Kari Lake campaigns in front of Confederate flag, and AZ GOP rival Mark Lamb stay silent

Few public signs have emerged that Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake or her prominent supporters have misgivings about her recent campaigning under a Confederate battle flag.

Days after news that the Republican front-runner did so at a campaign event in Show Low, Ariz., neither the state Republican Party nor the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee had any immediate comment on Monday.

Lake's Republican Senate rival, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, also declined to comment about the flag incident.

By contrast, Rep. Ruben Gallego, the only Democrat running in the race to succeed the retiring Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., condemned Lake’s appearance with the flag, saying it is “emblematic of who she is: divisive, dangerous, and unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“I served this country in the Marines and swore to uphold the values of freedom, equality, and Democracy that we hold dear, that we fought for and died for — not the failed Confederacy.

“This is who Kari is — a power-hungry politician who will do or say anything to get power,” Gallego said in a written statement from his campaign.

Use of Confederate flag will alienate moderates, some Latinos, experts say

Even if the incident seems unlikely to shake her support in GOP circles, it can’t help her expand her appeal to those less partisan, political experts said.

“She’s operating in an alternate universe,” said John J. Pitney Jr., a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College.

“In recent years, people have come to realize the Confederacy was an act of treason and to fly the Confederate battle flag is effectively to endorse treason,” he said. “Among her core supporters, it probably won’t make a difference. But it’s not going to help her peel off any of the moderate independent voters she needs to beat Gallego.”

Lisa Sanchez, an assistant government professor at the University of Arizona, said the issue may hurt Lake with select Latinos.

“Research suggests that Latinos tend to respond more negatively to the Confederate flag than non-Latino whites,” she wrote to The Republic. “Like Black Americans, Latinos generally respond negatively to the Confederate flag, but it does not carry the lived historical salience that it does for Blacks. Latinos who are not politically active or engaged may not see a strong connection between their ethnicity and the Confederate flag.

“However, Democrats are likely to take advantage of the opportunity to tie Republicans, including Kari Lake, to the oppression and anti-Latino sentiment that the Confederate flag has (more generally) come to represent in recent years through its association with the white nationalist identity.”

Chandler James, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Oregon, has researched norm-violating behavior in the Trump era. He said the Confederate flag may not be significant to all of Lake’s supporters, but it does signal to them that she is willing to push her politics in a way they want.

“It’s a deliberate strategic choice,” James said. “For a lot of her supporters, the norm violation itself, having a Confederate flag, might not be that meaningful to them personally. A lot of them might not care either way whether someone uses the Confederate flag. But if it owns the libs, if it antagonizes the right people, that is the value. When you do something that generates controversy among those who you don’t want to like you … this can be a really great way to show that you are not part of the establishment.”

Steven White, an associate political science professor at Syracuse University who has researched racial politics, said the incident seems to reflect her polarizing nature.

“As a candidate, she’s not someone who’s really made an effort to go to the center. She’s really tied more to the Trump style of right-wing politics," he said. "My sense is this kind of thing helps her appeal to a certain part of the base maybe, but probably is not great for swing voters.

“I suspect it probably hurts her with that kind of stereotypical college-educated, white suburbanite type that was a Republican and has now shifted to the Democratic Party. … Given the current levels of polarization, most voters have already picked sides, so to speak. This kind of thing maybe would have seemed more shocking 10 years ago.”

Opinions on Confederate flag divisive among politicians

In the past, the Confederate flag often came up around the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina. That state flew the flag on the grounds of its state Capitol for years. The state flew the battle flag on its Capitol or adjacent grounds from the centennial of the Civil War in 1961 until 2015, following a massacre in a Charleston church targeting Blacks.

When U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, ran for president in the 2008 cycle, he told CNN, “That’s not a flag I recognize. That flag, frankly, is divisive, and it shouldn’t be shown.”

John McCain, the Republican who won the GOP nomination that year, waffled on the issue during his 2000 presidential run because of political considerations.

McCain initially called the flag “a symbol of racism.” Later, he called it “a symbol of heritage.” After losing the 2000 nomination to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, McCain apologized.

“I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary,” McCain said in April 2000. “So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.”

Today, both McCain, who died in 2018, and Romney, who is retiring from the Senate, are often decried by Trump supporters as embodying political failure for the GOP.

Lake mocked McCain during her 2022 gubernatorial run and in a radio interview earlier this year she tried to call her criticism of him a joke. That only reignited a public spat with McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain.

Similarly, the video of Lake talking underneath a Confederate flag has gained national news attention and only adds to Lake’s lengthy record of controversies.

In a video obtained by The Arizona Republic, a USA TODAY Network partner, Lake appears at the Trumped Store in Show Low on May 31 and discusses her concerns about election administration to a roomful of supporters. She was campaigning with Steve Slaton, the owner of the store who is a Republican candidate for the Legislature and whose military record has become a source of controversy.

Speaking with a microphone, Lake is seen turning to those behind her, putting the flag easily in her view.

'Kari Lake went to a store'

On Friday, Lake’s campaign didn’t express regret for the incident or distance herself from the Confederate cause.

“Kari Lake went to a store. The campaign doesn’t own the store,” her campaign said in a statement to The Arizona Republic.

Lake's campaign told the U.K. news organization the Guardian, which first reported it, the campaign “does not respond to British propaganda outlets. We stopped doing that in 1776.”

The store Lake visited is named for former President Donald Trump and sells an array of Trump-themed items.

Lake, like Trump and others such as Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., has downplayed the criminal behavior of the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn the 2020 election.

In December, she told Fox News, those imprisoned over their roles were “political prisoners.”

“It’s terrible what happened,” she said. “This, to me, is one of the great injustices in American history.”

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Lake’s visit already generated controversy for Slaton, who claimed in an April radio interview with Payson’s KMOG that he was a Vietnam War combat veteran.

“I was a combat veteran in Vietnam for four months in support of the missions of the South Vietnamese and patrolled along the DMZ,” he said.

Days later, the Mountain Daily Star reported that Slaton’s official military records show he was stationed in South Korea during 1974, serving mostly as a helicopter mechanic.

Slaton is one of six Republicans running for two spots in the state House of Representatives in the heavily Republican northeastern Arizona district.

The 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police triggered a national reckoning around slavery and race that included a purge of symbols of racism and the Confederacy.

In Arizona, for example, several Civil War-themed monuments were quickly removed, and in 2023 Tempe officials renamed streets that had been named for people identified as members of the Ku Klux Klan a century earlier.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kari Lake Confederate flag flap brings silence from GOP, AZ party rival