PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday endorsed businesswoman Karrin Taylor Robson to be his successor, adding his name to a growing list of mainstream conservatives looking to boost her past Donald Trump-endorsed frontrunner Kari Lake.
Robson, a political newcomer, has used her family’s vast wealth to blanket the airwaves and narrow the gap with Lake, a former television anchor who has energized the Trump base with combative attacks on journalists, Democrats and Republicans who have gone crosswise with Trump.
With Ducey on board, all of the state’s living former Republican governors have backed Robson. Jan Brewer and Fife Symington endorsed her last year. Former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon dropped his own campaign for governor last week and is now supporting Robson.
"Karrin is the real deal — pro-life, pro-gun and pro-wall — and she’ll stand up to Joe Biden and the radical left," Ducey said in a video announcing his endorsement. "Karrin is a strong, new leader for Arizona."
In a debate last week, Robson agreed that her plans wouldn’t bring radical change from the Ducey era, while Lake eviscerated Ducey for closing businesses and allowing local mask mandates during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ducey is co-chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which has already reserved $10 million worth of television ad time starting next month. The organization does not endorse in open primaries like Arizona’s, but Ducey has always reserved the right to make his views known about his home state.
"I’m going to care very much about who my successor is," Ducey told reporters at an RGA convention in Phoenix last year.
Ducey’s endorsement of Robson came on the second day of early voting with ballots set to begin arriving in voters’ mailboxes. In 2020, 90% of Arizona voters cast an early or mail ballot.
Ducey, who is term-limited, has personal experience in what can happen when a governor delays announcing an endorsement for a successor. In 2014, when Ducey was locked in a tight six-way GOP primary and neck and neck with former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, Ducey benefited from then-Gov. Brewer’s dithering. By the time Brewer endorsed Smith just 19 days before the primary election and a week after ballots were mailed, Ducey had nailed down his party win.
Trump, Lake react
Trump on Wednesday reiterated his support for Lake and took a dig at Ducey, with whom he’s feuded since the outgoing governor refused to support Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
With Lake, Trump wrote in a statement, Arizonans "have a chance to get a truly great Governor, unlike the one you have right now."
"Make sure you return your Early Ballot for Kari Lake, or Vote in Person on August 2nd," Trump wrote despite his history of falsely claiming that mail voting is rife with fraud. Lake has pushed to eliminate early voting and require nearly everyone to vote on election day.
Lake's campaign also posted a statement on social media, saying, in part, "Karrin is a continuation of the same mediocrity and broken promises that have led the state for the past eight years. Kari [Lake] is th fresh start this state deserves."
Political analyst weighs in
Arizona political analyst Chuck Coughlin weighed in on Ducey's endorsement of Taylor Robson, which was announced as early ballots are being mailed out for the upcoming primary election.
"It's good," said Coughlin. "It's not a deal closer."
Analysts say Gov. Ducey's endorsement could impact GOP voters who are still undecided, as well as independent voters who can choose between a GOP or Democratic ballot.
"Kari [Lake] is going to get somewhere between 35-40%, and Karrin [Taylor Robson] is going to get somewhere between 35-40%, then you have a swing vote in there that’s going to decide the election. It’s pretty crazy," said Coughlin.
With Democrats, a two-way race for gubernatorial nod
On the Democratic side, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is the frontrunner against Marco Lopez, a former mayor of the border town Nogales.
Hobbs has built a national profile as a staunch defender of the 2020 election in the face of the false claims of fraud by Trump and his allies, including Lake. Hobbs has been weighed down by jury verdicts that found the state Senate discriminated against a Black Democratic staffer when Hobbs was the top Democratic leader.
Arizona was a Republican stronghold for decades, but Democrats made inroads during the Trump presidency thanks to changing demographics and backlash to the former president.
"Lake has trouble getting beyond the base of voters she has right now. I anticipate if Karrin wins, wins the primary, she will handily win the general election in November," said Coughlin.