Politics: Meet Karrin Taylor Robson, the Pence-endorsed Republican who could stop Trump-endorsed Kari Lake from winning the Arizona GOP gubernatorial nomination

Trump, Pence rivalry intensifies as they consider 2024 runs

  Trump, Pence rivalry intensifies as they consider 2024 runs NEW YORK (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence is becoming increasingly brazen in his willingness to counter former President Donald Trump. The two will hold dueling rallies in Arizona on Friday as they stump for rival candidates who offer dramatically different visions of the Republican Party in a critical battleground state. Days later, they will once again cross paths as they deliver major speeches on the same day in Washington. TheThe two will hold dueling rallies in Arizona on Friday as they stump for rival candidates who offer dramatically different visions of the Republican Party in a critical battleground state. Days later, they will once again cross paths as they deliver major speeches on the same day in Washington.

Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidates Karrin Taylor Robson and Kari Lake. Rebecca Noble/Reuters © Rebecca Noble/Reuters Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidates Karrin Taylor Robson and Kari Lake. Rebecca Noble/Reuters
  • The Arizona GOP gubernatorial primary has turned into a proxy war between Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
  • Karrin Taylor Robson says she has the electability, experience, and temperament that Kari Lake doesn't.
  • But ahead of the August 2 primary, the race has turned ugly.

CHANDLER, Arizona — When the four Republican candidates running for governor of Arizona finally met for their first and only televised debate at the end of June, chaos ensued.

"I feel like I'm on an SNL skit here," remarked Kari Lake, a former news anchor for Fox 10 Phoenix who's been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, during the hour-long event full of cross-talk and head-scratching non-sequiturs.

But perhaps the most significant moment of that debate — a clip of which was widely shared and mocked online — came when Lake challenged the other candidates to raise their hands if they believed Arizona had a "corrupt, stolen election" in 2020.

While Lake and the two other minor candidates promptly raised their hands, one candidate did not: Lake's main competitor, Karrin Taylor Robson.

"It was a debate in name only, really," Robson told Insider during a phone interview on Sunday. "I think it was quite unfortunate, because the voters of Arizona deserve better."

Robson, a business-minded Republican who's worked in real estate development and land use consulting, is now the one person standing between Lake and the GOP nomination — and perhaps even the governorship itself.

She's poured more than $13 million of her own money into the effort, accounting for more than 80% of the $16.5 million raised by her campaign ahead of the August 2 primary.

She comes from a political family: Her father, Carl Kunasek, served as president of the Arizona Senate during the late 1980s, while her brother Andy Kunasek served for 20 years on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Robson is also an ally of Doug Ducey, the state's term-limited incumbent governor: He appointed Robson in 2017 to the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing board that oversees the state's major public universities including Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and University of Arizona.

But it's her first time running for office, and the otherwise traditional, Ronald Reagan-loving Republican finds herself seeking the nomination of a party that's fixated on cultural issues and remains under the shadow of Trump.

Meanwhile, Lake may be one of the most Trump-like candidates running this year. A broadcast journalist in Arizona for nearly three decades before making a hard-right political turn in recent years, Lake opened up an early lead in the race by securing Trump's endorsement in September 2021.

And much like Trump, Lake is a former Democrat who's embraced illiberal and extreme rhetoric in her first quest for political office.

"Frankly, I think she should be locked up," Lake has said of the likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee, current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

Lake also fervently pushes the idea that the 2020 election was stolen, has said that she would not have certified her own state's election results, and has attracted fringe figures at some of her campaign events. She's also — like Trump — liable to get into Twitter fights, most recently with Meghan McCain, the daughter of the state's long-serving late Republican Sen. John McCain.

A yard sign for Kari Lake featuring the image of President Donald Trump in Phoenix, Arizona. Bryan Metzger/Insider © Bryan Metzger/Insider A yard sign for Kari Lake featuring the image of President Donald Trump in Phoenix, Arizona. Bryan Metzger/Insider

But despite that early lead, Lake and Robson are now polling neck-and-neck. And in the race's final weeks, it's become something of a national GOP proxy war.

While Lake has long been endorsed by a variety of Trump-world figures, Robson now has the backing of former Vice President Mike Pence, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. She also has the backing of a constellation of other stalwart GOP figures, including both critics and allies of Trump, such as Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

'I'm not a fake, I'm not an actress'

On policy matters, there's relatively little that separates the two candidates; it would be a mistake to cast Robson as a moderate, at least based on how she's running her campaign.

