There's No "Best" Candidate In Arizona-- But There Sure Is A Worst One: Blake Masters
As of the end of March's FEC reporting deadline, there were 4 Republicans competing to take on Arizona Senator Mark Kelly in November who had spent over a million dollars, although all 4 combined hadn't spent as much as Kelly ($15,586,713 vs around $11,000,000). Self-funder Jim Lamon, some rich guy, gave his campaign $13,000,000 and of the 4 Republicans, he has the most cash on hand, although, again, all for combined (less than $11,000,000) don't come close to Kelly's $23,289,195):
Jim Lamon- $7,176,301
Blake Masters- $2,253,009
Mick McGuire- $2,253,009
Mark Brnovich- $528,960
It isn't a stretch, though, to predict that sewer money from outside SuperPACs will dominate the finances of the race. German-born Nazi billionaire, Peter Thiel, has already given his very own pro-Masters SuperPAC $13.5 million, the same amount it cost him to buy the GOP nomination in Ohio for JD Vance. That doesn't count the amount he paid Trump to endorse both Vance and Masters. Since the Trump endorsement, Masters has moved from 3rd place to 1st place in Republican polling:
There haven't been any public polls since September show who would be easiest for Kelly to beat. Back then it was Masters. Masters is also the most extreme and fringe of the lot. So maybe Kelly is rooting for him to win, except for the unlimited amount of money Thiel seems prepared to throw into the race. (There have been persistent rumors for years that Thiel, who is upfront about being gay, had a sexual relationship with Masters before each of them married, Thiel to a man and Masters to a woman.) Whether Thiel was bonking Masters or not, what is clear is that he is determined to control two Senate seats and make sure Republicans see the power of teh oligarchy viscerally demonstrated.
Tal Axelrod covered the August 2 primary for The Hill this morning, noting that it is turning increasingly bloody. Get the popcorn.
Lamon has dumped millions of his own dollars going scorched-earth against Masters over his ties to PayPal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel after Masters scored Trump’s endorsement earlier this month. Outside groups backing Masters, like the Club for Growth and a well-heeled super PAC seeded by $13.5 million of Thiel’s money, are responding in kind. And Brnovich is hanging on as Trump harangues him for not overturning his defeat in the state in 2020.
And operatives say it’s just getting started.
...Lamon, who had already loaned his campaign $13 million in total through the end of the first quarter of 2022, last week released a blistering ad casting Masters as a “fake” and a “puppet” with “Big Tech pulling his strings.” Versions of that message have been echoed in a slew of statements from Lamon.
Another ad touting Lamon’s past military service urges voters to not “believe Blake Masters or his pro-China, Big Tech billionaire.”
Alongside the ads, opposition research dumps appeared almost daily last week, including the unearthing of 17-year-old comments Masters made in which he said a border is just a “line in the sand”; remarks from the spring wondering whether the FBI was involved in last year’s Capitol riot; and an interview from April in which he said “Black people, frankly,” are to blame for gun violence.
Masters’s allies, meanwhile, are using their own considerable funds to hit Lamon at the same time.
The pro-Masters super PAC accused Lamon’s business of having ties to China and of opposing Trump’s foreign policy, while Club for Growth released another ad suggesting Lamon is a secret Democratic sympathizer.
At the same time, Trump has lobbed occasional volleys at Brnovich, this month calling him a “disappointment” for not overturning the results of the 2020 election in Arizona, which the former president baselessly said was “stolen.” Brnovich’s campaign says it’s not concerned the attacks will sink him.
The GOP infighting follows what is increasingly becoming a common theme of Republican primaries.
“If it follows form, which it appears to be doing, a Republican primary is a race to the bottom, and this should be a really great example of that. It’s an ever-increasing smaller audience that the Republican primary voters are trying to talk to and who can be the Trumpiest, who can be the most outrageous,” said veteran Arizona GOP strategist Chuck Coughlin.
The clashes have already sparked grumbling, including from Richard Grenell, the former acting director of national intelligence during the Trump administration, who is close to Thiel (two very confused far right GOP gay men) and has endorsed Lamon.
A source close to Grenell told The Hill that he reached out to the Lamon campaign in May prior to their attack ads being released recommending it leave Thiel-- a close Trump ally-- out of its messaging. Lamon’s campaign, however, seems to have ignored that advice.
Lamon’s campaign told The Hill that conversation did not take place and indicated it will not let up on its attacks.
“I think they’re very effective,” a GOP strategist supporting Lamon said of the attacks so far. “Frankly, it’s only going to get more aggressive as time goes on.”
“A lot of this hasn’t happened yet,” the source added. “This absolutely will happen. We have millions of dollars to make it happen, not reporting on the past but potentially the future. This is coming.”
...[W]hile the candidates duke it out to collect support from undecided voters, some Republicans are voicing concerns that their ultimate nominee will be too bloodied after the late primary and aren’t focusing on a message that appeals to a purple state general electorate.
“People want to talk about water. People want to talk about education, not just about the culture war in classrooms,” Coughlin said. “I’d be talking about that narrative. But nobody is currently doing it. I’m waiting to see if somebody opens up the book and starts playing a larger narrative here, but we’ll see.”
“It’s the same shit, that everything gets D.C.-ified,” he lamented. “Everything follows the same narrative. Nobody understands the electorate outside of the lens of national politics.”
Those worries are only heightened by the outsized importance of any Senate race in the 50-50 chamber, with each individual seat having the power to determine party control-- and with the fire trained on each other, no candidate is consistently bashing Kelly, the perceived centrist they’re all trying to unseat.
“You’re spending all your time attacking your primary opponent and then that short shift of you having to go after Mark Kelly. It’s typically a dual approach, a primary and a general strategy,” [Lorna] Romero, the McCain campaign veteran, said. “Whoever comes out of it is going to be bruised and battered, and has spent a lot of money, and [is] going into a very expensive general where they’ve already been defined.”
On his show last week, John Oliver noted that Masters is a "self-described ‘conservative nationalist,’ and told his viewers that blaming African Americans for gun violence the way Masters had "is unsurprising from someone who-- and this is true-- was called an ‘immigration patriot’ by the white nationalist website VDARE, which praised him saying he 'checks all the right boxes.' He’s an immigration patriot who checks all the white-supremacist boxes just isn’t what you want to hear about a man running for office. You don’t even want to hear it in a Sex and the City voiceover. Masters also embraces a national abortion ban, has questioned whether Jan. 6 was set up by the FBI, and then there is this interview in which he chooses the exact wrong answer to the softball question of: Who is a subversive thinker who’s underrated?” Masters picked Unabomber Theodore "Ted" Kaczynski.
And speaking of John Oliver... and Big Tech monopolies: