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KJZZ's Friday NewsCap: Kyrsten Sinema could hand the Senate race to 'lunatic' Kari Lake

KJZZ’s Friday NewsCap revisits some of the biggest stories of the week from Arizona and beyond.

To break down a pair of new polls looking at next year’s election, a plan in the Legislature to give teachers a pay raise and more are former state schools Superintendent Jaime Molera of Molera Alvarez and Marilyn Rodriguez of Creosote Partners.

→ Subscribe to the Friday NewsCap podcast

Conversation highlights

We heard from Mike Noble, a pollster, about a new poll that shows former President Donald Trump with a pretty sizable lead in the GOP presidential preference race here in Arizona. We see this in most, if not all, states across the country. Does it surprise you that his lead is what it is here?

JAIME MOLERA: No, I mean, his lead has been there for the last year or so. I know that all the other candidates have been trying to make a run at him. They've been more aggressive this time around than the, than the first time he ran for president, but it just doesn't seem to make a dent. I mean, his control right now of the party is pretty significant. And I think it's pretty clear that it's going to be coming down to a rematch of Biden and Trump.

Would you expect to for President Trump to be the GOP winner in Arizona?

MARYLIN RODRIGUEZ: I don't know why or when we decided to have amnesia about what the Republican Party is today. Maybe it's because it, it makes it interesting to sell papers and talk about it on the radio, but it has been clear ever since eight years ago that the Republican Party is the party of Trump. He has a vice grip on this political party and there, there's no contest, there hasn't been. And I think we are, we are fooling ourselves or ... we are playing a pretend, a game of pretend to say anything is otherwise. It's been very clear to me for years, and working with Republicans at every level of government, that unless you pay fealty to this man, you are out of this party.

We also saw a poll, this week on the U.S. Senate race — which tracks some other polls that we've seen recently — looking at a three-way matchup between the incumbent independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Republican frontrunner, Kari Lake, the Democratic candidate, Ruben Gallego. And it basically shows that Sen. Sinema continues to take more support away from Kari Lake than Gallego. Is that an indication of how much Republicans are OK with her or how little Democrats like her?

MOLERA: Well, I think unlike Donald Trump, Kari Lake just doesn't have that same kind of a hold on the base. I think a lot of folks ... she doesn't come across as, as somebody that they want to support. And so that's why her base is a little bit more fractured.

But Kyrsten, it's interesting. I mean, every poll that I've seen, she's starting to drop. And she's starting to become a distant third. I think if she were to not run, that does benefit Lake. Because I think a lot of the Republican women that have a problem with Lake, they might have a hard time transitioning to Gallego. Because his policies are so far to the left.

And also what's troubling for Gallego — and I know talking with some of the his consultants — they're a little bit worried about Biden's numbers being so low. And Trump being in a head-to-head match, Trump right now is about eight points ahead of Biden.

So that's disconcerting to the Democrats. And I think if, if it were a three-way race, it certainly helps Ruben. But I think if it turns out to be a head-to-head race, if Sinema just sees the numbers and just — and her ability to raise money, of course, has been very challenging, too. So if she were to drop out, I think that would probably be in Congressman Gallego's best interest.

Ruben Gallego, Kyrsten Sinema and Kari Lake
Ruben Gallego (from left), Kyrsten Sinema and Kari Lake.

Is it surprising to you at all that Sen. Sinema seems to be taking more support from Republicans than from Democrats?

RODRIGUEZ: Before I was a lobbyist in the public interest, I was a political scientist — and still am. And I know what many of the folks working for Sinema knows, which is this theory related to, it's this law related to something called the Duverger's law. And for our folks listening, who know about this, it's not very complicated. It's true, it has been true for the entire history of American politics since the beginning of time. And what the law says is in a contest where it's first past the post ... it's one person wins the contest, candidates from the minor parties, pull votes away — always — pull votes away from the major parties to whom they are closest. And while we have this one poll from, I think a conservative-leaning pollster who shows that perhaps Sinema is taking more conservative votes away, I am very skeptical and encourage people to be very skeptical of that.

It wasn't too long ago that U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was elected as the Democratic senator. That's how people, normal people on the street, remember her. Everybody talking about the election right now, we're all in our little bubbles. We every election cycle get those bubbles popped in certain ways. I think this is one that we can see coming. And it's very clear to me at this point that what we're facing is if this ... contest goes to a three-way race, Sinema is throwing the election to Kari Lake.

So you don't buy into sort of what's become the conventional wisdom that Sinema in the race helps Gallego?

RODRIGUEZ: I think the conventional wisdom is created to serve the purposes of the, you know, the people in politics that are spewing it, and right now Sinema poses to raise a lot of money. From this, the simplest explanation is usually the right one. This, this whole thing is to raise money and toss the election to Lake. I am not surprised that a conservative-leaning think tank is coming out saying that it would somehow benefit Democrats for her to stay in the race. I think that that is absurd.

Do you think Sen. Sinema was going to run?

RODRIGUEZ: I hope not.

MOLERA: Well, I'm not a political scientist, but I play one on the radio. And I think that she does believe she's done a good job as senator. I think she does believe that she deserves another term. So, but, but the problem she's having right now is the reality of not being able to raise money. And, and I think that's starting to manifest. And in Politico did an article about her base. ... Supporters aren't just giving money to her. And she's not being able to capture a lot of the Republican money, either.

So, that's gonna be the rub. If she can start to maybe move, do something to get her numbers up. And in my opinion, she would probably have to start now, maybe getting some ads up, reintroducing herself. But she's got to make a gamble if come February, March, if her numbers aren't there, then I could see her maybe taking the hard decision to drop out.

The No. 3 Republican in the U.S. House, Elise Stefanik of New York, endorsed Kari Lake. This follows some U.S. senators on the Republican side endorsing Kari Lake. She's really trying to take meetings with sort of the McCain wing of the Republican party, trying to maybe mend fences. Do you think that's going to work?

MOLERA: So I think what you're seeing right now is that you're seeing a lot of the Trump-MAGA supporters around the country supporting Kari Lake.

But at the same time, even though she's trying to shore up her base saying that, "Don't worry, I'm still, you know, a hardcore Trump supporter." She's trying to soften her image here in Arizona with the McCain base. I'm not so sure how much that will work. Especially ... when you look at the vitriol she's spewed on John McCain over the last few years. I'm not, I don't think a lot of his supporters will turn around and say, "You know what? She's not that bad."

We've seen, for example, from the state Democratic Party, they send out releases fairly frequently reminding voters of things that Kari Lake said during her last campaign, said during the past. Do you think that the Gallego campaign should be concerned about maybe more moderate Republicans who could, in theory, support him will maybe say, "Yeah, maybe Kari Lake's not so bad after all."

RODRIGUEZ: No, I'm not worried about that. I think the biggest threat to the Democrats losing the U.S. Senate race is currently Kyrsten Sinema. Everybody knows — we live in an era where Lake has branded herself. This is the woman who donned pearls and heels and vacuumed the red carpet for Donald Trump — and will continue to do so. This is the woman who went on KTAR and said that people were having post-birth abortions. Which are not a thing, right?

She is a lunatic, and people know her to be this. And people also know anybody listening who supports her, knows that they are going to support her. Now is the time where voters are starting to get to know Ruben Gallego, congressman Ruben Gallego, and he's going to be spending the next year ensuring that people are aware of who he is. But no, I don't think that Kari Lake is going to trick anyone into believing that she's anyone other than she who she is.

Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.