Katie Hobbs Won't Debate Kari Lake in Arizona Governor's Race

Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for governor, won't debate Republican rival Kari Lake.
Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for governor, won't debate Republican rival Kari Lake. Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons
Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for governor, again demurred an olive branch from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission and made it official on Sunday: She will not debate Kari Lake, the Republican nominee and former TV news anchor.

The action by Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, is the latest twist in the weeks-long debate over the debate. Hobbs cited the circuslike spectacle of the GOP primary debate in June and Lake’s penchant for peddling debunked conspiracy theories in her refusal.

The commission rejected Hobbs’ overtures of compromise after she suggested that each candidate entertain a 30-minute solo interview with Arizona Horizon moderator Ted Simons in lieu of a traditional debate. On Thursday, the commission voted to give Hobbs an extra week to acquiesce.

It only took 48 hours for Hobbs to make up her mind.

“Unfortunately, debating a conspiracy theorist like Kari Lake — whose entire campaign platform is to cause enormous chaos and make Arizona the subject of national ridicule — would only lead to constant interruptions, pointless distractions, and childish name-calling,” said Hobbs’ campaign manager, Nicole DeMont, in a Sunday statement. “Arizonans deserve so much better than Kari Lake, and that’s why we’re confident Katie Hobbs will be elected our next governor.”

By declining to debate, Hobbs handed Lake 30 minutes on Arizona PBS for an interview with Simons on October 12.

Sunday’s decision likely nixed any debate ahead of the November election, which is forecast to be a toss-up. DeMont noted that Hobbs “remains willing and eager to participate in a town hall-style event,” but the commission rendered those pleas futile last week.

In the Democratic primary, Hobbs also refused to debate opponent Marco Lopez.

Josselyn Berry, a spokesperson for the Arizona Democratic Party, declined to answer whether the party agreed with Hobbs’ decision not to debate. “We’ll let the Hobbs campaign comments stand,” she said.

In other statewide races, Democratic candidates agreed to participate in televised debates organized by the elections commission. They include U.S. Senator Mark Kelly, who will debate Republican Blake Masters on October 6; Adrian Fontes, who will debate Republican Mark Finchem in the secretary of state race on September 22; and Kris Mayes, who will debate Republican Abe Hamadeh in the race for attorney general on September 28.

Democratic candidates for corporation commissioner, superintendent of public instruction, and treasurer in Arizona have also committed to debates in September and October.

“Kari will keep her promise to the voters and debate," Lake’s campaign spokesperson, Ross Trumble, said in a Sunday statement. “The empty chair across from her will show Arizonans just how little Katie Hobbs cares about them.”

Kyle Conklin, a 48-year-old self-styled Libertarian from Show Low, said Hobbs' decision, "isn’t a good look for her" and is “absolutely disrespectful of the voters of Arizona.”

“A debate is one of the more memorable aspects of each political cycle,” Conklin told Phoenix New Times. “I still haven’t heard a solid reason from [Hobbs’] campaign why she isn’t willing to debate Kari Lake. I’m uncertain why Katie Hobbs is expecting special treatment here when every other major race is willing to do the traditional debate format.”

The lack of a debate between Hobbs and Lake even has some Republicans concerned.

“While it is a shame we won't see a debate, the consequence is Kari Lake will enjoy unfettered access to voters,” Phoenix-based GOP consultant Barrett Marson told New Times. “It's a loss for voters not to see a true debate. And it's a loss for Katie Hobbs, who will not reach a large audience.”
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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss