Kari Lake was booted from Arizona town hall audience before Dem rival took the stage

The Arizona gubernatorial election will take place on November 8, and as that time draws nearer, it appears it will be the first governor’s race in the Grand Canyon State in over two decades without a televised debate.

Still, Republican nominee Kari Lake is trying to make one happen whether Democratic nominee Katie Hobbs likes it or not.

At a recent town hall event which was pre-recorded and set to air Saturday evening, Lake was asked to leave the audience area for what organizers say was a rules violation. The agreed-upon format (dictated by Hobbs) was for the two to be on stage only at separate times and for Hobbs to go first. Lake was seated in the front row waiting for Hobbs to take the stage, but organizers say she was supposed to be in a holding room, according to the rules. NBC News reported they requested a copy of those rules, but said that organizers refused to produce any.

Lake insisted that Hobbs come onstage and debate her, but Hobbs never appeared. Witnesses among the crowd of 200 said that Lake pleaded her case with moderator León Krauze, a Univision News anchor, and event producer Mary Rabago until she finally capitulated and left the seating area.

The executive director of one of the event’s co-sponsors, Joe Garcia of the voter outreach group Chicanos Por La Causa Action Fund, said that Lake simply pulled off a stunt and nothing more.

“She rattled her opponent. She was big, brash, and very larger than life, Trump-esque. Anyone who thinks she was there to follow all the rules doesn’t know Kari Lake,” Garcia said.

Some attendees pointed to the obvious contrast in the styles of the two candidates, with one person describing the event as a bout between “an NPR Democrat and a Trump Republican.” Lake is a former local TV anchor and Hobbs is the current secretary of state in Arizona.

NBC did receive statements from both of the respective campaigns. In general, Lake derided Hobbs for lacking courage, while Hobbs rebuked Lake for causing a scene.

As the event was pre-taped in order for Univision to translate it into Spanish before it aired, viewers were not able to see the incident unfold. And although it was posted to social media by Mexican telenovela star Eduardo Verástegui, a friend and supporter of Lake’s who accompanied her to the event, the post was summarily deleted.

Additionally, Univision did not allow audience members to use their smartphone cameras during the event.

Once Lake took the stage for her turn with moderator Krauze and the audience, more confusion arose as one event staffer accused Lake’s husband of filming a video with her head of security, Scott Masino, a local sheriff’s deputy who donates his time to the campaign.

A Phoenix police officer was summoned to watch the sheriff’s deputy.

“This is ridiculous,” Masino told NBC News. “She has a police officer watching a police officer to make sure that police officer doesn’t videotape when he’s not videotaping.”

As for the aforementioned kerfuffle, Garcia and another official in his employ claimed the rules of the event were made abundantly clear to Lake.

“I can understand why, perhaps, Hobbs is hesitant to appear on stage with Lake. This was staged. This was planned,” said Max Gonzales. Both he and Garcia deferred any further questions to co-sponsors at the state and national divisions of the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce. Those chambers declined to comment, as did Univision.

For its part, the Hobbs campaign provided an email to NBC which stated, “each candidate will have their own separate green room to prep and hold prior to going onto the main stage.” The Lake campaign denied ever receiving the email.

As the event began, Krauze was reportedly told through an earpiece that he must ask Lake to leave her seat in the audience and return to her designated green room.

Video shot by an event staffer and provided to the outlet showed the exchange.

“I would love to be on the same stage actually. Is that possible?” Lake asked him.

“I’m going to ask [Hobbs] about that,” he said. “Trust me.”

Lake insisted on having a “real debate,” but the moderator advised her, “Unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to share the stage with Miss Hobbs. I cannot invite her to the stage if you are in the audience. This is not me. This is the … the campaign agreement.”

As some in the audience clapped, Lake reportedly turned to face them and said, “I’m happy to be here. I don’t think I should be trapped in my room. I’d love to be part of this. We should be talking about the issues that affect everyone. … I want the people here to know I’m willing to sit on stage with Miss Hobbs and talk about the important issues.”

Rabago walked on stage and addressed Lake directly, asking her to “do us the honor to go to your designated area … This is a town hall. That was the agreement that we have. I really want to make sure that the audience … can hear you both. So if you don’t mind — continue with our agreement. I would really appreciate it so we can respect the time of everyone.”

“You will have plenty of time, I promise,” Rabago assured. “We designated the same amount of time for both of you guys. We’re going to have you onstage. This is the opportunity for you guys to share your platform, your ideals … your vision. But please respect that agreement that we have.”

The event commenced after Lake returned to her green room.

Lake posted her thoughts on the matter to Twitter, generating mixed reactions.


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