Republican Arizona gubernatorial candidates square off in contentious debate

Jun 30, 2022, 4:35 AM | Updated: 8:02 am

PHOENIX — Arizona’s four remaining Republican candidates for governor took the stage Wednesday night in a contentious televised debate that covered various topics, including the results of the 2020 election.

The four participants often talked over each other and the moderator, local PBS host Ted Simons, during the hourlong forum.

The two frontrunners in the race for the Republican nomination, development attorney Karrin Taylor Robson and former news anchor Kari Lake, had differing reasons why Joe Biden became the first Democratic president to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1996.

Lake, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, continued to push claims that the election was fraudulent and Biden did not win, despite numerous reviews that have proven otherwise.

“He lost the election and he shouldn’t be in the White House,” Lake said, adding she would not have certified the 2020 election results. “We had a corrupt election.”

Scott Neely and Paola Tulliani Zen, who aren’t as well known as the two front-runners, agreed with Lake that the election was “corrupt.”

Robson said the election was unfair and placed the blame on “liberal judges” ushering in new rules and laws prior to the election, as well as accusing big tech companies and the media for leading Arizona Republicans to think something was wrong with the election.

She said she was focused on the 2022 election, saying Democrats were “ten steps ahead” of Republicans.

“Republican voters now are worried about putting food on their table and gas in their gas tank, they’re worried about the border, they’re worried about safety and security, that’s what I hear from voters,” Robson said.

Neely added he thinks most people want to move forward from the 2020 election.

Other topics covered in the hourlong debate included abortion and retaining Arizona’s teachers.

All four candidates were in support of Roe v. Wade being overturned, with the candidates seeming to support funding for a social safety net if abortions continue to be restricted.

Each of the candidates was also for boosting teacher pay, with Zen and Robson voicing support for school choice.

Lake and Neely criticized large administrations in school districts, with Lake saying the state could retain quality teachers by paying them more money instead of putting funds toward administrators.

The candidates were also asked about term-limited Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.

While Lake said Ducey accomplished some great things, she criticized the governor for shutting down businesses during COVID-19 and requiring masks in schools.

“When we needed a strong leader during COVID, I didn’t see a strong leader in our governor’s office,” Lake said.

Neely also criticized Ducey, saying all he did was help the big companies to grow their businesses during the pandemic.

In contrast, Robson said Ducey got COVID-19 policies about right by angering as many people on the left as the right.

“From an economic standpoint, Arizona’s economy has come roaring back,” Robson said. “That’s why so many people are moving here. So we have recovered from the pandemic faster than most other states.”

Recent polling found Lake only had a narrow lead over Robson in the race for the Republican nomination.

Former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon was third in the polling but dropped out on Tuesday and put support behind Robson, potentially boosting her in the race against Lake.

The Republican who comes out of the August primary will take on either Secretary of State Katie Hobbs or former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez who are seeking the Democratic nomination.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Republican Arizona gubernatorial candidates square off in contentious debate