Arizona Republican Blake Masters, who earned Donald Trump’s endorsement for the Senate race by embracing the former President’s lies that he won the 2020 election, has turned to questioning whether the 2022 midterm election will be legitimate, as he tries to lock up support among the party faithful ahead of next month’s primary.
That the first-time candidate is escalating doubts about the election system in Arizona – home to a months-long partisan review of 2020 ballots – is a sign of just how resonant some Republicans continue to believe those lies are with their base, even if similar pitches from Trump-backed candidates failed in Georgia, for example, earlier this year.
But the election denialism that has become a powerful force in Arizona GOP primaries since Joe Biden narrowly won the state in 2020 has also raised questions about whether a GOP nominee who says Trump won in 2020 can carry a purple state that’s crucial to Republicans’ hopes of winning Senate control.
Trump’s early June endorsement was a turning point in Masters’ campaign against businessman Jim Lamon, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and retired Arizona National Guard Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire for the right to take on well-funded Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in November.
But Lamon, who’s largely self-funding his campaign, also has ties to election denialism – touting his efforts to help fund the controversial, partisan audit of the vote in Maricopa County, which failed to prove fraud in the 2020 election. Hitting Masters on immigration and his ties to billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel, Lamon is widely seen as the biggest threat to Masters for the nomination.
Masters, trying to mobilize primary voters ahead of August 2, escalated his efforts to sow doubt about US elections late last month, posing questions about whether the cheating he claimed happened in 2020 will happen in 2022.
“Whatever their cheating capacity is, I’m pretty sure they pulled out all the stops,” Masters said of the last election, speaking to a room full of potential supporters at June 30 campaign event in Cave Creek, Arizona, according to a video posted on the sharing platform Rumble. “And the question is, will that happen again?”
“I remember when President Trump called to endorse me he said, ‘Blake, you’re great, you’re going to be a star, you’re going to win, you’re going to beat Mark Kelly – if you can get a fair election,’” Masters said. He went on to say that his father urged him not to run, asserting that even if he won by 30,000 votes, “they’ll find 40,000 for Mark Kelly,” to which he said he replied, “I think there’s always cheating, probably, in every election. The question is what’s the cheating capacity.”
C. Murphy Hebert, spokeswoman for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat running for governor, said, “Arizona voters can expect secure and accurate elections.” Hebert added, “Statements like this are completely unfounded and are clearly meant to create chaos and doubt to undermine faith in the election processes.”
Masters’ campaign declined requests for comment.
Trump’s belief that the 2020 election was stolen from him has loomed especially large in the Grand Canyon state, and it’s driving a rift between Trump’s strongest supporters and the rest of the party. Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence, for example, will hold dueling events on Friday for two different Arizona gubernatorial candidates, former local TV news anchor Kari Lake, who echoes the former President’s lies about the election being stolen from him, and Karrin Taylor Robson, who does not. Masters will be at the Trump rally.
Paul Bentz, a veteran Phoenix-based pollster who is unaffiliated with any of the Senate campaigns, said that Masters – who is supported by Thiel, his mentor and former boss, as well as the conservative Club for Growth – is leading the primary because of Trump’s backing. “He’s seen an immediate bump,” Bentz said.
Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to flip the Senate in November, and they’ve made Kelly a top target. But Bentz said the election denialism that both Masters and Lamon have embraced in the primary could hurt them in the general election.
“A vast majority of the unaffiliated and independent voters do not believe that there is significant fraud that impacted the outcome of the election,” Bentz said. “Masters, and others who go down this election fraud route, will struggle to obtain support from those audiences in the general election.”
“It’s not a winning general election strategy,” he added.
The race to August 2
Masters – who has also floated the conspiracy theory that the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol actually may have been a false-flag operation set up by the FBI – is part of a growing chorus of Trump-endorsed Senate Republican candidates who are raising fears about the security of the 2022 election.
Last week, Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson told CNN that rules regarding absentee ballots needed to be stricter after they were “relaxed” in 2020 due to the pandemic, bemoaned Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s massive donations to a nonprofit benefiting local election officials, and said he’d like to see changes to how Milwaukee counted its votes in order to restore confidence in the US election system. Asked whether he would be confident in the results of his own election this fall, Johnson said, “We’ll see what kind of controls we have in place.”
And last year, Nevada GOP candidate Adam Laxalt, who won the nomination in June, preemptively floated launching legal challenges in a talk radio interview.
But election conspiracy theories have particularly proliferated in Arizona, where Biden beat Trump by only 10,457 votes out of more than 3.3 million cast. Trump’s 2020 vengeances helped shape the Arizona Senate race early on when he repeatedly attacked Brnovich, widely regarded as the primary race’s early frontrunner because he holds statewide office, for certifying his loss against Biden. Brandon Urness, Brnovich’s campaign manager, said that Brnovich “is one of the leading Attorneys General in the country on issues of election integrity,” in response to Trump’s endorsement of Masters.
Lamon, a major donor to a voter registration group affiliated with election fraud conspiracy theorists, was also part of a small group that signed a document falsely claiming authority to cast Arizona’s electoral votes for Trump in December 2020.
After launching his Senate campaign, Masters initially sidestepped the former President’s bogus claims about the past election. A year ago, Masters told CNN that “it’s really hard to know” whether Trump won. In November, Masters went further, saying in a campaign video, “I think Trump won in 2020.” In his statement endorsing Masters, Trump wrote, “Blake knows that the ‘Crime of the Century’ took place, he will expose it and also, never let it happen again.”
Barrett Marson, an Arizona Republican political consultant who previously worked for Masters, said there is a “significant group of voters” who “definitely believe 2020 was stolen from Donald Trump” – and for them, “talking about 2020 resonates.”