Arizona outlook turns bleak for Masters, GOP

The hourglass is running low on Blake Masters and his chances to reverse course in the Arizona Senate race as Sen. Mark Kelly (D) keeps up his offensive on the airwaves, leaving Republicans pessimistic and turning their attention elsewhere on the 2022 map.  

Masters, the Peter Thiel protégé-turned-politician, found himself on the wrong side of the multiple developments last week, headlined by the cancellation of $9.6 million worth of ads by the Senate Leadership Fund — a group backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). In addition, a new poll on Thursday commissioned by AARP showed Kelly leading by 8 percentage points. 

The news, coupled with an endless stream of pro-Kelly or anti-Masters ads that are only now starting to be responded to by pro-Masters messages, also left a sour taste in the mouths of Arizona Republicans as a number of key strategists see the race slipping away quickly. 

“He’s just getting massacred,” one Arizona-based GOP operative told The Hill. “You can’t watch a YouTube clip about how to cook a roast chicken without seeing an ad about how he’s the crazy dad at the football game and shows him saying all these crazy things.” 

“He’s kind of in a perilous place where he probably doesn’t have much money to address any of this stuff,” the strategist continued. “He can’t be on offense. He can’t defend himself. He has said a lot of things that are ill-advised and a problem for him. So I don’t see a huge opportunity at this point in the race. He started to build a real team, but it’s kind of too little, too late.” 

Among Masters’s remarks that have drawn scrutiny: floating the idea of privatizing Social Security during a late-June primary debate; his hard-line views on abortion (which he has attempted to walk back); saying that Ted Kaczynski’s writings provided “a lot of insight there that is correct” (though he was quick to denounce Kaczynski’s terrorist actions); and his comment that the U.S.’s military leadership is “totally incompetent.” 

Couple those controversies with the fact that he’s running against one of the most prodigious Democratic fundraisers, and you get a blanketing of ads that have put Masters at a clear disadvantage. 

“Blake wanted to run an unscripted, unconventional campaign, and he has very much succeeded in doing it that way,” a second Arizona-based GOP strategist said. “The problem being unscripted is the Social Security gaffe, the Ted Kaczynski gaffe. You cannot turn on a TV and not see an elderly couple talking about how they’ve paid into Social Security since they were 15 and how Blake wants to take it away. … Now, he is dearly paying for that.” 

Top Democrats aren’t complaining about his propensity for controversy.  

“Quite frankly, the Republican candidate just has to keep talking. That helps us,” Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told The Hill regarding the Arizona race.  

If Masters is going to turn things around, it has to happen fast. The lone debate between the two candidates is slated for Oct. 6, with early voting kicking off on Oct. 12 — giving him less than two weeks to turn the tide. In 2018 and 2020, 79 percent and 89 percent of voters, respectively, handed their ballots in early.  

“Masters is definitely behind, but he’s got the momentum. I think Kelly has peaked and America is tired of [President Biden’s] policies,” said Dan Eberhart, a Phoenix-based GOP donor who supports Masters and has contributed to his campaign. “I think there’s a strong chance of a photo finish and a Masters win, but he’s got to execute properly. Masters needs to pitch a shutout, and Kelly can afford to give up a few runs.” 

With McConnell’s group stepping aside and allowing conservative groups to fill those ad slots, many in the GOP are looking to Thiel to step in and provide the needed resources to give Masters a chance. One national GOP strategist speculated that the PayPal founder would need to dump in $60 million for that to happen in order to help counteract Kelly’s spending, because it is roughly three times more expensive for most outside groups to secure airtime than it is for candidates in the state. 

According to AdImpact, an ad tracking firm, Democrats have outspent Republicans by more than a 2-to-1 margin in the state as of last week. As of mid-July, Kelly raised $54 million overall and had $24 million in the bank.  

A Masters spokesperson told The Hill that the campaign continues to see a close race and highlighted multiple polls released in recent weeks, including a survey from GOP polling firm the Trafalgar Group showing Kelly with a 2-point lead.  

Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), chairman of the Senate GOP campaign arm, also remains bullish about Masters’s chances in November, saying in an interview that the effort to define Kelly has paid off and that his approval ratings have peaked. He also predicted that Masters will win.  

“We’re doing whatever we can,” Scott told The Hill when asked how the party can overcome Kelly’s advertising behemoth. “You’ve just got to explain it. We don’t have to spend as much money.” 

Republicans also believe that any path to victory for Masters has to include a combination of an improved political environment coupled with a sizable win by Kari Lake in the gubernatorial contest against Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D). According to the AARP survey, Lake carries 88 percent of Republicans compared to only 80 percent for Masters and trails Hobbs by 1 point overall (49 to 48 percent).  

“Kelly has bombed this guy into the Stone Age. His only path to victory is a mob of low-information voters who are turning out to pick Kari Lake and they just see the ‘R’ next to Masters name and decide to vote Republican,” the national GOP strategist said. “That’s his only hope.” 

Tags Arizona Senate race Blake Masters Blake Masters Donald Trump Gary Peters Mark Kelly Mark Kelly Mitch McConnell Peter Thiel Rick Scott Ted Kaczynski

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