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What They’re Saying: “Contentious” AZ GOP Senate Primary Defined By “Underwhelming,” “Damaged” Candidates

National Journal: “Underwhelming GOP candidates”
FiveThirtyEight: “The GOP contest has developed into a contentious race”
AP: “A primary defined above all else by fealty to the former president”

Ahead of today’s Arizona Senate primary, news coverage is highlighting how “the GOP contest has developed into a contentious race” that has been “defined above all else by fealty to the former president” – as Republicans openly fret about their “underwhelming” and “damaged” field of candidates.

See for yourself:

Associated Press: Fealty to Trump defines Republican Senate primary in Arizona
By Jonathan J. Cooper
July 30, 2022

  • An interviewer asked Arizona Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters to pick a “subversive thinker” whom people should know more about. Masters gave it some thought and came up with a risky response for someone running for elected office. He picked the Unabomber.
  • All the major candidates aggressively sought Trump’s imprimatur and have not been shy about advancing his false claims of election fraud from the 2020 presidential election.
  • GOP Gov. Doug Ducey declined to run and the party’s mainstream has not coalesced around any particular candidate.
  • Despite a venture capital career tied closely with Silicon Valley startups, Masters is running as a critic of Big Tech… It’s an interesting position for a candidate who owes virtually his entire professional career to Facebook’s first investor, billionaire Peter Thiel.
  • Masters was once a strident libertarian whose online posts as a college student have been fodder for his rivals. He called for unrestricted immigration and wrote that “the U.S. hasn’t been involved in a just war in over 140 years,” a period that notably excludes World War II… He called Democratic leaders “psychopaths” and posed with a rifle declaring “this is designed to kill people,” saying the Second Amendment is not about hunting.
  • “All of these writings Masters did about open borders, open free drug trade and blah, blah, blah — I don’t think President Trump knew that when he endorsed,” Lamon told a woman who wanted to know why Trump wasn’t supporting him.
  • Kelly will be a formidable opponent for whoever emerges from the GOP primary. A former astronaut and Navy pilot, Kelly is the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt. He has worked to build a profile as a moderate since he was elected in a 2020 special election to finish the term of the late Republican Sen. John McCain.
  • Kelly is a fundraising powerhouse and raised $52 million through the end of June for what is likely to be one of the most expensive campaigns in the country this year, with half of it still in his bank account. He’s using that fortune to bolster his image with a barrage of positive television ads as the Republicans remain focused on one another.
  • Republicans, meanwhile, have struggled mightily with fundraising. The candidates combined have raised less than half of Kelly’s haul, with much of that money coming from Lamon himself.

National Journal: Arizona Senate Race – Primary Preview

Underwhelming GOP candidates could jeopardize pickup opportunities in the fall
By Matt Holt
July 31, 2022

  • The GOP primary has produced more questions than answers if the party is ready to unseat one of their opposition’s most well-funded incumbents.
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell repeatedly urged Ducey to run, but he declined.
  • An unabashed supporter of Trump and his policies, Masters has expressed support for privatizing Social Security and said he would have objected to the 2020 election if he were in the Senate. He’s come under scrutiny for his past anti-Semitic writings when he was in college and praised the Unabomber on a podcast this year. His most provocative ads focus on the border, claiming that Democrats “want to give mass amnesty in exchange for votes.”

Cook Political Report: August 2 Primary Preview: Arizona Senate
By Jessica Taylor
July 29, 2022

  • This is one of the top races where many national Republican strategists fear that candidate quality could fritter away an opportunity.
  • Masters, a populist-inspired libertarian, may be one of the most controversial general election candidates the Republican Party has this year if he wins the primary, which is saying something.
  • Some of Masters’s ads come across as dystopian, and he’s suggested that the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol was a “false flag.” He has said that “Black people, frankly,” are the reason for the U.S. rise in gun violence. His college writings have been picked apart, and will continue to be, and called anti-Semitic after he criticized U.S. involvement in World War II, writing that the country “hasn’t been involved in a just war in over 140 years” and cited a Nazi leader’s quote.
  • Masters has also promoted “replacement theory,” a conspiracy theory that claims Democrats are efforting to replace White people with immigrants and has been espoused by a recent mass shooter in Buffalo. Masters has also praised the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski as a “subversive thinker that’s underrated.” But issues like entitlements could hurt Masters the most in a retiree-heavy state, suggesting in a recent debate that Social Security should be privatized.
  • “I think [Masters is] a really damaged candidate at this point,” one unaligned Arizona Republican strategist told us. “I don’t know that he had to be. He’s gone out of his way to make comments and do things” that hurt him in a general election. That fear is echoed privately by many national Republicans.
  • Even Republicans concede that Kelly is likable and has a personality and profile that attracts independent and even Republican voters: a veteran, a former astronaut, and the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was nearly assassinated at a constituent event in 2011.

FiveThirtyEight: “How Far Right Will Republican Primary Voters Go In Arizona”
By Geoffrey Skelley and Nathaniel Rakich
August 1, 2022

  • The GOP contest has developed into a contentious race between former Thiel Foundation President Blake Masters and solar power businessman Jim Lamon.
  • Masters has expressed some views that have already come back to bite him. On the campaign trail, he praised positions held by Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, though did not endorse his terrorism. As a college student, he argued online that “unrestricted” immigration was the appropriate position to take as a Libertarian, as he then identified.
  • Lamon has tried to attack him as favoring “open borders” and as “not right” for Arizona.
  • Masters and his allies have… also attacked Lamon in the final days of the campaign, arguing he opposed Trump’s policies toward China because of his business dealings there.
  • This race has cost gobs of money, too, with Lamon loaning his campaign $14 million and Masters’s allies spending $8.3 million supporting him and $5.3 million attacking Lamon.
  • The eventual GOP nominee will face a tough race against Kelly, who has raised over $50 million this cycle.

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