Republicans’ chances of beating Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona are fading, a sign of the broader struggle the party is experiencing of late as it fights to retake the Senate majority, according to one prominent political handicapper.
On Thursday, the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter moved the Arizona race from its “toss up” category to “leans Democratic,” signaling that Kelly now has the advantage over Republican nominee Blake Masters.
In explaining the ratings change, Cook Political Report Senate editor Jessica Taylor notes that Kelly has crushed Masters in fundraising — and that has translated into a massive edge in terms of TV ad spending. “Democratic groups and Kelly have spent or reserved nearly $65 million during the general election period, compared to almost $16.2 million for GOP groups and Masters,” she writes. (Taylor adds that Masters’ campaign isn’t running any ads at all this week.)
Masters’ past controversial statements – he has praised the Unabomber, suggested that the January 6 attack was a false flag operation, theorized that the US should not have gotten involved in World War I or II, etc. – also appear to have done real damage with voters.
“In conversations with several Republicans both in the state or watching the overall Senate battleground, Arizona has moved down their list of flippable states, with many even seeing Pennsylvania – a rating which we shifted last month but where Democrat John Fetterman has faced an onslaught of ads on crime and persistent questions about his health – as more likely now to stay in the GOP column than winning Arizona,” concludes Taylor.
Arizona’s new rating is notable because at the outset of the 2022 election cycle, the race, along with Georgia, was seen by many as the most likely pickup opportunity for Republicans. The state had long been a Republican stronghold, although Democrats had made gains of late with Joe Biden carrying it in 2020 and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema winning in 2018.
But the problems experienced by Masters – and the Arizona GOP more generally – are indicative of how Donald Trump (and Trumpism) have roiled the party and left it more vulnerable in general elections.
Masters emerged from a crowded primary in August thanks in no small part to Trump’s endorsement. “Blake knows that the ‘Crime of the Century’ took place, he will expose it and also, never let it happen again,” Trump said in announcing his pick. Masters responded by calling Trump “a great man and a visionary.”
Once Masters won the nomination, however, he immediately began trying to scrub – literally – some of his past positions. Gone from his website was previous language on abortion restrictions. Ditto his views on election denialism. By way of explanation, Masters’ campaign has said that the candidate himself updates the policy section of his website and views it as a “living document” as opposed to a static set of beliefs.
Masters is not alone in struggling to adjust to the differing challenges of the general election. In Pennsylvania, Republican Mehmet Oz has fallen behind Fetterman in the state’s open-seat Senate race. And in Ohio, Republican JD Vance finds himself in a surprisingly close contest with Democrat Tim Ryan in the race to replacing retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman.
All three Republicans find themselves stuck in the horns of the dilemma currently facing the GOP. To win their primaries, they needed to embrace Trump and the often extreme positions of the Republican base. (All three won the former President’s endorsement.) But now, as their party’s nominees, those same policies are decidedly detrimental to their chances of winning a general election.
And that awkward dance is jeopardizing Republicans’ chances in what once looked like a near-certainty: winning the Senate majority this fall.