Arizona Republicans are bracing for the possibility of an extraordinarily volatile Senate primary in which Kari Lake and Blake Masters, two Trump-aligned candidates who both lost statewide bids last fall, could be among the competitors.
Lake has said she’s “seriously considering” getting in the race, and a senior adviser noted she could make a decision in the next month or so. A new Wall Street Journal report, citing people familiar with Masters’s plans, said the failed Senate hopeful is set to announce another bid in the coming weeks.
Both stoked controversies in their last bids for offices, and a win by either would leave some Republicans worried about their chances in November.
“This is obviously going to be the race to watch across the nation,” said Arizona-based Republican strategist Lorna Romero Ferguson. “I think this race will really set the tone of: ‘OK, what is the path forward for Arizona?’”
Liberals want Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema out of her seat as the party hopes to hold onto its slim majority. The incumbent hasn’t said whether she’ll run for reelection as an independent. Meanwhile, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) is running for his party’s nomination, setting up the possibility of a three-way contest.
Lake and Masters were each endorsed by former President Trump in their races last year, and while the party hoped the pair would be part of a “red wave” of Republican wins during the midterms, both candidates lost the sought-after Arizona seats.
Lake, a former newscaster, narrowly lost her bid for governor to Katie Hobbs (D). After touting Trump’s claims of election fraud during the 2020 race along the campaign trail, she refused to concede to Hobbs and has continued to allege fraud in the 2022 match-up.
Masters, a former executive at conservative megadonor Peter Thiel’s Thiel Capital, lost his bid for Senate last year to Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.
Lake and Masters appeared on last year’s campaign trail together, but if they both get in the race for Sinema’s post, they’ll have to differentiate themselves and fight for votes in the primary, which could lead to the eventual winner heading into the general election considerably weakened.
“Obviously it’s not going to be a kumbaya when they’re competitors. And I do think that you will see Kari Lake going after [Masters] pretty vigorously, because obviously he’s going to be a threat,” Ferguson said.
Though it’s still early to predict how the race could play out with multiple prominent possible contenders still undecided, strategists think Lake has the advantage to secure the GOP nomination if she does run, leaving the onus on Masters to make his case if he gets in.
“What Kari Lake voter is he going to convince to vote for him instead? Lake and Blake were a team last year, but in their events, Kari Lake was clearly the draw,” said Arizona-based GOP strategist Barrett Marson. “I’m just not sure how Blake differentiates himself from Kari Lake in a meaningful way.”
Brian Seitchik, another GOP strategist based in Arizona, said Masters will need to “aggressively” pull voters from Lake if they’re competing.
Part of the difficulty, Marson argued, is that both candidates “are so well-defined already.” He floated the possibility that Masters will run on the supposition that Lake doesn’t ultimately launch a bid.
But Ferguson suggested that being well-defined could end up being a detriment to Lake, “because it’s different this time, because she’s not brand-new.” Lake’s continued claims of election fraud may have tired some voters and alienated some in the donor class, she said.
“Now you’ll have, potentially, two previously Trump-endorsed candidates going into this cycle — but two candidates that took very different approaches post-election,” said Ferguson, referencing the fraud claims. Masters raised concerns about the 2020 election, but conceded his race to Kelly.
Ferguson cautioned that Masters shouldn’t “fall victim to wanting to out-Trump Kari Lake,” but said she sees a “potential path to victory” for him if he broadens his appeal, rather than leaning to the right.
Given the unique electoral landscape of Arizona, where the largest group of voters in the state is unaffiliated with either major party, primary contenders will likely need votes from the middle to win.
Thiel gave millions to Masters’s midterm campaign, but Reuters reported in April that the megadonor was planning to take a step back from supporting political candidates in 2024. Strategists predict Lake, who is outspoken in her support of the former president, is the more likely of the two to get a potential Trump endorsement.
Seitchik said that Lamb, who is already in the race, becomes “an asterisk in this race” if both Lake and Masters get in.
“This will just further suck any further oxygen out of his campaign. If he chooses to stay in the race, I’m not quite sure where his support comes from,” Seitchik said of Lamb.
Marson, though, argued the sheriff has “a much better lane” to victory because he boasts a strong message on immigration and law enforcement that could appeal to Arizona Republicans, and because he “hasn’t bought into the election denialism.”
A Lake-Masters-Lamb primary could prove a headache for the party. Though many think Lake would be the front-runner, some Republicans worry the controversial Trump-aligned candidate could cost them the Senate come the general election.
This potential outcome isn’t lost on Democrats, who are cheering on the possibility of a brutal GOP primary.
“The Arizona Senate race is rapidly becoming the GOP’s worst nightmare,” Arizona Democratic Party senior communications adviser Olivia Taylor-Puckett said in a statement.
But no matter who gets in the GOP race, the party’s nominee will head into a critical general election that could include both the independent incumbent and a Democratic nominee for a three-way showdown.
“You can’t count Sinema out,” Ferguson said. “This kind of unknown about having a legitimate third-party candidate running for a statewide office for U.S. Senate, at least in Arizona, but I’m pretty sure most states, is completely unheard of.”
The nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report rates Sinema’s seat as one of just three “toss up” states not leaning to either side.
A Noble Predictive Insights poll taken in July found Gallego leading Sinema and Lake in a hypothetical three-way contest — 34 percent for the Democrat, 26 percent for the independent and 25 percent for the Republican.
In a Gallego-Sinema-Masters matchup, the Democrat led with 32 percent, followed by the independent with 28 percent and the Republican with 24 percent.
With Lamb as the GOP candidate, Gallego earned 33 percent, and Sinema and Lamb were statistically tied at 24 and 25 percent.
Seitchik noted that Democrats will be defending seats in Ohio, Montana and West Virginia in 2024, but said states like Arizona will also be key to defending their slim majority — and they will be heavily sought after by Republicans looking to take control.
“The United States Senate is up for grabs,” Seitchik said, adding that the possible three-way race will be “notably unpredictable.”