PHOENIX — Democrat Katie Hobbs said she doesn’t regret her decision not to debate her Republican opponent for governor, Kari Lake — a move that even some of her supporters don’t agree with given such a tight race.
“A debate never helps a candidate win,” the secretary of state told HuffPost after an event Saturday with about a dozen people at a restaurant in Glendale, Arizona. “I mean, it is — we’re talking to voters and I guarantee it’s not something they’re concerned about. I guarantee the person who is rationing their insulin or opening their refrigerator and figuring out how they’re going to put food on the table with the groceries they have left for the week … isn’t going to open their ballot and say, ‘Damn, I wish Katie had done a debate.'”
Hobbs is taking heat for not debating Lake, a former newscaster who is slightly leading Hobbs in the race’s polling average, meaning it’s still anyone’s race to lose with just over two weeks until Election Day. The Democrat has previously defended her position by arguing that Lake wants a “spectacle” more than a substantive policy discussion and blaming the Arizona GOP primary debates for making voters “dumber.”
It’s not uncommon for strong incumbents to pass on debates with lesser-known challengers. It’s much less common in a close race for an open seat.
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) has already debated his challenger, first-time candidate and venture capitalist Blake Masters.
“Everything about [Lake] is a distraction from the fact that she has no experience, no qualifications, no plans to lead the state,” Hobbs told HuffPost. “She’s spent a career reading off a teleprompter, and she’s trying to distract from the fact that she’s not ready for the job.”
The daggers aren’t just from Republicans. Prominent Democrats are frustrated with Hobbs, a former social worker and legislator, for her refusal to debate and run a more aggressive campaign against the telegenic, Donald Trump-backed Lake, something supporters alluded to in conversations at events this weekend.
“The average voter these days, I don’t think they care one way or another,” said Martin Quezada, the Democrat candidate for Arizona treasurer who debated his opponent, Kimberly Yee, this month. “But for me, I think I would have preferred that she debated. But I can’t blame her for not debating. Kari Lake is really good at turning that into a show and performance; she’s a professional. Hobbs is swimming. That’s not her style of governing.”
Cathy LaSusa, a Hobbs supporter from El Mirage, also said she understands the reasons for rejecting a debate but wishes Democrats were more into “fighting for democracy” and not “taking the high road” all the time.
“I know that people were disappointed that Katie didn’t want to debate,” she said. “But on the other hand, we need to stand up to these people, which is a near impossible feat.”
The debate issue has come up during the course of phone-banking, she added. “People were disappointed. But they understood once I explained [why],” LaSusa said.
Lake played Hobbs at a western-themed rally on Saturday, drawing a crowd of several thousand to a ranch north of Phoenix for a rodeo and country music. One couple showed up dressed like “Where’s Waldo?” and waved a sign that read “Where’s Katie?” — an apparent dig at Hobbs for not going head to head with Lake and not being visible on the campaign trail.
“My opponent Hobbs — racist Hobbs — refuses to show up for any type of debate,” Lake told the crowd. “I said, ‘Katie, you pick the place. You pick the moderator. Even if [“The View” host] Joy Behar wants to moderate, I’m OK with that.’ I said, ‘Katie, you pick the questions. Just show up and stand before the people of Arizona. They deserve to hear from you.'”
Other Hobbs voters waved off concerns about any electoral fallout from the two candidates not meeting onstage before the Nov. 8 election.
“I don’t think it would make a difference,” said Monica Pimentel, a school board member from Glendale. “Kari Lake is a professional talker. She knows how to spin a story; that’s been her job for over 20 years. Katie Hobbs knows what the issues are. I believe that if she had to debate Kari Lake it would just be a circus.”