PHOENIX (AP) — Brett Foto and his fiancé were vacationing in Phoenix last fall when they heard about a rally nearby for Kari Lake, then running for governor of Arizona.
It doesn’t matter that they don’t live or vote in Arizona. Lake went places, a rising star on the populist right, and they had to see her.
“We’re seeing something really interesting tonight,” said Foto, a 52-year-old sales rep who lives outside of Denver. “We’re going to look back and say, ‘We saw her when we went to this little hangar in Phoenix.'”
Lake went on to lose that race to Democrat Katie Hobbs, a setback that would typically thwart political ambitions. But among conservatives, the defeat did little to undermine Lake’s stature. Her refusal to acknowledge her loss only cements her stature far beyond Arizona.
In the months following the election, Lake turned up at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate and a palatial hotel in California, where she unsuccessfully lobbied members of the Republican National Committee to defeat Chairman Ronna McDaniel. A more recent U-turn by Iowa sparked speculation about whether she could run for president or angle for a role as Trump’s running mate if he reclaims the GOP nomination.
Wherever she is, she doubles down on the formula that thrilled the Republican base but was rejected by a wider electorate: unwavering allegiance to Trump, an unwavering focus on unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, and tough talk about forcibly securing the US-Mexico border. .
Lake will have another chance to demonstrate her ties to the GOP grassroots with a prominent speaking role at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in Washington next month.
“She speaks MAGA,” said Chuck Coughlin, a veteran Arizona political consultant and one of the top advisers to the former Jan Brewer administration, referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. “She is better than Trump in many ways. She is a cultural warrior. She expresses their fear and concern about the way the country is going.
Meanwhile, Lake continues to fight her loss in Arizona appeals courts, which rejected her election challenge Thursday. She promised to file her lawsuit in the state Supreme Court. She held a campaign-style rally this month to draw attention to her cause.
“Kari Lake is the total package. She is eloquent. She is confident. She’s beautiful, but not in a threatening way,” said Linda Greulich, a 70-year-old Phoenix retiree. “And I think if she wants to stay in politics, I can see her going all the way to the top.”
The wave of activity comes as Lake considers running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Kyrsten Sinema, an independent and former Democrat. She recently met with officials from the Republican Senate National Committee in Washington.
Republicans outnumber Democrats in Arizona, but they have struggled to win during the Trump era. The GOP lost three straight Senate races in Arizona as voters who supported Republicans refused to vote for candidates close to Trump.
Eleven percent of voters who identified as Republicans voted for Hobbs last year, compared to just 4% of Democrats who voted for Lake, according to AP VoteCast, a comprehensive survey of more than 3,200 Arizona voters.
Sinema has not said whether she will run for a second term, a decision that could have a monumental impact on the battle for control of the Senate. Democrats fear that a three-way race between Sinema, a Democrat, and a Republican will mix up the formula that has worked so well for them, leaving an opening for a candidate like Lake.
Other Republicans watching running include Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb. Jim Lamon, Blake Masters and Karrin Taylor Robson, 2022 candidates for Senate or governor, are also considering a bid.
Lake opposes those in the GOP who try to ignore claims of election fraud that have proven toxic in swing states, including Arizona, where Lake and three other Trump-backed Republicans lost their races. She told Iowans, who take pride in their role in vetting presidential candidates, to pressure candidates about “where they stand in stolen elections.”
“We need to get all these candidates to think that election integrity is a #1 issue,” she said.
Lake was a news anchor in the Phoenix market for nearly 30 years. She left the Fox affiliate in 2021, saying journalism had drifted into advocacy. She began her campaign for governor a short time later, channeling Trump with frequent attacks on the news media she left behind.
Recording every interaction with reporters, often posting controversial exchanges on social media, and earning praise from her fans, she still attracted unprecedented attention from global media.
Since her loss, money has continued to pour in for Lake. Her campaign raised $2.6 million from Election Day through the end of the year, with the largest profit coming on Hobbs’ race day.
She has raised more money through a nonprofit her advisors founded in December, which is not required to disclose details of her donations and has become her primary fundraising tool.
Photo, who saw Lake while vacationing in Arizona, was undeterred by her loss to Hobbs and hopes she’ll give it another shot at running.
“I pray for that to happen and I pray for that for this country,” Foto said by phone. “I think we need people like them to ensure a strong future for all of us.”