Trump and Thiel Tag-Team Arizona GOP Primary to Boost Blake Masters

(Bloomberg) -- Former President Donald Trump and billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel are aiming for a second Republican primary victory as they work to bolster 2020 election denier Blake Masters in Arizona’s US Senate contest.

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Trump’s endorsement and $15 million from Thiel to a super political action committee backing Masters have helped him emerge as the front-runner in polls over solar power company founder Jim Lamon and Attorney General Mark Brnovich in the fractured GOP primary to face Senator Mark Kelly in a November race that will help determine party control of the upper chamber.

“If you want to win a Republican primary, having money and Trump’s endorsement is a great combination,” said pollster Robert Cahaly of the Atlanta-based Trafalgar Group.

A Masters primary win would follow a victory for Trump and Thiel in May helping venture capitalist and author JD Vance win a crowded Republican US Senate primary in Ohio.

Trump publicly endorsed Masters, 35, in June and then held a July 22 rally for him and his other endorsed candidates in Arizona, including gubernatorial aspirant Kari Lake.

Recent polling, including Cahaly’s last survey of the race conducted July 25-27, showed Masters with a lead over Lamon, with Brnovich lagging and retired Air Force General Michael McGuire and former state representative Justin Olson in the single digits.

Masters has touted Trump’s backing, parroted the former president’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and voicing his staunch opposition to illegal immigration, a hot-button issue in the border state.

The GOP winner will face Kelly, a former astronaut and businessman who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination and in 2020 won a special election that flipped the seat by defeating appointed incumbent Senator Martha McSally, a Republican.

Trump’s involvement in primaries has clouded Republicans’ prospects to take control of the evenly divided Senate. Vance is mired in a tight race against Democratic US Representative Tim Ryan in Republican-leaning Ohio.

In Pennsylvania, polls show Trump-backed Mehmet Oz trailing Democrat Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman to replace retiring US Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican. Herschel Walker, Trump’s pick for US Senate in Georgia, also trails incumbent Democrat US Senator Raphael Warnock.

Masters, who ran Thiel’s private foundation and venture capital fund until March, has been criticized for past inflammatory comments, including an April 11 podcast interview in which he blamed gun violence on “black people, frankly.” In college writings, he questioned US involvement in World War II. He also has supported the “replacement theory” pushed by white nationalists and supremacists.

Lamon, who contends that there were “irregularities” in the 2020 election, has largely self-financed his campaign with $14 million and has led the GOP field in spending on advertising for the primary, with $12.3 million, according to AdImpact.

He’s promoted himself as “an America First conservative” -- a reference to Trump’s mantra -- and also run an ad with people wearing Trump and Lamon campaign apparel saying the former president “made a mistake” endorsing Masters.

Lamon, who said he sold the DEPCOM Power Inc. company he founded to a unit of Koch Industries Inc. last year to focus on his Senate campaign, also has a website attacking Masters as “fake” that says, “California Big Tech is spending $15 million trying to make Fake Blake Masters seem conservative.”

The Saving Arizona PAC supporting Masters, funded with the $15 million from Thiel and $100,000 each from Bitcoin billionaires Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, has spent 10 times the amount on advertising for the primary as Masters’s campaign, $10.9 million to $1.9 million, according to AdImpact.

Thiel also contributed $15 million to a super PAC backing Vance in Ohio. Representatives for Thiel and Trump didn’t immediately responded to messages left for comment.

Club For Growth Action, which played a major role helping Representative Ted Budd win North Carolina’s US Senate GOP primary, also spent $1.4 million on ads touting Trump’s endorsement of Masters over Lamon, according to AdImpact. Additionally, the Crypto Freedom PAC spent $2.4 million supporting Masters and attacking Lamon.

Stan Barnes, a former Arizona state senator and GOP political consultant, said the race -- which has been marked by a flood of negative ads -- will be competitive. But Masters had the Trump endorsement and the money to amplify that with primary voters.

“In a confused and ugly primary, the thing that stands out is the Trump endorsement,” Barnes said.

Still, support by Masters and Lamon for Trump’s false election claims could hurt them with independent voters in a general election race against Kelly, said Phoenix-based pollster Paul Bentz.

Arizona has become more of a swing state in recent years, and Kelly, a former astronaut, would be favored against Masters or Lamon because he’s solid with the Democratic base and appeals to swing voters, according to Mike Noble, chief of research for OH Predictive Insights.

“He’s in the best position he could ask for, given how bad the environment is for Democrats right now,” Noble said.

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