Republican Kari Lake is using a controversial leaked audio and the resignation of the Arizona Republican Party chair to bolster her Senate campaign as a political outsider ahead of a challenging race for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (I-Ariz.) seat this fall.
Jeff DeWit, the party chair, resigned Wednesday after the damaging audio was released, in which he can be heard telling Lake people “back East … want to keep you out” of the race. He also appeared to imply that she’d be offered a job if she stayed out of the race.
In a statement, DeWit said the conversation took place more than 10 months ago in Lake’s living room and was “selectively edited audio” and “taken out of context.”
Lake and her team cast the episode as showing she’s a woman of the people. “I can’t be bought,” she states at one point on the audio.
It’s the kind of publicity that can’t be bought, and a number of Republicans think it could help Lake.
“I think the whole episode has some benefit in reminding people … of the fact that she’s not somebody who’s part of the party establishment or infrastructure,” said one Arizona-based GOP strategist.
Beyond just putting her name in the news, it sends a message that can be emphasized in political ads and campaign messaging as she embarks on what could be a three-way campaign against Sinema and the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Ruben Gallego.
“It might endear her to some independent voters who she has to win over … that she said, ‘F‑‑‑ you,’ to the chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and didn’t give in or didn’t say, ‘Tell me more,’” Arizona GOP Jason Rose consultant said.
“I think it cuts her way,” he added.
Garrett Ventry and Caroline Wren, senior advisers to Lake, said in a statement that “the tape speaks for itself: The Arizona GOP Chairman Jeff DeWit attempted to bribe Kari Lake.”
“Thankfully Kari is an extremely ethical person who rejected DeWit’s multiple attempts to offer her money and corporate board seats in exchange for Kari not running for public office,” they added.
Lake, a former television news anchor, ran and lost a bid to be Arizona governor in 2022, narrowly losing to then-Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs by less than a percentage point. Lake ran as a close ally to former President Trump and refused to concede in the race, contesting the results.
Lake has loyal supporters and national fame, but the refusal to accept the results of the 2022 election has also earned her notoriety, and there are Democrats and Republicans alike who think she could lose in the Senate race and cost Republicans what might otherwise be a winnable seat.
The stakes are high. Democrats now hold just a one-seat majority in the Senate, and they are defending a number of seats in red or purple states.
The audio appeared to reflect the fear some Republicans have of Lake being their nominee in the race against Gallego and perhaps Sinema, who has yet to announce whether she will seek a new term.
Lake has sought to win over her doubters and shift perceptions about her.
She told The Hill last year that she wants “to bring people together,” while at the same time not backing down from contesting the 2022 election results.
Her campaign is projecting confidence while calling the situation with DeWit “unfortunate.”
“Kari Lake has never been in a stronger position to win the Senate race,” a Lake campaign spokesperson told The Hill. “Recent Democrat polling shows her beating the Gallego, as Joe Biden’s approval ratings tank in Arizona.”
Former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, another Trump ally, backed her on Friday.
Democrats sought to use the DeWit story to cast Lake as a magnet for controversy.
“Where Kari Lake goes, chaos and losing campaigns follow,” Tommy Garcia, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, told The Hill in a statement. “Even Arizona Republicans admit she’s a terrible Senate candidate for them.”
Some Republicans also expressed concern the GOP-on-GOP fighting would be harmful for Lake and Arizona Republicans at large.
Arizona GOP political consultant Constantin Querard argued Lake should be trying to bring more Republicans and voters into the fold instead of isolating some of them as she did during her gubernatorial run.
“I don’t understand why they didn’t learn the lessons from two years ago. And why they are actively participating in sort of feeding a Republican Civil War, when what she needs to be doing is uniting the party,” he said. “I mean, she can’t afford to lose more Republican support or lose more Republican voters.”
But others suggested the whole issue is likely to fade.
“Within the context of a Republican primary, to be honest with you, I probably think it has very limited impact. I mean, if you’re talking about from the negative side,” explained Kurt Davis, a former executive director for the state GOP.
“If you move into the general election, I think by the time you get to November, quite frankly, that this story will be old and stale, and nobody will be talking about it,” he added.