The Arizona Republic

Ariz. GOP in need of good Senate candidate

- Laurie Roberts Columnist Arizona Republic USA TODAY NETWORK

It is the stuff of Republican Party nightmares. For the part of the Republican Party that’s sick of losing, that is.

There is Kari Lake, prancing around Washington, D.C., and meeting with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

There is Kari Lake, strutting across Iowa, complainin­g yet again that she was robbed and teasing the possibilit­y of running for the U.S. Senate.

There is Kari Lake, promoting a picture that claims to show her refusing to stand during a Super Bowl performanc­e of the Black national anthem — a picture she, of course, parlayed into greater exposure on social media and right-wing websites.

And there is Kari Lake, potentiall­y poised to torpedo the Arizona Republican Party’s chance of reclaiming a Senate seat in 2024.

“My expectatio­n right now, left to its own devices, is history repeats itself,” longtime political strategist Chuck Coughlin told me. “That they (Republican voters) will nominate another MAGA candidate who is incapable of winning a general election.”

Whether it’s a two-way or a threeway Senate race next year, the possibilit­y of Lake running has mainstream Republican­s searching for a knight in shining armor, the new “it” candidate who can wipe away the tarnish of 2018 and 2020 and especially the catastroph­ic 2022 campaign that saw Republican­s swept out of office.

Count longtime Republican strategist Chris Baker among those who think Republican­s stand a fair chance of recapturin­g the Senate seat now held by independen­t Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — largely because he doesn’t think Lake can win another Republican primary.

Baker believes Republican voters will be laser focused on recapturin­g what they have lost.

“With Kari Lake, I give her credit, she was able to expand her base beyond the traditiona­l MAGA Republican­s,” he told me. “I think she will find it very hard to do it again. She was given the chance to be the standard bearer of the Republican Party in 2022 and she lost. I think that will weigh heavily on the minds of people who voted for her in 2022.”

Thus far, however, there appears to be no one on the horizon standing in her way.

Sure, it’s early days but the GOP bench is not exactly bursting with prospects. Republican­s no longer control all the key state offices, or even any of them. The highest-ranking Republican in the state is now Rep. David Schweikert, and I’m told he has no

interest in running.

Rep. Andy Biggs? Rep. Paul Gosar? Neither one could win a statewide race. Rep. Debbie Lesko? Please.

Rep. Juan Ciscomani?

He could be the Republican­s’ best hope for recapturin­g the Senate seat they lost in 2018.

He’s got a great story, the son of Mexican immigrants who became the first in his family to go to college. His father drove a bus in Tucson. He became the first Latino Republican to represent Arizona in Congress.

And he won in a swing district, showing he can not only attract traditiona­l conservati­ves but more moderate Republican and independen­t voters who are the key in any statewide race in Arizona.

“If we want a fresh face who can win moderate voters, Hispanic voters and women, you’re looking at Juan Ciscomani,” Republican consultant Barrett Marson told me. “He is, quite frankly, the complete package except for one thing, and that’s experience.”

Indeed, he’s only been in office for a minute and a half. And as a former top aide to then-Gov. Doug Ducey, there’s talk he may be more interested in challengin­g Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs in 2026.

Ciscomani’s office tells me he has no interest in the running for the Senate next year.

“He is committed to keeping his seat in Arizona’s 6th Congressio­nal District in 2024,” said C.J. Karamargin, his district director.

So, if not him then who?

The rest of the possible contenders mentioned are mostly retreads.

Karrin Taylor Robson has statewide name ID after her run for governor, gobs of money and the national powers-thatbe would trip over themselves to help her win. We’d probably be calling her Gov. Taylor Robson today had she been able to win last year’s Republican primary. But she didn’t.

Former Attorney General Mark Brnovich has demonstrat­ed an ability to win statewide campaigns. But his 2022 Senate campaign went into free fall and from what I can tell, he’s still falling.

Jim Lamon? Blake Masters? Been there, done that, and they have the participat­ion trophies to prove it.

Former Gov. Doug Ducey? How many times does he have to say no?

Abe Hamadeh, who is still contesting his 2022 narrow defeat for attorney general, is said to be considerin­g the race. Lately, he’s taken repeated aim at the Democrats’ likely nominee, Rep. Ruben Gallego, in social media.

Mesa Mayor John Giles might be an interestin­g choice. He’s a conservati­ve mayor of what is perhaps Arizona’s most conservati­ve city, yet he supported Democrats Mark Kelly and Katie Hobbs in 2022 rather than throwing in with the election denial crowd. That makes him a tough sell in a primary but in a general he could be golden.

State Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who hails from the party’s traditiona­l conservati­ve wing, on Sunday indicated he’s interested.

“We need somebody who can actually win in November and that’s why I’m seriously considerin­g this US Senate seat!” he tweeted, in response to a Washington Post story about the prospect of Lake running for the Senate.

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb is exploring a run. Like Lake, he’s from the party’s hard right.

Like Lake, those MAGA ties could strangle him in a general election, unless he somehow makes a convincing lurch to the center.

“Many of the people looking at the Senate race are either MAGA or MAGA adjacent,” Marson said. “Arizona is a conservati­ve state but it is not a Trump state. If Republican­s want to win this seat, they will have to put up somebody who can appeal to suburban women, to moderate Republican­s, to right-leaning and center independen­ts. All things that Kari Lake nor Donald Trump could not do.”

Some Republican politicos tell me they’re hoping a surprise candidate will pop out of some unlikely corner, though it sounds more like wishful thinking than an actual prediction.

Which brings me back to Ciscomani. Who isn’t interested in running.

“It’s still very early,” Baker, the GOP consultant, cautioned. “I do think we have a very good chance of winning that seat. I think we were gifted an opportunit­y with what transpired with Sinema and what looks to be Gallego being the nominee. That is a gift to Republican­s, and it is up to us to capitalize on it. But it’s still too early to tell whether we’ll be able to do it.”

Meanwhile, there is Kari Lake ...

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