California Venture Capitalist Blake Masters Wins AZ GOP Senate Primary

·5-min read
Rebecca Noble/Reuters
Rebecca Noble/Reuters

Venture capitalist turned upstart Senate candidate Blake Masters easily won the Arizona Republican primary on Tuesday, racking up another victory for candidates backed by former President Donald Trump and tech billionaire Peter Thiel.

Masters, a 35-year-old Bitcoin hawk with no political experience, rode Trump’s late-game support to a come-from-behind win, after failing for months to woo swing state conservatives with a steady stream of radical and at times dystopian right-wing rhetoric threaded with anti-immigrant and racist tropes.

In the end, Masters outperformed runner-up Arizona energy mogul Jim Lamon. Masters will now face incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) in the general election.

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For months, the Arizona race showed no clear frontrunner, but after escalating his election denialism to score Trump’s endorsement in June, Masters surged. By primary time, he was resting on a double-digit lead.

By contrast, JD Vance—another Trump-Thiel pick—claimed less than one in three Ohio Republicans in May. Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt, a Senate candidate who received Thiel money and an ambiguous endorsement from Trump, also won his GOP Senate nomination Tuesday night, though Trump was less than clear about who he was actually endorsing in the race.

Masters, who grew up in Arizona, had recently returned to the state after years in the Bay Area, where he worked under Thiel’s wing as COO of Thiel Capital. He entered the race rating relatively low in name recognition, especially compared to Arizona Attorney General turned Trump nemesis Mark Brnovich. But Masters adopted a native advertising approach to publicity, and quickly began accumulating earned media as a polarizing provocateur.

His success, however, came as a surprise to many. At the beginning, Masters’ outsider platform appeared like a strange fit for Arizonans. He leaned heavily on abstract “new right” political theory, anti-immigrant fear bait, longform podcast interviews, and niche, largely untested policy proposals (like a “strategic reserve” of Bitcoin)—an odd match for the swing state’s typical voter profile.

Still, thanks in large part to Trump, the tech investor was able to lock up enough votes to offset, or possibly win over, his stiffest competition: Arizona’s sizable population of suburban moderates and retirees.

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While Masters—a thirtysomething Bitcoin millionaire and Silicon Valley transplant who was dogged throughout his campaign by allegations of racism, hypocritical corporate and technocratic cronyism, and veiled anti-semitism—might seem an unlikely flagbearer for that all-important demographic, those voters will only become more critical as the general election approaches. There, Masters must overcome a popular Democratic moderate in Kelly, an effort that may force Masters to soften his rhetoric.

He’ll have to balance that against the Trump brand if he wants to energize the grassroots, because if fundraising is any measure of enthusiasm, Masters has a steep hill to climb. Almost all of his financial firepower has come from a group entirely separate from his campaign—a super PAC mainly fueled by Thiel’s whopping $15 million investment. The bulk of the super PAC’s other high-dollar contributions come from executives in tech and financial sectors, most of them bearing some connection to the crypto world.

But Arizonans have simply not opened their pocketbooks. Exactly four of the super PAC’s fifty-plus donors hail from Arizona, according to FEC data. And of his campaign’s $5 million, more than 90 percent comes from out-of-state, with Californians accounting for about one in every five dollars. In fact, Masters has given more money to his campaign than Arizona citizens have—his $680,000 in personal loans outweigh his total in-state contributions by about $200,000. His latest loan, in July—more than four months after he claimed to resign from Thiel’s company—still lists his employer as Thiel Capital.

But Masters received loads of free airtime from another powerful ally—the most influential media figure in conservative politics, Fox News entertainer Tucker Carlson. The late-night host quickly recognized a fellow traveler in Masters’ nationalist agenda, offering full-throated support and numerous appearances on his program, the most watched show in cable news history. (Brnovich, by contrast, got the support of Carlson’s late-night colleague Sean Hannity.)

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But the same nationalist rhetoric that appealed to the Carlson crowd—resounding with the false “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory embraced by white supremacists—attracted more controversial supporters, including Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi publication The Daily Stormer.

Anglin gave Masters his “forceful endorsement” in June, following a viral incident at a campaign event where Masters appeared to grab a 73-year-old protester by the neck and push him out of the room. Last month, Masters rejected Anglin’s support, saying he had “never” heard of Anglin and dismissing news reports of the endorsement as part of an effort to “smear anybody who believes in common sense border security as some kind of ‘Nazi.’”

Ultimately, Masters’ media savvy overcame the substantive support that top immigration officials threw behind his top competitor, Lamon, who received endorsements from former Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, along with the former Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the former Chief of the Border Patrol.

Masters reaped endorsements from TV officials like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO).

But despite staking out positions on immigration, guns, abortion, and gay marriage that poll well outside the main, the tech entrepreneur has made a “guarantee” that he will beat Kelly, a former Navy pilot and astronaut, by “five points.”

“‘Oh, I’m an astronaut. Have you heard I’m an astronaut?’” Masters said at an event in April, as reported by Mother Jones. “‘You know, when I’m on the space station and I look at that big blue ball I realize we’re all in it together.’ And it’s like, ‘Shut up, Mark.’”

But Masters will also have to overcome his own baseless theory that Democrats are using immigration policy to stack the electoral deck.

“Obviously, the Democrats, they hope to just change the demographics of our country,” he said in an April podcast interview. “They hope to import an entirely new electorate. Then they call you a racist and a bigot.”

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