence both traveled to Arizona. The attack on the Capitol drove a wedge between the two of them, as Trump baselessly claimed Pence could overturn the legitimate 2020 election. The split will be on full display today as Trump and Pence are on opposing sides of a key governor's race in Arizona. From member station KJZZ in Phoenix, Ben Giles reports.
BEN GILES, BYLINE: On a chilly January day in Florence, Ariz., Kari Lake boasted of her endorsement from Trump but warned her supporters of a tough campaign ahead.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KARI LAKE: But I'm telling you guys, I'm up against a behemoth. I'm up against the Uniparty and swamp donors. And I'm told they're going to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the Arizona gubernatorial race because they don't want me in office.
GILES: That behemoth has a candidate, Karrin Taylor Robson. While hundreds of millions was an exaggeration, the developer has spent a record-setting amount of cash, mostly her own, on a tsunami of TV ads, marketing herself as a more reasonable sounding Republican.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
KARRIN TAYLOR ROBSON: I started out working for President Reagan - conservative, effective and an optimist.
GILES: For her, it's been money well spent. Once polling in the single digits, Taylor Robson's the last legitimate candidate standing against Lake in what's now a head-to-head campaign for the GOP nomination. And now the Arizona swamp, as Lake would call it, is out in full force. Taylor Robson has the support of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and former Congressman Matt Salmon, who quickly backed her after dropping out of the governor's race. A week ago, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsed Taylor Robson while also attacking Lake for alleged flip flops on immigration and abortion. On CNN, even Ducey got in some fake Lake barbs.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DOUG DUCEY: This is all an act. She's been putting on a show for some time now, and we'll see if the voters of Arizona buy it.
GILES: On Monday, Pence announced he, too, was picking sides in Arizona. It's the latest in a series of challenges to Trump's power over the Republican Party and a personal battle between former allies who may run against one another for president in 2024. Pence also backed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who Trump targeted for rebuffing his attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Kemp handily won his primary, but the polling is much closer in Arizona's gubernatorial race. Chuck Coughlin, an Arizona political consultant, said the momentum is clearly on Taylor Robson's side.
CHUCK COUGHLIN: Lake seems to be continually narrating a campaign hoping that the Donald Trump coattails can bring her home. Karrin has a more sophisticated narrative.
GILES: There's another tally that's important in the race - the number of candidates. Coughlin said Trump's endorsements fare better in crowded fields, like when Dr. Mehmet Oz won a three-way primary for Senate in Pennsylvania. A similar dynamic is at play for Trump's Senate candidate in Arizona, Blake Masters, who's running against three serious challengers.
COUGHLIN: It works very well, say, like in our Senate race, when you have multiple candidates competing and he can pick and choose one of those candidates, which gives him a 10-point bump in the race.
GILES: But in a two-way race for governor, Coughlin said Trump's endorsement has only gotten Lake so far.
COUGHLIN: Her number seems to be fairly stalled in the 30s, which would indicate the amount of support that the president and her - his endorsement got her from the very beginning.
GILES: Today, Pence travels to southern and central Arizona to back Taylor Robson. Trump, who remains popular among the state's Republicans, will be in northern Arizona stumping for Lake and other election-denying candidates ahead of the August 2 primary. For NPR News, I'm Ben Giles in Phoenix.
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