WASHINGTON – Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly continued to widen his fundraising lead over GOP challenger Blake Masters, who still trailed the incumbent despite heavy spending on Masters’ behalf by outside conservative groups.
Kelly, a Democrat, had raised nearly $75.5 million as of Sept. 30, and still had $13.2 million on hand, according to his most recent Federal Election Commission reports. Masters reported raising $9.9 million in the same period, with $2.8 million in the bank.
Libertarian Senate nominee Marc J. Victor was a distant third, reporting that he had raised $129,103 with $1,606 on hand at the end of the third quarter.
But those same FEC reports show that outside groups have spent almost $50 million against Kelly compared to $9 million to oppose Masters.
The reports come as the race between the two has narrowed, but Kelly maintains a comfortable lead – and experts say that while his fundraising lead won’t win the race for him, it certainly won’t hurt. Kelly’s fundraising was second highest for a Senate campaign in the country.
“Money is your ammunition to communicate,” said Mike Noble, chief of research at OH Predictive Insights, a nonpartisan research and data analytics firm.
Noble said Kelly’s ability to raise money “like a maniac” gives him a strong advantage in the upcoming election, especially against a candidate who is “newer to the scene.” But, he said, just because Kelly can out-spend Masters does not mean he has the race locked up.
The most recent poll aggregation from FiveThirtyEight showed Masters gaining on Kelly, going from a 10.2-point deficit in August to trailing Kelly by just 6.4% last Thursday.
An OH Predictive Insights poll from earlier this month showed 46% of likely voters said they would vote for Kelly, compared to 33% for Masters and 15% for Victor, with the rest still undecided. The survey of 674 voters has a margin of error of 3.77%.
Noble said the economy could still shift the outcome of Senate races around the country.
“If things get a little bit better, it is going to help Democrats,” Noble said. “If it starts to go south, that could potentially make this a much tighter race or could, possibly, push Masters over the top.”
Masters entered the race after a contentious Republican primary that drained a lot of his funding. That has forced his campaign to rely more on support from outside political action committees, Noble said.
According to the FEC, those outside PACs spent $49.4 million in opposition to Kelly, compared to $15.4 million that was spent supporting his reelection. The net outside spending on Masters was much narrower, with $9 million against and $8 million for.
Kelly’s campaign manager Emma Brown brushed off the outside spending, saying in a statement that as that money pours into the state “attacking Senator Kelly’s record, this campaign continues to be fueled by grassroots donors who contribute what they can, when they can.”
And relying on PACs comes with a drawback, said Jessica Taylor, Senate and governors editor of the Cook Political Report. Even if PACs from groups like Heritage Action, the Club for Growth or the Saving Arizona PAC, funded by tech billionaire Peter Thiel, were to pump more money into Masters’ campaign, they would be “subject to much higher ad rates at this juncture” than the candidates themselves, she said.
“Ultimately, we see the difference here happening in ad spending, particularly, where Masters has had to rely more on outside sources,” Taylor said. “Kelly’s ads, because they are paid for by the candidate instead of an outside entity, are just reaching more people.”
Masters’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Taylor said she was not surprised by Kelly’s fundraising, which was second only to the $111 million raised by Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock – another Democrat who took office after a special election in 2020. With such a short turnaround between those races and their reelection campaigns, she said, Kelly and Warnock have not been able to stop “campaigning or being in campaign mode, especially in fundraising mode.”
Across the U.S., Democratic Senate candidates are outpacing Republicans, making up eight of the top 10 fundraisers in Senate races.
“I think every quarter the competition is between Mark Kelly and Raphael Warnock,” Taylor said. “They both had the run in 2020 for those special elections and then they had to turn around and run again in 2022.”