PHOENIX — Early ballots will start arriving in voter mailboxes across Arizona next week. So, when the four remaining candidates in the Republican governor's race met in the Clean Elections-Arizona PBS Governor's forum Wednesday night, the stakes were high.
The debate between Kari Lake, Karrin Taylor Robson, and two lesser-known candidates, Scott Neely and Paola Tulliani Zen, was often reduced to insults and interruptions. It prompted Lake to remark, "I feel like we're on an SNL (Saturday Night Live) sketch here."
Moderator Ted Simons worked hard to keep the conversation about issues on track.
When he asked about the 2020 election, Lake called it the number one issue in the campaign and doubled down on her assertion the election was stolen from Donald Trump. Referring to President Joe Biden, Lake said, "He lost the election and he shouldn't be in the White House." Neely and Zen both agreed the election was corrupt.
Robson called it unfair but said it was time to move on.
"Republican voters are now worried about putting food on the table and gas in their tanks," she said.
When it came to education, the candidates agree that money should go to students first and school choice should be a main priority.
"The money doesn't belong to any particular school," Lake, whose father was a schoolteacher, said. "It belongs to the children. The money we spend in education belongs to the students."
Robson agreed. "When I'm governor," she said, "the money follows the kid into the classroom."
The hour-long debate included discussions on water policy, the border and abortion.
All candidates believe life begins at conception and would support Arizona's territorial law which outlaws all abortions except for when the life of the mother is at risk.
Only Robson was asked if the state should create social programs to deal with the consequences of that law. Robson said she would support a law similar to the state of Texas' $100 million plan which promotes childbirth and provides support services to pregnant women, their families, as well as adoptive parents and parents who have experienced a miscarriage.
But with nearly every issue, came an attack.
Neely challenged Robson when she said she was small business owner.
"Actually your husband's a billionaire," Neely said. "You are not a small business owner."
Robson attacked Lake saying, "She's a master of fake news. Twenty-seven years in the liberal media she learned to twist the truth."
Lake accused Robson of trying to promote critical race theory while she was a member of the Arizona Board of Regents.
"It was a very disorganized debate," Lake said after leaving the studio.
As she and Robson navigated the media after the debate, they seemingly reached the same conclusion about the other.
"Obviously (Robson) is very worried. She's spent $20 million of her husband's billions and she's losing the race. She's never led in the polls," Lake said.
On her way out, Robson said, "Kari Lake is desperate now. Her numbers are dropping, mine are going up."