PHOENIX (AP) — A year ago, Democratic Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs was all over cable news, building a national profile as a defender of democracy and raising money for her campaign for governor.
Democratic Senator Mark Kelly, newly elected to finish the late John McCain’s last term and run for reelection, appeared to be one of the most vulnerable members of the Senate.
It seems fortunes have turned for the two Democrats as the mid-term campaign heads home in a burgeoning, diverse state that is increasingly central to how the Democratic Party sees its future. Kelly maintains a strong position in polls and fundraising, while Hobbs struggles.
The dynamics reflect how the campaigns have sometimes followed different strategies and faced different types of rivals. Kari Lake, Hobbs’ opponent as the Republican nominee for governor, has gained a significant following as a shrewd ally of former President Donald Trump. Blake Masters, Kelly’s rival in the Senate race, is struggling to gain the same kind of grip.
“People like shiny objects, and Kari Lake is that shiny object that puts itself on the map,” said Bridget Bellavigna, a Democrat who was inspired by the Trump election to get involved in local politics. She’s running for cop in the suburbs of Phoenix.
A Fox News poll released Thursday found Kelly led Republican Blake Masters by 46% to 40%, while the race for governor was roughly even. The survey of 1,008 voters in Arizona was conducted Sept. 22-26. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.
Hobbs and Kelly work largely independently of each other and have not campaigned together. Both portray their Republican opponents as extremists, but otherwise take a different approach to their public personality.
Kelly, a former Navy pilot and astronaut, flies across the state in a rented four-seat plane, receiving media attention along the way.
Hobbs, on the other hand, was scarce on the campaign trail through the Democratic primary in August and much of the following. She has turned her attention to rural areas far from the voter-rich areas of Phoenix and Tucson, where Democrats need to boost turnout to be competitive here.
She has been more visible in the past two weeks, although she prefers choreographed events in which she mostly sticks to a script and limits her interactions with journalists.
In a brief interaction after an event last month, Hobbs said she doesn’t shy away from tough questions.
“I do what my team makes me do,” she said. “I’m not looking to dodge anything.”
Hobbs plays “prevent defense,” a cautious football strategy that awards short wins to the opponent in an attempt to beat the clock, said Wes Gullett, a Republican adviser and former adviser to McCain.
Gullett added his name to a public list of Republicans who support Democrat Adrian Fontes as Secretary of State, but he has declined to do the same for Hobbs, though he says he would rather she beat Lake.
“What I want to see from Katie Hobbs is a more aggressive candidate,” Gullett said. “Talking about the issues she cares about, talking about what’s important.”
Late last month, Hobbs seized the opportunity to sharpen her message when a judge in Tucson ruled that prosecutors can enforce an almost complete ban on abortion first enacted during the Civil War. She pledged to use the full power of the governor’s office to protect women’s rights, though she acknowledged she could do little without the cooperation of the legislature, which will likely be at least partially controlled by anti-abortion Republicans. .
Hobbs announced over the weekend that she had raised $1.2 million in the week following the abortion ruling, a big increase in fundraising, though she has not yet had to file financial statements for campaigns that would corroborate the numbers.
Hobbs is a former social worker who worked with people who were homeless and later became a lobbyist for a domestic violence shelter. She was elected to the legislature in 2010 along with now US Senator Kyrsten Sinema to represent the same central district in Phoenix, Hobbs in the House and Sinema in the Senate.
“In the end, we are confident that common sense will beat the chaos and Sec. Hobbs will be elected in November,” Hobbs campaign manager Nicole DeMont said in a statement to The Associated Press.
The race for governor is closer than the race for the Senate because Hobbs will face a tougher match, said Chad Campbell, a Democratic adviser and former Arizona legislator. Lake is a stronger candidate than Masters, he said.
“Kari Lake is a better version of Trump,” Campbell said. “She’s a more polished, better-looking version of Donald Trump.”
It also helps Kelly that Senate races attract significantly more money than campaigns for governor, allowing Kelly and Democratic allies to relentlessly attack Masters, who is struggling to keep up financially. The Senate race also has a libertarian candidate who could draw votes from right-wing voters.
Independent voters make up one-third of the Arizona electorate and hold the keys to statewide victories. They often split their tickets, electing Sinema to the Senate and Republican Doug Ducey as governor in 2018. Two years later, they propelled Kelly to a 2.4 percentage point victory, while Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden took a 0.3 point victory. , the closest margin of any state it has won. Republicans ran the table for the remainder of the vote.
Hobbs became the undisputed Democratic frontrunner last year when she vigorously defended the 2020 election when Trump supporters on behalf of state Senate Republicans oversaw a discredited ballot recount in Maricopa County.
But she struggles to turn her defense of democracy into a strong position. Her own missteps have not helped.
Late last year, for the second time, a jury sided with a black former legislative aide, Talonya Adams, who said she was fired for discriminatory reasons in 2015, when Hobbs was the top Democrat in the Senate. Hobbs testified that she made a group decision with two others to fire Adams.
Hobbs initially defended the decision and dismissed responsibility by blaming the Republicans for underpaying Adams. After a storm of Democrats who believed she denounced discrimination in the workplace against people of color, Hobbs apologized to Adams, saying her initial response “wasn’t up to taking real responsibility.”
Two-thirds of Hobbs’ campaign staff quit this summer, telling the Arizona Agenda newsletter that the atmosphere was emotionally abusive.
More recently, she faced a deluge of criticism, even from allies, and weeks of negative headlines for her decision not to debate Lake.
“It’s bad for her not to,” said Linda Martini, a Democratic volunteer from Phoenix who recently tried to share her opinion with Hobbs at a campaign event, but was rejected by the candidate, who ran away. In addition, she could destroy her opponents. There is no doubt about it. And people want to see her on TV.”