Rather, Robson contends that she has everything that Lake lacks: experience, electability, and the temperament to govern her state.

"I am who I say I am. I'm not a fake, I'm not an actress," Robson told Insider when asked to name the biggest difference between her and Lake. "I have a lifetime of executive experience and getting results, and she has a lifetime of reading a teleprompter."

It's the same argument that many of Trump's 2016 Republican primary opponents unsuccessfully made against him, even as he outflanked them on high-salience issues like immigration and trade. Now, it's Robson arguing that Lake is not a real conservative, even as Lake stakes out a base-friendly position on the 2020 election — 2022's hot-button topic de jure among the party faithful.

A yard sign for Karrin Taylor Robson in Phoenix, Arizona. Bryan Metzger/Insider © Bryan Metzger/Insider A yard sign for Karrin Taylor Robson in Phoenix, Arizona. Bryan Metzger/Insider

For her part, Robson stops short of calling the election stolen. At the debate, she said the 2020 election was "absolutely not fair" before Lake interjected to tout her endorsement from Dinesh D'Souza, the director of the widely-debunked film "2000 Mules" that purports to reveal rampant fraud in the 2020 election.

To support her claim that the election "wasn't fair," Robson gestured towards Republican conspiracy theories about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's election-related philanthropic contributions and pandemic-era changes to voting procedures.

"You look at the media suppressing the news," she said at the debate. "I don't need to say anything more than 'Hunter Biden' or Big Tech suppressing — silencing conservative voices."

Asked by Insider why an election-denying Republican should support her over Lake, Robson argued that she was more electable than her opponent while alluding to partisan control over the state's vote certification process.

"We must maintain the Republican governorship in Arizona, because Arizona is a battleground state," she said. "The last thing this country needs is a battleground state like Arizona being led by a Democrat."

Long a Republican strong-hold, the state now has two Democratic senators and in 2020 voted Democratic at the presidential level for the first time since 1996, raising the sense of urgency for Republicans.

Meanwhile, the primary between the two women has grown nasty and personal, with Lake insinuating that middle-aged Robson — who's married to 91-year-old real estate developer Ed Robson — is "wasting her inheritance on a failed vanity project."

"This lady has spent MILLIONS of her husband's money and has nothing to show for it!" Lake wrote in one tweet.

Lake has also hammered Robson over the use of the phrase "female-identifying restroom" at a stadium named after her husband in Colorado, saying her opponent "supports Trans Bathrooms."

But Lake's own past has muddled her ability to appeal to voters on cultural grounds. After she began criticizing drag queens, a drag performer who used to be friends with Lake came forward and released photos of the two together.

'The fake crazy or the real crazy'

As part of Robson's campaign to brand her opponent as "Fake Lake," hundreds, if not thousands, of yard signs have been placed along roadsides across the state noting that Lake donated to former President Barack Obama.

At an event for Senate candidate Jim Lamon in Prescott, Pat Newbert, 66, told Insider that Lake's background proved she was a liberal, chiding Trump for endorsing the former journalist.

"What makes him think that all of a sudden, now, she's gonna be a Republican?" said Newbert. "He's backing people that — come on, Trump! You know, you're smarter than that. And these liberals, they get in there, and then they go right back to being a liberal."

Lake doesn't shy away from the fact that she's a former Democrat, pointing to both Trump and Ronald Reagan as prior examples while embracing the so-called #WalkAway movement.

A yard sign highlighting Lake's past support for President Barack Obama paid for by Robson's campaign in Phoenix, Arizona. Bryan Metzger/Insider © Bryan Metzger/Insider A yard sign highlighting Lake's past support for President Barack Obama paid for by Robson's campaign in Phoenix, Arizona. Bryan Metzger/Insider

Asked about the signs, a spokesperson for the Lake campaign chided Robson for spending "a mountain of her Billionaire Husband's money" on signs "across Arizona with Kari and Obama's face on them."

"The Kari Lake Campaign extends our thanks to Robson for getting a head start on helping us in the General," said the spokesperson.

Lake has also countered Robson's attacks by pointing to the businesswoman's prior contributions to Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, who Lake has called the "AOC of Arizona."

Insider asked Gallego — who's joked that Robson is "my best donor" — about what he made of her past contributions.

"The reason she did that is because, you know, she needed access to Democrats in power, because a lot of what they needed in terms of land development had to go through Democratic hands," said Gallego at the US Capitol on Tuesday. "Largely she was doing it, I think, to try to have influence."

Robson made the same point when asked about the contributions, which amounted to just $1000 in 2015.

"Ruben Gallego was already elected," said Robson, noting the deep-blue hue of his Phoenix-area district. She then pivoted, noting her history as a major source of GOP money, "including well over a million dollars to Donald Trump while Kari Lake was calling Joe Biden the duly elected president."

But Gallego had more to say about Robson, suggesting that she, rather than Lake, was the one being inauthentic in the race.

"Karrin Taylor Robson was a very moderate businesswoman when it was helpful to her," said Gallego, adding that when he knew her, she would "look down and talk bad about conservatives in Arizona."

Arizona Democrats have also seized on the contributions, sending an email release that back-handedly thanks Robson for her past contributions to other Democrats in a likely effort to boost Lake, who is seen as potentially easier to defeat.

But when asked who he thought would be a more favorable opponent for Democrats, Gallego — who is himself mulling a primary challenge to sitting Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in 2024 — demurred.

"I mean, like, the crazy train will get derailed no matter who does it," said Gallego. "Whether it's the fake crazy or the real crazy, so it doesn't really matter."

'I'm kind of passionate about civil discourse'

While Robson may represent a more genteel kind of Republican, she's also currently competing for primary votes against a candidate who's been endorsed by Trump.

To compensate, Robson is having to lean into demagogic rhetoric to win over potentially skeptical conservatives, even as she conceded during the gubernatorial debate that she would not be radically different than Ducey, the current Republican governor.

At an event last Thursday with her campaign's Asian-American Coalition in a Chandler dim sum restaurant, the contradictions of that kind of message were on full display. Matt Salmon, a former long-time Republican congressman who recently dropped out of the governor's race to endorse Robson, gave an opening speech on her behalf.

"We're not at a crossroads. We were at a crossroads many, many years ago," said Salmon just moments after pleasing the crowd with his ad-libbed Mandarin skills. "We took the wrong turn, and we're about to fall off the cliff."

When it was Robson's turn to speak, she opened her address by suggesting that the "left" wants to turn states like Arizona and Utah into California, relaying an anecdote from an attendee at another event about how "Utah's already gone" because so many out-of-staters have moved in.

"So, we are on the frontlines of keeping our country safe and free," said Robson, her father sitting in the audience.

But she seemed most at ease discussing her desire to turn Arizona into the "small business capital of America" and talking about how her upbringing taught her the "exceptional nature of this country, and that if you work hard, you treat people well, you can achieve anything."

Karrin Taylor Robson speaks to a group of supporters at Phoenix Palace restaurant in Chandler, Arizona on July 13, 2022. Bryan Metzger/Insider © Bryan Metzger/Insider Karrin Taylor Robson speaks to a group of supporters at Phoenix Palace restaurant in Chandler, Arizona on July 13, 2022. Bryan Metzger/Insider

It was a pitch that might have been more typical of a Republican politician prior to Trump's ascent to the top of the party.

Robson also spoke glowingly of her father's friendship with Art Hamilton, a Democratic state legislator, which she said was a model for her. "That's the beauty of America," she said. "We can be different. We can come together and respect one another, and work together to solve complex problems."

"I'm kind of passionate about civil discourse, and civics and civic education," she remarked.

Attendees, representing communities ranging from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to even Assyrian and Lebanese, were largely already Robson supporters. At one point, attendees from each represented community were asked to speak about why they were supporting Robson.

One middle-aged woman who identified herself as being from the Filipino-American community praised Robson for her executive experience before bashing Lake.

"The woman who's running against you, she looks like… I'm not very politically correct, so let me call her a space cadet," said the woman, prompting laughter. "To me, she's an airhead."

Read the original article on Business Insider

Arizona AG Blasts Election Fraud Claims Ahead of Kari Lake's Expected Win .
Mark Brnovich said that all but one of 282 alleged "dead" voters were still alive at the time of the November 2020 election.In a letter to Arizona state Senate President Karen Fann, who has frequently pushed the debunked claim of widespread voter fraud in the last election, Brnovich said his office's Election Integrity Unit looked into allegations of dead voters which were made in the heavily disputed audit from the company Cyber Ninjas.

See also