Kari Lake Tries a New Tactic: Mending Fences


Conciliatory messages on social media. Open invitations for coffee. Zoom calls inviting attendees to unload.

Even before she announced her campaign for Senate in Arizona, Kari Lake, a Republican and a favorite of former President Donald J. Trump, has been on a mission to make peace. Her failed bid for governor two years ago was defined by her fervent embrace of Mr. Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, and by her relentless attacks on the party’s establishment figures who criticized her for that dishonesty. But now, looking to wrest a seat from Democrats in a key presidential battleground, Ms. Lake is courting former foes and trying to mend fences.

In addition to her public overtures, Ms. Lake has reached out privately to establishment Republicans in the state in recent months — including some she personally offended — seeking their support. The list includes Doug Ducey and Jan Brewer, two of the state’s former governors; Karrin Taylor Robson and former Representative Matt Salmon, two of her 2022 primary rivals; and Meghan McCain, the daughter of the longtime Arizona senator John McCain, according to six people with knowledge of the outreach, some of whom insisted on anonymity to discuss private interactions. In some cases, Ms. Lake has expressed regrets about her past behavior, one of the people said.

“There was some damage done from that primary that clearly bled into the general election,” said Daniel Scarpinato, a Republican consultant in Arizona who worked as a top aide to Mr. Ducey years ago. “I think you clearly see a genuine effort to bring more Republicans into the fold.”

Ms. Lake, a former television anchor and political newcomer in 2022, conducted a scorched-earth campaign to win the G.O.P. primary for governor. She appealed to Mr. Trump’s supporters by championing his baseless theories of election fraud, while lacerating her opponents. She accused Ms. Robson of “trying to buy the election with her 95-yr-old husband’s millions,” and blasted Mr. Ducey as “do-nothing Ducey.”

Perhaps most critically, she angered the family of Mr. McCain, who died in 2018, by declaring that her political rise “drove a stake through the heart of the McCain machine” and by inviting the voters in the state who admired him to “get the hell out.” The divisiveness caused some Republicans to balk at backing Ms. Lake, even if it meant a Democrat would win.

She now says her insults to Mr. McCain were meant “in jest.”

“Things have gotten so much worse under Joe Biden that we’re at a point where we don’t have time to have past arguments getting in the way of us moving forward as a country,” Ms. Lake said in an interview in Phoenix last month. She described herself as someone “who enjoys talking to people and bringing people together.”

If Ms. Lake wins her primary, she can expect a tight race against Representative Ruben Gallego, who is running essentially unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Ms. Lake has a primary opponent, Sheriff Mark Lamb of Pinal County, but she leads him by a wide margin in polls ahead of the contest on July 30. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a former Democrat who left the party in 2022, is not running for re-election.

Some early signs suggest her effort is bearing fruit, at least on the national level. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate, endorsed her, and Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third-ranking member of the Senate Republican leadership, campaigned alongside her in Phoenix last month. She met with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the longtime Republican leader, on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, before attending a fund-raiser with about 20 senators in Washington.

Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House, said in an interview that he was also endorsing Ms. Lake and that she had “matured” in her approach.

Still, her success appears mixed at home, where some of her overtures have been rebuffed. Ms. Lake sent Ms. McCain, whom she once compared to a “rabid dog,” a public message on X last month inviting her to lunch. Ms. McCain responded: “NO PEACE,” punctuated by a vulgarity.

“These are wounds that are unable to heal for me and my family because people like Kari Lake and Trump continue to debase my family and dad,” Ms. McCain said in an interview. “What she has asked of me is to give her cover for her hideous commentary and her hideous statements about my family, and I would rather die than do that.”

Mr. Ducey is not expected to endorse in the Republican primary, according to a person familiar with his plans. A recent conversation between Ms. Lake and Ms. Robson was productive, according to advisers for the two women, but nothing was decided.

By her own account, Ms. Lake’s efforts to make peace have included meeting with skeptical Republicans at their offices, taking them to coffee or drinks and making calls. In an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington last month, Ms. Lake said some of the conversations had been difficult, describing occasionally intense phone and Zoom calls that began with outrage from the other side. She has also held Zoom meetings courting Republican donors and consultants, and attended a lunch with members of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce last month.

“I’m willing to continue to extend olive branches. If somebody does rebuff it and say, ‘No, I’m not interested,’ that’s fine,” she said in the interview in Phoenix. “The olive branch is still out. My door is still open.”

But fresh reservations about Ms. Lake have also cropped up among some grass-roots Republicans, many of whom are vocal supporters of Mr. Trump. Many were dismayed by the publication in January of an audio recording that Ms. Lake secretly captured during a conversation she had last year with Jeff DeWit, the chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, during which Mr. DeWit appeared to offer her a bribe to persuade her not to run for Senate. In the recording, which Mr. DeWit said was “selectively edited,” Ms. Lake can be heard rejecting his request.

Mr. DeWit resigned shortly after the recording surfaced, and Ms. Lake framed the episode as an example of her independence. Some members of the state party reacted with anger, expressing worry about other private conversations Ms. Lake might have recorded. Ms. Lake was greeted with boos at a meeting to elect a new chair.

“Is it really the way we should all be behaving, even as Republicans? To tape-record somebody that trusts you?” asked Jeanne Kentch, the chair of the Mohave County Republican Party. “I love Kari, don’t get me wrong. But I think that’s what people are concerned about.”

Ms. Lake denies that she regularly records private conversations. Still, Mr. Lamb, who trails far behind her in fund-raising, has sensed an opening. Mr. Lamb is the only candidate who “can appeal to all Republicans, conservative independents and disaffected Democrats,” said Ed Morabito, a senior adviser to his campaign.

Despite a newfound desire for party unity, Ms. Lake has not shied away from extreme views, continuing to push baseless theories of voter fraud in news media appearances and telling reporters in Washington last week that “we had a really rigged election in Arizona.” (After losing to Ms. Hobbs, Ms. Lake falsely claimed fraud, filing fruitless lawsuits in attempts to overturn the outcome.) She has also sympathized with and appeared alongside people convicted of crimes related to their participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

However, she has not made these stances a centerpiece of her Senate campaign — one of a handful of departures from her campaign for governor. On abortion, which she once called the “ultimate sin,” she now opposes a federal ban.

“Kari Lake will say or do anything to gain power,” Hannah Goss, a spokeswoman for Mr. Gallego, said in a statement.

And for some Republicans, the scars that Ms. Lake left may be too deep. Sharon Harper, the chief executive of the real estate firm Plaza Companies who was close friends with Senator McCain, supported Ms. Hobbs in 2022 and has no plans to back Ms. Lake this campaign, either.

“I think people understand who Kari Lake is,” Ms. Harper said. “We’ve seen what she has demonstrated, and I don’t think an opinion changes if someone says, ‘I didn’t really mean what I said.’”

Michael C. Bender and Kayla Guo contributed reporting.

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