By Alexander Lomax
The 9th Floor has become a cozy, safe space for Republicans ever since the Janet Napolitano days. Before that, Democrats often had to be rather centrist and pragmatic in order to win the office. So does Katie Hobbs, former Senate Minority Leader from the progressive stronghold of central Phoenix, actually have a chance to win?
In order to answer that question, we need to consider her primary first. At the moment, her only competitors are former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez and District 28 legislator Aaron Liebermann. Right now, it’s tough to see a scenario in which she loses her primary. On the surface, the Lopez campaign could be a promising one. As a Latino Pete Buttigieg of sorts (young, intelligent, former small town mayor) who also lists being an advisor to Carlos Slim (former wealthiest man in the world) on his resume, this campaign has promise on paper. However, word is that his campaign manager left due to sluggish fundraising. There is still time to right the ship, but at this point he is in the process of getting lapped by Hobbs.
As for Liebermann, we already spoke to his quixotic bid to avoid redistricting. While he will likely garner strong support from his own district, Hobbs’s largely error-free time at Secretary of State is being put on a national pedestal by Karen Fann and the widely derided “audit”. We see no potential catalyst to turn Liebermann into anything other than an “also ran”, and for Hobbs to win the primary by a significant margin.
The general election is where things get murky. With more legitimate candidates on the Republican side, more permutations factor into this calculation, but we will focus on current AZ GOP darling Kari Lake. In this head-to-head matchup, Lake has one major advantage to Hobbs: no track record. While Hobbs has plenty of legislation for the Lake team to pick through and scare voters with, Hobbs will likely have to rely on tearing through Lake’s actions on the campaign trail (which will provide some material). Advantage: Lake
Also, we must consider who will seem more gubernatorial; who is more camera and debate ready. Lake has spent her career speaking to a camera, and is as close to a perfect candidate as Arizona has in that regard. Meanwhile Hobbs has had a reputation for being notoriously awkward during much of her career. The “audit” has vaulted her into a national spotlight, and while her public speaking and presence has improved considerably since then, she has a long way to go to match Lake’s natural comfort in front of a mic and a camera. Again, Advantage: Lake.
However, a lot will depend on the overall statewide mood of how middle-of-the-road voters feel about either party. Midterm elections are notoriously difficult on the party of a new President, although that is never set in stone. Biden seemed to be on cruise control with a reasonable response to Covid and oversight of an economy returning to normal. However, the actions in Afghanistan recently are a very real unforced error from the administration, one that is being widely panned from both parties. That could be far in the rearview mirror by the time next fall comes around, but Hobbs may be partially dependent on flawless performance from the White House going forward, which may be unrealistic.
So to answer the question: anything could change between now and next November. But while she should coast through her primary, at this moment the general election looks as though it would turn out more like David Garcia and Fred DuVal than it will Janet Napolitano.