The Republicans’ chances of beating Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona are fading, a sign of the broader struggle the party has been experiencing lately as it battles to regain the majority in the Senate, according to a prominent political handicapper .
On Thursday, Cook’s political report with Amy Walter moved the Arizona race from its “throwing” category to “leaning Democratic,” signaling that Kelly now has the edge over Republican candidate Blake Masters.
In explaining the ratings change, the Senate editor of Cook Political Report Jessica Taylor notes that Kelly crushed Masters in fundraising — and that resulted in a massive advantage in TV ad spend. “The Democratic and Kelly groups spent or earmarked nearly $65 million during the general election period, compared to nearly $16.2 million for the GOP groups and the Masters,” she wrote. (Taylor adds that the Masters campaign isn’t running any ads this week.)
Masters’ past controversial statements – he has praised the Unabombersuggested that the January 6 attack was a false flag operation, speculated that the United States should not have been involved in World War I or World War II, and so on. – also appear to have done real damage to voters.
“In conversations with several Republicans both in-state or on the Senate general battleground, Arizona lowered its list of reversible states, with many even seeing Pennsylvania – a note we changed this month. last but where Democrat John Fetterman faced an onslaught of crime ads and lingering questions about his health — like more likely to stay in the GOP column than win Arizona,” Taylor concludes.
Arizona’s new rating is notable because at the start of the 2022 election cycle, the race, along with Georgia, was seen by many as the likeliest pickup opportunity for Republicans. The state had long been a Republican stronghold, although Democrats recently made gains with Joe Biden carrying it in 2020 and Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema winning in 2018.
But the problems faced by Masters — and the Arizona GOP more generally — are indicative of how Donald Trump (and Trumpism) have rattled the party and made it more vulnerable in the general election.
The Masters emerged from a crowded primary in August thanks in large part to Trump’s endorsement. “Blake knows the ‘Crime of the Century’ happened, he will expose it and never let it happen again,” Trump said in announcing his choice. Masters responded by calling Trump “a great man and a visionary.”
However, once Masters won the nomination, he immediately started trying to clean up – literally – some of his past positions. Previous language about abortion restrictions disappeared from its website. Ditto his point of view on electoral negationism. By way of explanation, the Masters campaign said the candidate himself updates the politics section of his website and views it as a “living document” as opposed to a static set of beliefs.
Masters isn’t the only one struggling to adapt to the various challenges of the general election. In Pennsylvania, Republican Mehmet Oz fell behind Fetterman in the race for the state’s open-seat Senate. And in Ohio, Republican JD Vance finds himself in a surprisingly close competition with Democrat Tim Ryan in the race to replace retired GOP Senator Rob Portman.
All three Republicans find themselves caught in the horns of the dilemma currently facing the GOP. To win their primaries, they had to embrace Trump and the often extreme positions of the Republican base. (All three won the former president’s endorsement.) But now, as candidates for their party, those same policies are decidedly damaging to their chances of winning a general election.
And that awkward dance jeopardizes Republicans’ chances at what once seemed like a near certainty: winning a Senate majority this fall.