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Arizona has not yet completed its vote counts for the Midterm races

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Many states at this hour have not completed their vote counts. One of them is Arizona. The closely contested gubernatorial race and the contest for the U.S. Senate are still undecided. We are joined by Ben Giles of member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Hey, Ben.

BEN GILES, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let's start with the governor's race - very high-profile, two women running for this job. Secretary of state of Arizona, Katie Hobbs, she's the Democrat, and the Republican challenger is a former television host, Kari Lake. She has tied herself very, very closely to Donald Trump. Who's up right now?

GILES: So far, Katie Hobbs is in the lead, and we're going to spend the next couple of days seeing if she can hang on for dear life. What happened here overnight was a huge shift in the returns. Maricopa County is the largest county in the state. They release an early ballot count at about 8:00, an hour after polls close. Early ballots from across the state showed that Hobbs was up by as much as 180,000 votes last night. This morning, her lead has dwindled to 30,000 votes. So we're going to see if Republicans, who - a lot of them waited to cast their ballot, if they turned out for Lake in - on Election Day and in the few days before Election Day.

MARTIN: So Kari Lake staked her whole campaign or a good chunk of it on this false claim of voter fraud - right? - saying that the 2020 election was stolen when there is no evidence that demonstrated such. How big a factor was that?

GILES: Well, you're seeing it in a shift in voting patterns. Before about 2018, Republicans in Arizona usually dominated early voting. It was a way for them to take commanding leads right out of the gate. But now with Kari Lake and others discouraging people from casting their early ballots, the mail ballots that go out to about 90% of Arizona voters, now Republicans are waiting until Election Day or waiting until Saturday or Sunday to return their early ballots back at the last minute. And that's why you're seeing a shift from a big lead for Democrats on election night to slimmer leads and possibly Republicans overtaking and winning some of these races in the days to come.

MARTIN: Can you tell us about the Senate race? Another Trump-backed candidate, Blake Masters, trails the incumbent Democratic Senator, Mark Kelly.

GILES: Yeah. Kelly is up by about 100,000 votes right now. There's also a Libertarian candidate who's garnered about 2% or 3% of the vote so far, and that seems to have dinged Blake Masters more than it did Mark Kelly. That's a healthy lead. But again, with so many outstanding ballots to count, we can't call anything just yet in Arizona.

MARTIN: What about the secretary of state race, which is very important? All of them are increasingly important in this era of distrust of voting systems. One of the candidates, like Kari Lake, rejects the 2020 outcome. How is that race shaping up?

GILES: Right. Republican Representative Mark Finchem is a fervent election denier. He's also trailing by about 100,000 votes to Adrian Fontes, who actually helped run the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Ariz.

MARTIN: All right. Ben Giles of member station KJZZ in Phoenix, thank you.

GILES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Ben Giles