Elections

Six Nutty Things We Saw at Kari Lake’s Election Night Party in Paradise Valley

Kari Lake speaks to her supporters at the DoubleTree Resort on Scottsdale Road Tuesday night. She has declared herself the winner of the Republican primary election.
Kari Lake speaks to her supporters at the DoubleTree Resort on Scottsdale Road Tuesday night. She has declared herself the winner of the Republican primary election. Elias Weiss
On Tuesday, a once-packed ballroom inside the DoubleTree Resort By Hilton Hotel in Paradise Valley thinned out about 10:30 p.m. Hundreds of people made up the boozy election night crowd — men in swank suits and cowboy hats, and women in bodycon dresses and designer heels.

The event, a watch party for gubernatorial Republican hopeful Kari Lake, was three-and-a-half hours old. Partygoers lined up single-file to collect their vehicles from the valet or retire to hotel rooms.

A life-size cardboard cutout of the former Fox 10 Phoenix anchor greeted guests on the way in, but Lake still hadn’t appeared at the election night bash.

It capped a bitter primary centered around relitigating the Big Lie that Democrats and the media stole the 2020 presidential election from former President Donald Trump. Despite inviting dozens of news outlets to attend Tuesday's shindig, “slaying the liberal media” was the theme of the evening.

It was getting late when early election results flashed onto two gigantic screens for the first time. Trump-endorsed Lake was down eight points to her opponent, Karrin Tayler Robson, an establishment Republican attorney endorsed by incumbent Governor Doug Ducey.

The demand for Ketel One vodka and soda water at the open bar had dwindled, and Blake Shelton’s “Boys ’Round Here” no longer energized the crowd. It’s the song that goes, “Red, red, red, red, redneck.”

Suddenly, the clack of Lake’s polished pumps on the stairs on stage captured the crowd’s attention. She stood behind the podium and took a deep breath. An Arizona state flag rippled behind her.

“We won this race,” she said, beaming.

The crowd chanted, “Kari! Kari! Kari!”

The screens now showed footage from Tayler Robson’s watch party at a nearby hotel ballroom. The crowd appeared small.

“Is that a Motel 6? Seriously, is that a Motel 6?” asked Thomas Ferraro, the husband of a campaign staffer.

The crowd at the Lake event was a sea of red caps. Each hat bore four white letters: LAKE. From a distance, it looked just like a MAGA hat.

“In every other race, America First candidates are beating the Republicans,” someone exclaimed.

The GOP is fragmented into two disparate factions embodied by Taylor Robson, the traditional conservative, and Lake, the America First, pro-Trump, press-hating conspiracy theorist.

“I’m not an establishment Republican,” said a 25-year-old banker from Phoenix who identified himself as Sebastian. “I’m a very real Republican, and I feel like the other people are just fake.”

Lake supporters see her and other America First candidates as third-party choices who actually stand a chance to win.

“People like me are tired of the Democrats and Republicans being two sides of the same coin,” Kyle Conklin, a 48-year-old Show Low voter who attended the watch party, told Phoenix New Times. “This is a movement. Kari Lake is different.”

Lake called the media “disgusting” for conspiring to cover up massive fraud in the 2020 general election, a comment met with deafening applause. Walking away from the mainstream media last year, after two decades atop the local rankings, has made her a self-styled conservative hero.

At the time of publication, Lake led by a little more than 11,000 votes with 20 percent of the ballots outstanding. She led in every county except Maricopa, where two-thirds of the electorate lives.

If she wins, she’ll face the Democratic nominee, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, in the general election on November 8.

Lake’s self-proclaimed win is a lot like Trump’s loss in 2020.

Taylor Robson held a nearly double-digit lead for hours after the polls closed, but large “ballot dumps” containing mostly votes for Lake surfaced overnight, tipping the scales. This can be easily attributed to Lake’s demands for her voters to wait until election day to cast ballots, while mail-in voters tended to favor Taylor Robson in Maricopa County.

But this is the same phenomenon that brought about President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Arizona and other crucial swing states, which was fraudulent, according to Lake. She still refuses to admit that Biden is the president.

