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In Arizona's governor race, two candidates who couldn't be more different

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Arizona, far-right candidates endorsed by former President Trump are in close contest with Democrats. That includes races from the U.S. Senate to secretary of state. When it comes to style and substance, the nominees for governor are very different. Here's Ben Giles from KJZZ in Phoenix.

BEN GILES, BYLINE: Outgoing Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey didn't mince words when I asked what he thought of Kari Lake back in July.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOUG DUCEY: This is all an act. She's been putting on a show for some time now, and we'll see if the voters of Arizona buy it.

GILES: That's him on CNN ahead of the Republican primary. To Ducey, Lake was all talk, an election-denying new convert to Republican causes that couldn't be trusted. But the voters did, in fact, buy Lake's message. Now she's the GOP nominee for governor, running neck and neck against Democrat Katie Hobbs. Most polls show the race close to tied, or at least within the margin of error.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALKING ON SUNSHINE")

KATRINA AND THE WAVES: (Singing) Hold myself down.

GILES: On the campaign trail, it would appear Lake, who was still working as a local news anchor less than two years ago, has all the momentum. The Trump endorsee has been Trump-like on the campaign trail, where she draws a reliable crowd of supporters wherever she goes, like a recent young Republicans rally with former Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.

KARI LAKE: I am so blown away. They said, we have a good crowd tonight. This is a massive crowd. I feel like a rock star up here, Tulsi.

TULSI GABBARD: You are a rock star, Kari.

GILES: Her popularity on the campaign trail has extended beyond events. Lake has made a convert of establishment Republicans and rising GOP stars alike, from Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin to Ducey himself. In fact, Ducey has directed the Republican Governors Association to spend a significant sum in support of Lake. Republicans have circled the wagons despite her continued support of lies about the 2020 election. Voters like Democrat William Shaw, a retiree in the Phoenix suburbs, are worried about what that will mean for voting rights.

WILLIAM SHAW: It's just unprecedented in terms of the fact that they want to get rid of mail-in voting. They want fewer people to vote. They want to take away our voting rights and our right to elect a presidential candidate in this state.

GILES: Despite those concerns, Democratic nominee Katie Hobbs has struggled to inspire her own base. In national profiles of Hobbs' campaign, Democrats have been wringing their hands over her refusal to debate Lake, who's called Hobbs a coward. On PBS, Hobbs defended her decision.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATIE HOBBS: I am not going to be a part of her spectacle.

GILES: While Hobbs may not draw the same crowds or campaign with the same bluster as Lake, Democratic consultant Stacy Pearson says there's substance behind her quieter messaging.

STACY PEARSON: There is a desire across party lines to make politics boring again and just to get back to basics. And that is an appeal Katie Hobbs has in a way that Kari Lake has demonstrably decided not to do.

GILES: Hobbs' campaign events, from endorsement announcements to fundraisers, are highly scripted affairs. Questions from the media are typically limited, unlike Lake, who revels in antagonizing reporters. Pearson says Hobbs is sticking to the basics.

PEARSON: The Democrats are doing their homework. They're knocking on doors. They are making telephone calls. They're sending direct mail. They're engaging directly with voters. And ultimately, that's the key to success. It's not how many people you get to come scream at a rally.

GILES: Pearson says Hobbs is charting a similar path to victory as that of President Biden, who never matched the fervor Trump brought to the campaign trail in Arizona in 2020 but won here regardless. For NPR News, I'm Ben Giles in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Giles