The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How bad a candidate was Kari Lake? This bad.

Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters introduces Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake during a campaign rally at Schnepf Farms on Nov. 6 in Queen Creek, Ariz. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)

Bad candidates cost the Republican Party plenty in the 2022 election. But with the possible exception of Michigan, in no state did they cost their party like they did in Arizona.

And now we can apply some hard data to just how bad those candidates, including Kari Lake and Blake Masters, were.

It has been clear since election night that Arizona was a major missed opportunity for the GOP. Most of its statewide GOP candidates ran the kind of election-denying, Trump-aligned general-election campaigns that other candidates mostly shied away from after their primaries. The result: While the GOP had strong turnout, did relatively well down-ballot and won the state treasurer’s race by double digits, it lost campaigns for Senate, governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

As the New York Times’s Nate Cohn noted recently, the electorate in the state tilted Republican by about nine points, with 75 percent of registered Republicans voting, compared to just 69 percent of registered Democrats — and in what had been up until recently a red state.

That would seem to be a recipe for success, but it wasn’t. So it was easy to surmise what had happened in Arizona was like what happened elsewhere, as Cohn wrote: Republican-leaning voters simply didn’t vote for certain Republican candidates.

There’s now compelling evidence this happened on a large scale in Arizona in precisely the races we thought.

The Arizona Republic this weekend highlighted a study of voting in all-important Maricopa County, which accounts for about 60 percent of the state’s electorate. It’s from a group called the “Audit Guys,” which includes a data analyst for the state Republican Party. The study showed that Lake, Masters and other statewide candidates like secretary of state hopeful Mark Finchem lost a significant number of votes from voters who otherwise backed mostly Republicans.

Those voters didn’t just skip those contests, mind you; they voted in large numbers for Democrats. And in some cases, including Lake’s, that appears to have been decisive.

In her case, there were nearly 40,000 voters who didn’t vote for her but otherwise mostly voted Republican across 14 other contests. And about 33,000 of them voted for now-Gov. Katie Hobbs (D). (Some didn’t vote or cast ballots for write-in candidates.)

That crossover vote is about double Lake’s overall, 17,000-vote margin of defeat. Given that Hobbs suffered many fewer defections — only about 8,000 mostly Democratic voters didn’t vote for her, and only about 6,000 voted for Lake — it suggests that the imbalance was decisive. Lake lost by about 27,000 votes among what can loosely be defined as crossover voters.

Lake won about 750,000 votes in Maricopa County, which suggests she squandered about 5 percent of voters who were predisposed to vote for her party, compared to less than 1 percent in Hobbs’s case.

The other race in which this appears to have been decisive was the razor-thin attorney general race. There, the numbers were very similar: GOP nominee Abe Hamadeh lost about 41,000 voters who otherwise cast their ballots for mostly Republicans, and 33,000 of them voted for his Democratic opponent. That’s compared to now-Attorney General Kris Mayes’s (D) loss of 11,000 mostly Democratic voters, 6,000 of whom voted for the Hamadeh, respectively. Given that Hamadeh lost by just 280 votes, this — among many other factors — apparently flipped the race.

Both Lake and Hamadeh have claimed unsuccessfully and without real evidence that these races were rigged; these data show pretty conclusively that they forfeited their races by alienating a potentially decisive number of would-be supporters.

But those weren’t even the worst cases of a GOP candidate forfeiting such votes in Arizona.

In the Senate race, nearly 48,000 Maricopa County voters who otherwise mostly voted Republican voted for Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly over Masters, according to the study. That’s compared to fewer than 2,000 mostly Democratic voters who cast ballots for Masters. That suggests that Masters lost the votes of more than 6 percent of voters who otherwise mostly voted Republican.

In the worst case of all, the secretary of state race, Finchem lost nearly 63,000 votes from voters who mostly voted Republican but cast ballots for now-Secretary of State Adrian Fontes (D). Compared to Finchem’s 700,000 votes in the county, that suggests he forfeited about 8 percent of the votes that were readily available to him as the Republican nominee.

In neither Masters’s nor Finchem’s case was this evidently decisive, but that’s largely because they lost by such large margins overall. Instead, they appear to be symptomatic of their larger problems.

It’s difficult to say with certainty how unusual this is, given the available election data varies by state. It’s true we often see a certain number of crossover voters in a given election.

But in this case, it’s not a symptom of voters simply being registered as a Republican and voting Democratic, whether because they failed to update their registration or for any other reason. This was voters going to the polls and proactively voting for mostly Republicans, but deciding each of these Republicans were a bridge too far for them.

There are a couple comparisons we can draw in Arizona that are illustrative.

The same group, the “Audit Guys,” ran the same study on the 2020 election and found that a similar number of otherwise mostly Republican voters voted for President Biden over Donald Trump: 39,000. But in that election, it was much closer to being offset by Democratic defections, as nearly 22,000 mostly Democratic voters picked Trump over Biden.

Those Democratic defections never really materialized for Lake and Co. So Trump suffered a much-smaller actual crossover effect than each of Lake, Masters, Finchem and Hamadeh. (It’s not as if Trump was a particularly strong candidate in his own right.)

There was, though, one 2022 race in which those reverse defections did materialize. It was in the aforementioned state treasurer’s race, where GOP incumbent Kimberly Yee won by double digits (12 points) overall. That was in large part thanks to more than 52,000 mostly Democratic voters in Maricopa County who voted for her, while she lost fewer than 7,000 mostly GOP voters to her Democratic opponent.

Yee, the only major statewide Arizona GOP candidate not endorsed by Trump, showed it was more than possible to keep those voters in the GOP camp and even appeal across the aisle.

Of course, the state GOP wasn’t much interested in giving Yee a promotion last year. She dropped out of the governor’s primary in January 2022, as Lake was looking like the early favorite.

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