So do her supporters and friends.

“We know that lying people show up early,” said Brandon Tatum, an Arizona-based conservative mouthpiece and founder of BLEXIT, the organization that pushes Black Democrats to cross the political aisle. “We show up on Election Day.”

Lake claimed she won 70 percent of votes cast on Tuesday but also insisted that even the midterm primaries were rife with election fraud.

“Our election system is messed up,” Lake said. “I wish our election officials had their act together. I wish they could count votes.”

As we wait for the votes to be counted, here are six of the wackiest things we saw at Tuesday's election party in Paradise Valley.
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Conservative activist Brandon Straka was on house arrest for his role in the infamous January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol when he met Kari Lake.
Elias Weiss

A Gay Insurrectionist on House Arrest

First up on stage Tuesday night was social media influencer Brandon Straka, a self-described "former liberal" who founded the #WalkAway campaign and manages to be both alt-right and gay.

Straka, once a New York hairstylist, has more than half a million followers on Twitter. Now, he works for the campaign.

“We are going to take the country back from the liberal media,” he shouted to a roaring crowd.

Straka was on house arrest when he met Lake last year.

He spent three months in home detention, wearing a GPS tracker, after he was nabbed breaking into the U.S. Capitol alongside other insurrectionists on January 6, 2021. He pleaded guilty to charges of disorderly conduct, spending another 36 months on probation. He was also ordered to pay $500 in restitution and a $5,000 fine, and was sentenced to community service.
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Kari Lake campaign staffer Tex Polesky reacts to election results on Tuesday night, when Kari Lake trailed Karrin Taylor Robson by eight points.
Elias Weiss

It Was a Media War Zone

Lake’s campaign invited dozens of local, state, and national news outlets to cover the election night party, including Phoenix New Times. Large areas of the ballroom were blocked off for reporters and photographers only.

And yet, “Journalism is dead,” Lake told her enraptured followers. “As soon as I realized that, I got out.”

Even though we live in a desert, Arizona has its own swamp, Lake said. She wants to drain that swamp — including disbanding the liberal media “right down to the local news stations.” Journalists are “the real conspiracy theorists,” she added.

Tex Polesky, outreach director for Lake's campaign, refused to speak with New Times at the event. After declining an interview, another staffer leaned over and told Polesky, “They’re fucking liberals.”

Polesky calls Trump “His Imperial Majesty” in his Twitter bio.

A Lake supporter who identified herself as Lisette hurled profane insults at journalists from “liberal” news outlets. “Go away. We don’t want you here," she said.

Representatives from alt-right publications including the The Gateway Pundit and Turning Point USA sat at VIP tables, drank cocktails, and ate hors d'oeuvres.
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Mark Finchem didn't have many nice things to say about the media at Kari Lake's election night party on Tuesday.
Elias Weiss

Mark Finchem Made His Presence Known

Mark Finchem, the America First candidate for secretary of state and conspiracy czar, won the Republican nomination in a landslide.

He and Lake, along with Republican nominees Blake Masters, running for the U.S. Senate, and Abraham Hamadeh, running to become Arizona attorney general, rounded out the America First ticket in Arizona.

Finchem attended Lake’s party, where he told reporters he was concerned about election security across the state.

Last week, Lake preemptively claimed that “we’re already detecting some stealing going on” in her election.

She wouldn’t share any evidence of fraud. Neither would her fellow election denier, Finchem, who called newspapers “propaganda organizations” that are “the enemies of democracy.”

“You’re all propaganda,” he told reporters. “You all … force bullshit on the people.”

Finchem falsely declared himself an elector for Trump and has taken credit for planning last year's attack on the U.S. Capitol. The congressional committee investigating the attack has kept him under the magnifying glass.

Finchem said he’d cede the November election to his Democratic rival, either Adrian Fontes or Reginald Bolding, but “only if it was fair.”

