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Arizona’s Kari Lake countryside is unlike anything you’ve seen before

Lake is seeking to extend the GOP’s 14-year stranglehold on the Arizona governorship, but his campaign has little in common with the Republicans who came before him.

Lake calls herself her own campaign manager, thinks political consultants “don’t know what they’re talking about” and refuses to call the big donors who are used to being wooed. She ignores advice from Arizona’s political class and says she’s not a “big fan” of running TV ads, where campaigns typically spend most of their budget. Her “body man” works full-time as a real estate agent, her husband is her videographer, and until a few days ago she had an old-fashioned website that looked like it was made in the early days of the internet.

And while other candidates use polling data to shape their strategy, Lake hasn’t commissioned a single private survey since winning the primary, choosing instead, she says, to follow her instincts and her interactions. during the election campaign.

While some seasoned Republican political hands wince, Lake is seeing positive feedback — and has become one of the most formidable Trump-aligned midterm candidates. After soundly defeating a better-funded primary opponent who had the backing of the incumbent governor, Lake is in a neck-and-neck race with incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

The guerrilla-style approach provides a window into the role Lake would take on in the party if she won, and the style of Republican candidate voters increasingly gravitates toward it. As senior Republicans increasingly view her as a rising figure, Lake — much like Trump, who backed her in the primary — is breaking the norms of politics and establishing herself as an incendiary outsider driven by sheer force. personality and fame.

“I don’t need a pollster or a consultant from DC or some other big city to come to Arizona and tell me what Arizona is like,” Lake said in an interview. an hour in his Phoenix campaign office, pointing to his 27th birthday. -the story as an anchor, which made her a household name in the state. “I understand Arizona.”

Lake’s unconventional campaign story began in March 2021, after she posted a video announcing her resignation from TV news because she was not “proud” to be part of a medium that, according to her, had a liberal leaning. After Lake’s conservative fans encouraged her to run for governor, the political neophyte called the state’s Republican Party to ask how. In May, Lake, along with husband Jeff Halperin and best friend Lisa Dale, got together in another devotee’s backyard to record a launch video. In early June, Lake was officially in the race.

“I didn’t expect to get into politics, so I didn’t know how to run a campaign,” Lake said.

She determined early on that she didn’t like consultants. One urged Lake to distance himself from Trump, who narrowly lost the state in 2020 – a refusal for the staunch Trump supporter. (“I’m like, ‘OK, hasta la vista. Thanks but no thanks,'” Lake recalled.) Another told Lake she couldn’t win a primary because she had previously supported the former President Barack Obama. (“I said, ‘That’s the dumbest thing ever.'”)

She was also cool with TV advertising, believing that commercials become white noise in a state awash with political ads. During the primary, she was outplayed on the airwaves 17 to 1 by her rival, former Arizona Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson. Towards the end of the race, Lake decided to stop running TV commercials because she felt they were drowned out and a waste of money. So far in the general election, Lake has been edged out by Hobbs 7 to 1, according to media tracking figures.

Instead, Lake used her well-honed skills as a television broadcaster to focus on generating free media coverage for herself – sometimes by holding combative press conferences where she lashed out at reporters. . After her husband records the exchanges, the footage is distributed to Lake’s allies in the social media world, such as prominent far-right commentator Jack Posobiec. His team believes the viral videos drew more attention to the contestant than traditional TV ads.

Lake said she planned to run ads ahead of the election, but they wouldn’t be the focus because she felt voters had already known her during her anchor days. Much of the pro-Lake publicity is done by the Republican Governors Association, which has so far spent about $4 million on a blitz to support it.

“I think I’m a unique candidate in that I didn’t have to advertise as much to let people know who I am because they already knew who I was,” Lake said.

In some corners of the party hierarchy, however, there are concerns that Lake’s reluctance to publicize is costing his swing voters. While Lake has become a conservative heroine — largely through her strident support for Trump, her confrontations with the media, and her opposition to vaccination mandates — some senior Republicans worry she’s pushed back against moderates who might sway the elections.

But Lake has made it clear that she is determined to run her own race. During the interview, she read aloud text messages she had received from members of the political class offering advice – awareness, she said, that she had ignored. She said she has repeatedly refused requests from political professionals to meet with her.

Stan Barnes, an Arizona-based Republican strategist who is a longtime friend of Lake, said he urged Lake early on to soften his harsh rhetoric. But he said the candidate turned him down — a decision, Barnes said, that he considers wise.

“She says, ‘Thank you very much, Stan,’ and then goes out and does what she did,” Barnes said. “Any attempt to alter, script or restructure the campaign goes against what is in her heart.”

The candidate’s unconventional approach extends to fundraising. While other candidates typically burn the phone lines with deep-pocketed donors, Lake took a largely passive approach: At a recent meeting with contributors in Tucson, attendees expressed surprise that she didn’t have them. not contacted.

She often refuses to hard sell donors at fundraising events, saying that while contributions are appreciated, money doesn’t matter as much in politics as it once did. And until recently, Lake’s campaign rarely sent online fundraising solicitations to supporters.

Still, she began winning over some of the state’s big donors, many of whom backed her more establishment-aligned main opponent. Last week, she hosted a fundraiser at the Biltmore Estates in Phoenix that raised $650,000, according to an organizer.

While other candidates line up their campaigns with experienced advisers, Lake’s organization is filled with young aides who are new to politics. The campaign has taken on a collegiate feel: During a visit to its headquarters last Thursday, several teenage staff tapped away on laptops. A nearby wall featured a poster of Lake superimposed on the cover of an album by rapper Drake.

And after last week’s fundraiser, Lake staffers set off fireworks outside the home of Robson, his defeated primary opponent who happens to live several doors down from where the event took place. occurred.

Lake’s list of top aides includes Dale, a political novice and former local TV host who met Lake when she started in the TV news business. Dale, who is regularly alongside Lake, has taken on the role of operations manager. There’s also 21-year-old Matthew Martinez, who is taking a year off to lead the ballot effort.

And there’s 27-year-old Colton Duncan, whom Lake calls “the most important person in the campaign” and compares him to provocateur and Trump adviser Roger Stone. Duncan, who grew up in a trailer park in Lubbock, Texas, was brought in early to help Lake with the courier. He called himself the “consultant anti-consultant”.

As the race heads into the home stretch, public polls show it’s competitive: A CBS News/YouGov poll released Wednesday shows Lake and Hobbs tied at 49%, the latest in a string of surveys showing a tight race.

And, as Trump travels to Arizona this weekend to hold a rally for Lake, his campaign has caught the eye of those in the former president’s orbit. Steve Bannon, a former Trump chief strategist who had Lake on his “War Room” podcast, called her “the most unique candidate” to come out of the pro-Trump movement, and argued that her rise reflected a change in the way campaigns are run.

“I think the game is moving fast,” he said. “It’s incredible.”

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