Donald Trump was dealt another blow on Monday night after Republican Kari Lake lost her bid to become governor of Arizona, the latest in a series of high-profile candidates handpicked by the former president to fall short following last week’s midterm elections.
Nearly a week after the polls closed, the Associated Press projected that Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, would beat Lake by a razor-thin margin to become the state’s first Democratic governor in 14 years.
The result comes on the eve of Trump’s expected announcement that he is formally running for president in 2024 and amid infighting among Republicans in Washington and across the country over what direction the party should take after a string of disappointing results in the midterms.
“Democracy is worth the wait,” said Hobbs. “Thank you, Arizona. I am so honoured and so proud to be your next governor.”
A former local news anchor in Phoenix, Lake was the newest star of the Maga movement and one of Trump’s favourite candidates this cycle in part because of her media savvy and insistence that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and “stolen” from him.
Lake has not conceded the election but tweeted instead: “Arizonans know BS when they see it.” Since election day, Lake has accused Arizona officials of “suppressing” Republican votes.
During her campaign, Lake said she would not have certified the 2020 election as governor and advocated for ending mail-in voting, actions that would have threatened the administration of the 2024 presidential election in a clear battleground state.
Lake is far from the only election denier who lost their race in the midterms. Results in races up and down the ballot across the country showed swing state voters overwhelmingly rejected those candidates seeking state office who denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
The call in the Arizona governor’s race came one day before Trump is widely expected to launch his 2024 White House bid, in what his advisers have described as a “special announcement” at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
At the same time, on Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers are scrambling ahead of planned leadership elections that will determine the political futures of both Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, and lay bare the enduring influence Trump has over many members of the party.
While Republicans appear on course to eke out a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, they failed to gain control of the Senate, falling short of the expected “red wave” that would have strengthened the party’s legislative hand and made it a thorn in the side of Joe Biden’s White House.
The results have also dented the political ambitions of McCarthy, the most senior House Republican who until recently had been seen as a near shoo-in to become Speaker of the House, taking the gavel from Nancy Pelosi.
But McCarthy is facing pressure from rightwing members of his own party, who want assurances that the California lawmaker will bend to their legislative priorities. Elections among lawmakers for House Republican leadership positions are scheduled for Tuesday, but members of the Freedom Caucus want those elections delayed until after it is clear that Republicans have reclaimed the House.
Meanwhile, Republican senators are scheduled to hold their own leadership elections on Wednesday, after they failed to win back control of the upper chamber of Congress in the midterms. Democrats officially secured another majority in the Senate at the weekend, following victories in Arizona and Nevada for incumbent Democrats Mark Kelly and Catherine Cortez Masto, respectively.
Whether the Democrats control an evenly divided chamber or have a 51-49 majority will be determined next month in a run-off election in Georgia between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
McConnell, the longtime Republican leader in the Senate, has so far been unchallenged to lead his party in the upper chamber. But several Republican senators have suggested delaying the leadership vote in the upper chamber until after the Georgia run-off, raising speculation that McConnell could face a challenge from a lawmaker such as Rick Scott, the Florida senator who led the Republicans’ midterm campaign efforts and has locked horns with McConnell in recent months.
Trump, who is looking to reclaim the political spotlight even after several of his high-profile handpicked candidates lost in the midterms, has called for Scott to replace McConnell, who previously raised questions about the “quality” of Trump’s endorsements.
Posting on his Truth Social platform on Sunday, Trump said the midterm results were “Mitch McConnell’s fault”, adding: “He blew the midterms, and everyone despises him.”