If Arizona again elects a Democratic secretary of state, Finchem said he’d become a public speaker. He added that he would not leave the United States in retirement because he’s not sure he’d be let back in. Finchem didn't explain what he meant.
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Parodying AOC's fast-food chicken-esque 2021 Met Gala dress, this voter was creative in her support of Kari Lake.
Elias Weiss

An Alt-Right Met Gala

Lake’s election night bash could have been a fashion show.

One woman parodied Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s controversial 2021 Met Gala dress. The white gown had the words “tax the rich” scrawled in oversized, sloppy red letters.

The dress at Tuesday's event displayed messages of “Kari Lake has got our back” and “truth matters.”

Also making a fashion statement was Blake Marnell, known to his 100,000 Twitter followers as ”Brick Suit.” He wore his signature brick-patterned tie and sport coat on the six-hour drive from his home in San Diego to Scottsdale.

Trump famously invited Marnell on stage and shook his hand at a 2019 rally in Montoursville, Pennsylvania.
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San Diego's Blake Marnell, a.k.a. "Brick Suit" to his 100,000 Twitter followers, made the trek to the East Valley on Tuesday to support Kari Lake's gubernatorial bid.
Elias Weiss
Marnell, who studied political science at the University of California, Berkeley, was completely divorced from politics until 2018. The 57-year-old had voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984.

“I came back to politics because President Trump is the type of politician I always wanted,” Marnell told New Times. “He’s America First, and I see that in Kari Lake.”

Marnell isn’t bothered that Lake donated money to former President Barack Obama’s winning bid in 2008. Like many of his fellow Lake supporters, he feels like he’s seen tectonic shifts in both American political parties since then.

He believes enough fake votes were stuffed in ballot boxes across Arizona and other key swing states to tip the 2020 election in Biden’s favor.

Like others at Lake's event,  Marnell was worried Lake would be the next victim of election fraud.

“I think she’s a stronger candidate than Trump,” Marnell said. “She is unabashedly America First.”
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After three hours of monotony, partygoers prayed for Kari Lake's win.
Elias Weiss

A Prayer Circle

Around 10 p.m. on Tuesday, after three hours of drinking and merrymaking with no sign of Lake and nothing on the television, dozens of tipsy voters linked arms to form a prayer circle.

They prayed Lake would win.

Others, such as Elisha Ferraro, head of the Moms for Kari coalition, feel they were told by God to vote for Lake.

Ferraro, a one-time Democrat voter, went to journalism school and started working for ABC15 Arizona in 2006. She quit that same year.

“God had the writing on the wall for me early on before I jumped into that career,” Ferraro told New Times. “When Kari announced that she was quitting her job as a news anchor, it caught my attention. I felt called by God to support her.”
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A crowd of hundreds awaits the arrival of Kari Lake at her boujee election night watch party.
Elias Weiss

First-Hand Fraud Accounts

Days before the election, Lake claimed she was “already detecting some fraud," but after declaring herself the winner, she went mum on the topic.

So did her fans. But on Tuesday night, the increasingly antsy crowd waxed poetic about the rampant election fraud they had witnessed.

“There are potentially 63,000 extra ballots out there to be taken by the mules that corrupted the last election in Arizona,” said Seth Keshel, a former Army captain who calls himself a “Trump-recognized election integrity advocate.”

In July, Pinal County mailed more than 60,000 ballots that failed to include municipal races for seven communities, according to the Arizona Mirror. The county later sent additional ballots with just the missing races.

In 2020, Keshel made national headlines when he claimed more than 8 million excess votes for Biden were counted during the 2020 election in Arizona and six other states. USA Today thoroughly debunked that claim, dismissing Keshel as a conspiracy theorist.

“It’s very curious to me that we would have all the America First candidates winning their races except for the most popular one, Kari Lake,” Keshel told New Times while Lake was still down eight points. “No one even knows who Karrin Taylor Robson is.”

Voters reported witnessing crimes at metro Phoenix precincts during the primary election, too. But they didn't offer proof to substantiate their claims.

“I saw fraud first-hand today when I went to vote,” Ferraro said. “They had felt-tip markers, and I was told not to use the felt-tip markers. It’s a circus.”
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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