ANKENY, Iowa — Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake made her second stop in her two-day trip to Iowa with a message to conservatives in the kick-off caucus state: Back candidates who put America and election integrity first.
“First of all, you know who I’m supporting for president,” Lake told some 250 people at a standing-room-only rally at the District Venue in Ankeny, Des Moines’ largest suburb.
“Hell yes!’ someone shouted back.
“Donald J. Trump,” Lake declared to uproarious applause.
Lake was definitely in the right place. There were plenty of MAGA hats and shirts represented in the elbow-to-elbow hall. Iowa, in many ways, remains Trump country, a state that gave the former president a 7 percentage point win in 2020, and a nearly 10-point victory in 2016. Plenty of people in attendance would like to see the 45th president become the 47th president next year.
And it all begins — at least on the Republican side — in Iowa.
While the Democratic National Committee has determined the Hawkeye State is no longer fit to be the first test in the presidential candidate vetting process, the Republican Party sounds committed to continuing the long-held tradition that Iowa’s caucuses open the contest. That opening round is slated to begin in about a year from now.
While Trump has his loyal backers in Iowa, a state that has grown dependably red in recent election cycles, Iowans have a reputation for keeping an open mind on the scores of presidential candidates that have paraded before them. They’re well known as political tire kickers, and that’s one reason Iowa remains so important in American politics.
The crowd in Ankeny was no different, but it was clear they liked what Lake had to say. More so, they seemed to appreciate her willingness to fight.
And Kari Lake is engaged in one wicked political fight.
The Republican lost her election bid in November to Democrat candidate Katie Hobbs, who also happened to be Arizona’s Secretary of State — in charge of elections. Hobbs’ margin of victory was a slim half of a percentage point. Lake has challenged the results of the election, noting problems with ballot printers at some polling places on Election Day. She has alleged there was intentional misconduct.
The mainstream media has branded Lake an “election denier” who has lost her challenge in lower court. But Lake claims she has the “strongest election lawsuit this country has ever seen.” The case is now before an Arizona Appeals Court, and looks to ultimately end up at the state’s Supreme Court one way or another.
“They could not beat us unless they cheated in broad daylight,” the former Iowan said, repeating themes from a similar packed rally on Friday in her native Scott County. “Ask any Arizonan, it was highway robbery.”
Lake said she’s not only hopeful, she’s confident that she will ultimately prevail in court and that she will “end up in the governor’s office.”
The former long-time TV journalist trained much of her indignation on the mainstream media, which she says has relentlessly attacked her for her support of Trump and MAGA policies. Lake pointed to the reporters in the back of the event center, asserting their ilk have routinely printed lies about her — particularly in her fight for election integrity.
“I don’t care if they call us election deniers. I’m an election reform advocate,” Lake said. “The people up there, they’re actually reality deniers.” She added that her political enemies have “picked a fight with the wrong woman.”
“I have just enough Arizona in me and just enough Iowa in me and I’m not going to let them win,” she said.
She urged the crowd to hold politicians’ feet to the fire as they do their duty once again in leading the nation in the presidential selection process.
“Iowa, I love you guys for showing up tonight and I just want you to know I’m not going away. I’m going to work to make sure we have fair elections in all 50 states. I’m going to make sure that we have America First candidates who are willing to put us first, we the people first,” she said to applause.
True to Iowa form, Brett Barker and Jeff Ortiz, chair and co-chair of the Story County (IA) Republican Party, said they wanted to hear what Lake had to say, just as they will be weighing the words of the presidential candidates who will be passing through — likely frequently — in the year ahead.
“This is a start,” Ortiz said. “I want to give everyone a chance to speak and try to keep an open mind.”
Barker said Lake’s concerns about election integrity are felt by a lot of voters.
“On the flip side, I think it’s also important we look to the future,” he said. “We can’t keep re-litigating past elections because that’s not going to reach the voters we need to reach to win elections.”
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.