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Before she embraced Donald Trump, Kari Lake signed on with Democrats as Barack Obama's fortunes soared

Voter registration records show 'most conservative' GOP candidate for governor left party for several years. Lake says she thought GOP 'lost its way' over wars.

PHOENIX — Editor's note: This is the first of a series of stories examining candidates' voting records.

Several years before Kari Lake embraced the far right politics of President Donald Trump, she registered as a Democrat just as Barack Obama’s presidential ambitions got a big lift.

The Republican candidate for governor and former Phoenix TV news anchor made the switch the day after Obama’s stunning defeat of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in  the 2008 Iowa caucuses, the first test of the presidential primary season, according to information obtained by 12 News under a public records request.

Lake has branded herself as the most conservative Republican in the governor’s race. 

“I grew up a conservative, and I am so blessed that my husband and children share those values,” Lake said in a prepared statement to 12 News.

But a review of Lake’s voting history reveals that her support for Obama was part of a significant departure from her conservative roots: She left the Republican Party in 2006 and returned in 2012, as Obama’s fourth year in office began.

'Thought Party Lost Its Way'

Lake’s misgivings about the Republican Party began as early as 2004. She made her first campaign donation that year - to a Democratic presidential candidate.

In her statement to 12 News, Lake linked her registration shifts to her views on the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which began in the early 2000s.

“There was a period of time when I really thought the Republican Party had lost its way with the endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” she said. 

“I was so concerned that it caused me to change party affiliation from Republican to an Independent and then for a short time a Democrat, but I returned to the Republican Party in 2012 and have been ever since.”

12 News Requested Public Records

12 News obtained Lake’s voting and voter registration history through a public records request to the Maricopa County Elections Department. 

The records do not reveal how Lake voted in any election.

Media reviews of a political candidate’s voting and registration history, as well as past campaign donations, are common during an election season. 12 News has requested the voting and registration histories of other candidates.

For a first-time candidate such as Lake, that history can provide voters with insights into the candidate’s political biography.

Several Shifts in Registration

The records document Lake’s shift from Republican to independent to Democrat and back to Republican.

Where Lake has shifted to now is clear: She echoes Trumps’ policies and style.

Lake bashes the media industry that she worked in for 25 years; rips the COVID-related shutdowns of businesses and schools; and promotes conspiracy theories that the election was stolen from Trump.

Lake left Phoenix’s Fox 10 earlier this year after 22 years at the station. She was part of a long-running anchor team with John Hook.

Lake first registered as a Republican in Maricopa County in January 1995, according to county records.

RELATED: Rating the governor's race: Arizona candidates get early jump on campaigns to succeed Ducey in '22

County records show she has been a consistent early voter in federal, state and local elections since 2000, which is as far back as electronic registration records go.

Left GOP During Bush Era

Lake left the GOP in the middle of Republican President George W. Bush’s second term.

Here’s her registration history for that period:

-On Nov. 3, 2006 - four days before that year’s midterm elections - Lake changed her party registration to independent, under her married name, Kari L. Halperin. 

Under state law, voters should update their voter registration information if their name has been legally changed. Lake changed her name to Halperin when she updated her registration in 2000, according to county records.

-A little more than a year later, on Jan. 4, 2008, Lake registered as a Democrat on the day after the Iowa caucuses.

Obama’s victory in the first test of the 2008 campaign helped to cement his status as a top-tier Democratic candidate. 

Obama would go on to defeat Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain in the November presidential election. 

-Lake remained a registered Democrat through the first three years of  Obama’s presidency, which included his signing of the landmark Affordable Care Act in 2010. 

On Jan. 31, 2012, she changed her registration to Republican. She is currently registered as a Republican.

Donations to 2 Democrats

Records on political donations show Lake has donated a total of $850 over the last 17 years, to two Democratic presidential candidates.

According to OpenSecrets.org, a campaign finance site run by the Center for Responsive Politics:

-On April 22, 2004, Kari Halperin donated $500 to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, a Democratic presidential candidate.  

Her occupation is listed as “video production.” She was still a registered Republican.

At the time, Kerry was the presumptive Democratic  presidential nominee. He lost to President Bush in the fall general election.

-On June 28, 2008, a “K Halperin” donated $350 to Barack Obama’s campaign. Her occupation is listed as “Zen Video,” the name of her husband’s Phoenix business. 

By early June 2008, Obama was the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, after a hard-fought campaign against Clinton.

In an interview with KTVK-TV, Lake described the donation as being from her “family.”

“My husband did that … I guess you could say our family’s money went there,” Lake said.

Lake’s husband made three separate donations to Obama, totaling $1,500, under his own name, according to OpenSecrets.

A search for political donations on the Arizona Secretary of State’s campaign finance web site turned up no donations by Lake since the start of online record-keeping in 2002. 

Ethical Questions About Donations

Lake’s political contributions while working as a high-profile news anchor raise ethical questions.

Most journalism organizations have written guidelines that prohibit overt support for candidates, according to Rick Rodriguez, a professor of ethics at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and former editor of The Sacramento Bee.

“Giving money to support political campaigns is generally forbidden by most news organizations,” Rodriguez said.

“In private you can cast your vote. But what (news organizations) are trying to do is avoid the appearance of conflict of interest. A donation raises questions about whether you can be impartial.”

Executives at Fox 10 did not respond to requests for comment.

Lake is part of a crowded field in the 2022 Republican primary for governor.

Former Congressman and 2002 GOP candidate for governor Matt Salmon entered the race Wednesday. He joins state Treasurer Kimberly Yee and Arizona Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson. 

On the Democratic side, the primary candidates are Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Marco Lopez, a business consultant who is a former Nogales mayor and U.S. Customs and Border Protection official.

The August 2022 primaries are 14 months away.