How a third-party candidate dropping out could shake up Arizona’s close Senate race
Blake Masters’s chances of toppling Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) got a boost this week when Libertarian candidate Marc Victor dropped out and threw his support behind the GOP nominee, handing Republicans a last-minute lifeline in a race that has narrowed.
Kelly has been considered the favorite to win reelection since Masters emerged from the early August primary battered and underfunded.
But the wind has seemingly shifted and recent surveys show Masters gaining momentum at a crucial moment.
Victor’s announcement Tuesday added to the positive news for the Peter Thiel protégé. The Libertarian candidate was pulling between 2.7 percent and 6 percent support in recent public polls, opening the door to his decision having an impact on what is already a close race.
Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Arizona, Marc Victor.
“I think it could be a difference maker. There are a lot of ballots out there, and if the Libertarian pulls a couple percent, it can have an impact,” said Daniel Scarpinato, who served as a top aide to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R).
“We’ve seen that in Arizona in many cycles,” he added, pointing to past congressional races where a Libertarian candidate has helped play spoiler.
In 2012, for example, the Libertarian candidate in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District pulled in more than 15,000 votes — or 6,500 more than separated the Democratic and Republican candidates.
Victor’s name, however, will remain on the ballot, meaning that he will still be a visible option for voters. And, as of Wednesday morning, more that 1 million voters have already returned their ballots since early voting began on Oct. 12.
Some Republicans are skeptical the move by Victor will swing the race in Masters’s direction — but they also argue it can’t hurt.
“Most of Marc Victor’s support comes from the fact that he’s not Blake Masters or Mark Kelly. Him pulling out doesn’t change that fact,” said Barrett Marson, an Arizona-based GOP strategist. “But in an uber-close race, it will definitely be helpful. But I don’t think the race will turn on it.”
Victor’s backing in polls ranged from 1 percent to as high as 6 percent. His announcement came a day after he and Masters met to discuss the possibility, with the Libertarian subsequently calling on his supporters to “vote for Blake Masters.”
“While we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, I feel very confident after that conversation that Blake Masters is going to do everything he possibly can to further the interests of the Live and Let Live Global Peace Movement,” said Victor, pointing to an initiative he founded in 2019.
“Will he likely do some things that I’m not excited about? Yeah, I think so,” Victor continued. “Is he likely to do other things that I’m very happy with? Yes. There’s no perfect choices here, I think we have to recognize that.”
Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, left, Republican challenger Blake Masters, right, and Libertarian Marc Victor, back.
Kelly is widely viewed as one of the Democratic Party’s best candidates on the 2022 map. A former astronaut, he is a prolific fundraiser and has taken steps to distance himself from President Biden on some issues, including immigration.
Through Oct. 19, Kelly’s campaign raised more than $81 million. By contrast, Masters raised only $10 million. He has led in the race since Masters emerged from a contentious primary in early August.
But the race has narrowed. Several recent polls have shown the race in a dead heat. According to the latest RealClearPolitics average of surveys, Kelly leads Masters by a 2.3-percentage point margin. And the nonpartisan election forecaster Cook Political Report last put the race back into its “toss-up” column, a month after shifting it to “lean Democrat.”
While the Senate Leadership Fund, which is run by allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has not jumped back in with big dollars after pulling out of the state, other groups have. The Club For Growth’s dropped an additional $5.5 million in over the weekend and Saving Arizona, a group backed by Thiel, added $3.7 million in ads of its own.
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz.
The Kelly campaign dismissed the impact Tuesday’s announcement would have on the race.
“With just one week to Election Day and nearly a million ballots already cast, Senator Kelly is proud of the broad coalition of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents who have come out in support of his re-election campaign,” said Sarah Guggenheimer, a Kelly spokeswoman, in a statement. “After Blake Masters spent the last year and a half sharing beliefs like giving tax handouts to billionaires and corporations while privatizing Social Security, instituting a national abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest, and caving at the slightest sign of pressure to lie about the 2020 election, nothing can distract from his dangerous and harmful agenda.”
The main question is whether the Masters campaign can make Victor’s decision to drop out count. As one Democratic operative with Arizona ties noted, it’s too late to target Libertarian voters with messages on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and a direct mail effort likely isn’t feasible with the shrunken time frame. Masters will likely have to rely on earned media to get that message out.
Arizona Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters.
“They are notably limited,” the operative said. “It matters if they make it matter. If the Masters campaign wants to spend their closing arguments talking up another guy in the race with actual paid dollars, that’s one thing. That detracts from their ability to make a closing argument.”
In a statement, Masters called the endorsement “another major boost of momentum.”
“Marc Victor joins a growing list of Arizonans from across the political spectrum who are fed up with open borders, big government corruption, and rising crime,” Masters said. “We are building a broad coalition to defeat the worst Senator in America. This is another major boost of momentum as we consolidate our support against the extreme and radical policies of Mark Kelly and Joe Biden.”
Nevertheless, Republicans are left to wish Victor had made this decision earlier.
“If it had been two weeks ago, that would have been a lot nicer,” Marson added.