PHOENIX — Brett Foto and his fiancee were vacationing in Phoenix last fall when they heard about a rally nearby for Kari Lake, then running for governor of Arizona.
No matter that they don't live or vote in Arizona. Lake was going places, an emerging star on the populist right, and they had to see her.
“We’re seeing something very interesting tonight,” said Foto, a 52-year-old sales representative who lives outside Denver. "We’re going to look back and say, ‘We saw her when we went to this little hangar in Phoenix.’”
Lake went on to lose that race to Democrat Katie Hobbs, a setback that would typically thwart political ambitions. But among conservatives, defeat has done little to erode Lake's standing. If anything, her refusal to acknowledge her loss only enhances her stature well beyond Arizona.
In the months since the election, Lake has popped up at former President Donald Trump's Florida estate and a palatial California hotel, where she unsuccessfully lobbied members of the Republican National Committee to defeat Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. A more recent swing through Iowa sparked speculation about whether she may run for president or angle for a role as Trump's running mate if he clinches the GOP nomination again.
Wherever she is, she's doubling down on the formula that enthralled the Republican base but was rejected by a broader electorate: unflinching fealty to Trump, a relentless focus on unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, and tough talk about securing the U.S.-Mexico border with force.
Lake will have another chance to showcase her bond with the GOP base next month with a prominent speaking role at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in Washington.
“She speaks MAGA,” Chuck Coughlin, a longtime political consultant in Arizona who was one of former Gov. Jan Brewer's top advisers, said, referring to Trump's “Make America Great Again” slogan. “She’s better than Trump in many respects. She’s a cultural warrior. She expresses their angst and anxiety over the way the country’s going.”
Meanwhile, Lake is continuing to fight her loss in the Arizona appellate courts, which rejected her election challenge Thursday. She vowed to take her lawsuit to the state Supreme Court. She held a campaign-style rally this month to draw attention to her case.
“Kari Lake is the total package. She’s articulate. She’s confident. She’s beautiful, but not in a threatening way,” said Linda Greulich, a 70-year-old retiree in Phoenix. “And I think if she wants to stay in politics, I see her going all the way to the top.”
The flurry of activity comes as Lake considers running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Kyrsten Sinema, an independent and former Democrat. She met recently with National Republican Senatorial Committee officials in Washington.
Republicans outnumber Democrats in Arizona, yet they've struggled to win during the Trump era. The GOP lost three straight Senate races in Arizona as ticket-splitting voters who mostly support Republicans refused to vote for candidates closely aligned with Trump.
Eleven percent of voters identifying as Republicans voted for Hobbs last year, compared with just 4% of Democrats who voted for Lake, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,200 voters in Arizona.
Sinema has not said whether she'll run for a second term, a decision that could have a monumental impact on the battle for control of the Senate. Democrats worry a three-way race between Sinema, a Democrat and a Republican will scramble the formula that's worked so well for them, creating an opening for a candidate like Lake.
Other Republicans looking at running include Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb. Also considering a bid are Jim Lamon, Blake Masters and Karrin Taylor Robson, candidates in 2022 for either the Senate or governor.
Lake is pushing back against those in the GOP trying to move past claims of election fraud that have proved toxic in swing states, including Arizona, where Lake and three other Trump-backed Republicans lost their races. She told Iowans, who are proud of their role in vetting presidential hopefuls, to press candidates about “where they stand on stolen elections."
“We need to make sure all of these candidates think that election integrity is a No. 1 issue,” she said.
Lake was a news anchor for nearly 30 years in the Phoenix market. She left the Fox affiliate in 2021, saying journalism had strayed into advocacy. She began her campaign for governor a short time later, channeling Trump with frequent attacks on the news media she left behind.
She records every interaction with reporters, often posting contentious exchanges on social media and earning plaudits from her fans, and she still attracted unprecedented attention from global media.
Money has continued to pour in for Lake since her loss. Her campaign raised $2.6 million from Election Day through the end of the year, with the biggest haul coming on the day the race was called for Hobbs.
She's raised more money through a nonprofit group her advisers created in December, which doesn't have to disclose details about its donations and has become her main fundraising vehicle.
Foto, who saw Lake on his Arizona vacation, was not deterred by her loss to Hobbs and hopes she'll take another stab at running for office.
“I pray for that to happen and I pray for that for this country,” Foto said by phone. “I think we need people like her to make sure of a strong future for all of us.”
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