Arizona Senate race heats up as venture capitalist Blake Masters mulls another run

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MESA, ARIZONA – OCTOBER 09: Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Blake Masters speaks at a campaign rally attended by former U.S. President Donald Trump at Legacy Sports USA on October 09, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona. Trump was stumping for Arizona GOP candidates, including gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, ahead of the midterm election on November 8. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Blake Masters, a Republican venture capitalist who lost a 2022 race for an Arizona Senate seat held by Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), has been at the center of conflicting reports about his 2024 intentions for weeks. 

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Masters is expected to launch his second Senate bid in Arizona soon. He would be joining the hotly contested race for the seat currently held by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.). His prospective Senate run sets the stage for a Republican primary pitting him against Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb and former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who, like Masters, also led a failed Trump-backed bid in 2022 and is expected to launch her Senate campaign soon. 

But last week, the Daily Beast and Vanity Fair reported that Masters might not be ready for round two. In a call reported by the New York Times, Trump told Masters that he would lose against Lake. And according to recent polling, he’s right. 

An Emerson College poll from August projected Lake dominating a Republican primary with 42% of the vote and Lamb in second place with 11%. Masters was projected to come in third with 7%, still losing to Lake even if he were to win the votes of the 28% of Republican primary voters who said they were undecided. Whoever wins the primary may face Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) in the general election, the only prominent Democrat vying for the seat so far. 

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Masters lost in 2022 despite wealthy donors in his corner

Masters lost to incumbent Kelly by 4.9 points in 2022. Despite his personal wealth and backing from Republican politicians and businessmen, Masters’ campaign committee was outspent by Kelly’s campaign committee six times over.

Masters raised $14.8 million during the election 2022 cycle. Just a quarter of that came from small donors who contributed $200 or less. In contrast, Kelly’s campaign raised $89.2 million, and $38.6 million — or 43% of it — came from small donors. Masters also loaned his campaign $1 million of his own money.

The bulk of Masters’ support, however, came from outside spending by the Saving Arizona PAC, which spent $21.7 million boosting Masters in 2022. Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited sums of money to advocate for or against political candidates but are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates or coordinating with their campaigns.

Venture capitalist and Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel contributed $20 million to the super PAC. During his 2022 Senate run, Masters served as the chief operating officer of the investment firm Thiel Capital and president of the Thiel Foundation. 

Masters received a $450,000 salary from Thiel Capital and $306,000 in royalties from the book he and Thiel wrote together, according to his 2022 financial disclosure report. In 2021, Masters drew a $774,000 salary and received $340,00 in royalties.

Other top donors to Saving Arizona include Uline founder Richard Uihlein, billionaire twins Tyler and William Winklevoss, and Blackstone CEO Stephen A. Schwarzman. 

The American Exceptionalism Institute, Inc. contributed $3 million to Saving Arizona. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the American Exceptionalism Institute does not have to disclose its donors. During the 2022 election cycle, the “dark money” group steered a total of $6.2 million to conservative outside spending groups. 

In March of this year, three months after the election, Saving Arizona transferred $800,000 to America 21 PAC, which exclusively supported Masters during the 2022 election cycle. Since then, the group has spent at least $72,000 on strategic and communication consulting. The group ended June with $1.3 million cash on hand. 

Outside groups spent a total $61.7 million supporting Masters and opposing Kelly. 

The Sentinel Action Fund, launched by Heritage Action, a sister organization to conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, spent close to $8 million on the race. Other top supporters include Make America Great Again Inc., and PACs affiliated with the National Rifle Association and Club for Growth, an influential, deep-pocketed conservative organization that broke ties with Trump after disagreements over midterm endorsements. 

Masters also received party support, with the National Republican Senatorial Committee spending $11.1  million to support his campaign and oppose Kelly.  

However, Masters’ relationship with Republican leaders seems to have soured. 

In the homestretch of the election, Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, pulled $8 million of support from Masters, citing a reallocation to “other offensive opportunities that have become increasingly competitive, as well as an unexpected expense in Ohio.” The super PAC ultimately invested $32 million in Ohio’s Senate race, and now-Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) was victorious. Masters slammed McConnell in a Fox News interview days after the election, blaming him and the super PAC’s decision for his loss. He called for Republicans to not elect McConnell to Senate Leadership. 

Lake also received support from Conservative PACs during bid for governor

Kari Lake’s 2022 gubernatorial campaign raised $15.9 million, slightly more than now-Gov. Katie Hobbs raised. Lake lost the race by about 17,000 votes, or less than one percentage point, and challenged the election in court. In May, a county judge dismissed the last remaining legal claim of Lake’s challenge.

During her 2022 bid, PACs spent a total of $2.6 million supporting Lake. She received support from some of the same outside spenders that supported Masters, including the Trump-aligned super PAC MAGA Inc., the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, the anti-abortion rights group Women Speak Out PAC, and conservative super PAC Sky is Blue and Turning Point, a hybrid PAC allied with conservative student group Turning Point USA. 

The biggest spender in Lake’s corner was the Republican Governors Association Arizona PAC, which spent $5.3 million opposing Hobbs and another $100,000 supporting Lake.

Other Arizona Senate contenders

Mark Lamb is the only prominent Republican to officially announce his candidacy so far in Arizona’s Senate race. The Pinal County Sheriff launched his campaign in April and raised $608,000 by June. Over half of his money came from donors who contributed $200 or less. 

Lamb’s campaign filings show early, small signs of support from some Republican lawmakers. He received $2,000 from Lauren Boebrt’s Leadership PAC and $200 from former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)’s leadership PAC. 

Sinema has yet to officially announce her reelection bid, but internal presentations and her donation pages suggest she will run as an independent. Rep. Ruben Gallego is the only Democrat in the race. Gallego outraised Sinema during the second quarter of 2022, but he didn’t come close to matching the incumbent’s $10 million war chest. 

The Cook Political Report ranked the race a toss-up in May. The Emerson poll predicts Gallego winning in a race against Lamb and Sinema. But in a head-to-head between Lamb and Gallego, both candidates received about 42%, suggesting Sinema could pull more votes from Republicans if she ran as an Independent in the general election. 
The poll didn’t ask about Lake or Masters in the general election, but a July poll by Nobel Predictive Insights projected Gallego winning against all three potential Republican contenders in both head-to-head match-ups and when including Sinema.

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