GOP Senate hopefuls try to shrug off Trump endorsement of Masters’ bid

Former President Donald Trump, shown here at a North Carolina event in 2020, released his long-awaited and much sought-after endorsement in Arizona’s GOP primary for Senate, backing Blake Masters. Other Republicans tried to downplay the impact of the endorsement, but analysts said it could be critical in the crowded field. (Photo by Shealah Craighead Trump White House)

WASHINGTON – While other Republicans tried to downplay the impact of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement this week of Blake Masters’ bid for Senate, analysts said the nod could be the “rocket fuel” Masters needs to move to the front of a crowded field.

“The candidates in the race have not done a good job of breaking away from the pack and Masters has money, (but) lacks credibility, which Trump can bring to the table,” said Mike Noble, chief of research at OH Predictive Insights.

Masters said in a tweet Thursday that it “doesn’t get any better” than Trump’s endorsement, but other Republican hopefuls – most of whom had been vying for the endorsement – tried to say it doesn’t make a difference.

Many were like Mick McGuire, former adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard, who said in a statement that he supports Trump’s policies, but the endorsement “does not change what Arizonans are looking for in their next senator.”

“Arizona voters will pick our next senator, not anyone else,” McGuire said.

All said they plan to continue campaigning and expect to win the nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in the fall.

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Trump used much of his long-sought endorsement Thursday to criticize one of the leading candidates in the race, Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whom he called a “disappointment” for not aggressively investigating Trump’s claims of a “Rigged and Stolen” election in 2020.

Tweeting in response, Brnovich’s campaign said that even without Trump’s endorsement, he still intends on winning the primaries, and looks “forward to working with President Trump to defeat Mark Kelly this fall.”

Jim Lamon, who has been neck-and-neck with Brnovich in the most recent polls, calls himself a “strong supporter” of Trump’s policies, and appeared to take news of the endorsement especially hard.

“There is no candidate in this race who has fought harder to support the America First movement than me. I have also supported President Trump as a donor and an elector,” Lamon said in a statement Thursday.

Lamon had the most campaign funding among the Republicans, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports, with $13.8 million raised – but $13 million of that was his own loan to the campaign.

Masters has trailed Lamon and Brnovich in recent polls, but had raised $3.8 million and has the backing of his former boss, billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who put up $10 million for the Saving Arizona Political Action Committee, created to back Masters’ candidacy.

While Trump’s endorsements have had mixed results in Republican primaries so far this year, Arizona political consultant Jason Rose said there is no doubt that the Masters endorsement will carry some weight.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, like others in the race, said he wanted Trump’s endorsement but expects to win the GOP Senate primary even without it. (File photo by Emily Sacia/Cronkite News)

“There is not a single Republican elected official in America today who would not want to have the president’s endorsement,” Rose said. “While Blake Masters has scant experience in Arizona when it comes to serving her in the United States Senate, it was rocket fuel for his candidacy that he got the endorsement that he did.”

Before bashing Brnovich, Trump touted Masters as being “strong on border security,” and a candidate who would “cut taxes and regulation,” is tough on crime and supports the military and veterans.

Noble said the endorsement can help, especially considering that half of voters are still unsure in the Senate race. He said the degree to which it will lead to an uptick in polls will depend on how much Masters takes the endorsement and “blasts it on the airways.”

Instead, the Arizona Democratic Party noted, Lamon’s team unleashed an ad attacking Masters just hours after the Trump endorsement, and the Saving Arizona PAC responded with an ad attacking Lamon.

Whoever emerges from the Aug. 2 primary will have to face Kelly, who has no primary challengers and has been stockpiling campaign funds in the meantime. Kelly had raised almost $39 million by March 31, according to the latest FEC reports. But Republican fundraising is likely to pick up after the primary, as the GOP sees Kelly’s seat as one it can pick up.

Rose said the race is still very competitive but for Masters, Trump’s endorsement was “the best day of his candidacy and gives him a real opportunity to capture the Republican prize.”

Tracy Abiaka TRAY-see Ah-"bee"-ah-kah (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Tracy Abiaka expects to graduate in December 2022 with a master’s degree in mass communications. Abiaka has been a research assistant for the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at ASU and an editorial intern for Phoenix Business Journal.