The news that Blake Masters is preparing to run for the seat held by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) in Arizona was unexpected in some Republican circles as most of the speculation has swirled around Kari Lake, who continues to tease a potential Senate run this fall.
Masters, who ran for Senate, and Lake, who ran for governor, last cycle both won their primaries with former President Donald Trump’s endorsement but lost in the general election. Now, the possibility of them running head-to-head in a GOP primary has added a new wrinkle in what is already expected to be an ugly fight in a battleground state.
Masters’s decision to run again was reported by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
Lake, a polarizing conservative who has never conceded her gubernatorial loss in 2022, has been coy on whether she’s gearing up for a Senate launch. The former TV news anchor continues to be a vocal Trump supporter who promotes the former president’s unfounded claims of a stolen election.
Over the last couple of months, the race has been at a standstill. The only Republican in the race so far, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, announced his candidacy in April but is at this point considered an underdog as he has yet to gain momentum and raise significant money.
Sinema has not yet said if she is running for a second term after leaving the Democratic Party late last year and becoming an independent. Gallego, the likely Democratic nominee who announced his run in January, meanwhile, is campaigning actively, holding multiple monthly town halls across the state.
“I think a lot of people were under the impression that if Kari Lake runs, Blake would stay out,” said Barrett Marson, an Arizona-based GOP strategist, in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
During the last cycle, Lake and Masters often hit the trail together as a “unity ticket” and were promoting each other on social media. In the last couple weeks of the general election, Masters frequently appeared as an opening act for Lake at campaign rallies. Now, Lake and Blake could very well find themselves in a Lake versus Blake primary.
“They ran as a team, so having them on opposite sides this cycle, that would be very interesting,” Marson said. “In a primary like this, Kari Lake knows how to energize the base and Blake just cannot match that. His only hope is he may know something that we don’t — he may know that she is not running.”
It’s possible Lake may have known about Masters’s plans last week and fired the first shot in what could be a fierce matchup. On Aug. 25, Masters announced he’d be on a livestream with Arizona House candidate Andrew Jackson, who has not endorsed Lake’s election fraud conspiracy theories.
In response, the Kari Lake War Room account on X, formerly known as Twitter, posted: “It’s great to have you back, Blake. We hope your next interview is with someone who has not spent the last 9 months smearing Kari.”
Lake later weighed in on her personal X account, scolding Masters: “I hope you bring up election fraud, and Election crime. You’ve been silent.”
While many expect Lake to be the favorite for the nomination if she decides to run, her narrow loss in 2022 leaves uncertainty about her ability to win a general election. Chuck Coughlin, an Arizona-based Republican strategist, believes Masters could win a general election in the state, if he can get through Lake first.
“It’s not easy, it’s going to be hard,” Coughlin explained. “But, I believe he, of anyone on that side and the way he concluded the race and you know, gracefully exiting the race and not insisting on fraud and not following that narrative, which is a losing narrative, that he’s created a space for himself, that is capable of growing that Republican base.”
“That’s the problem with a Lake candidacy — from the minute she got done with the last election, she’s done nothing to expand her voter universe,” he added. “The rule in Arizona in order to win a statewide election, you have to win unaffiliated voters.”
Independent voters in Arizona continue to outpace those affiliated with the Republican and Democratic parties. According to a quarterly report released by Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes in July, of the nearly 4.2 million registered voters in the state, 1.5 million have no party affiliation. In comparison, the state has 1.4 million registered Republicans and 1.3 million registered Democrats.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in May indicated Republicans are still assessing the Arizona Senate race and voiced some hesitation about whether the GOP wants to invest resources. In an interview with CNN in May, he emphasized that Republicans will likely wait to see what happens in the primary before they decide to engage.
Masters has not been enthusiastically received by establishment Republicans. Last cycle, the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund canceled $9.6 million in television ads in the Arizona Senate race, and he later said “candidate quality” problems were to blame for the party’s losses in the midterm elections, specifically citing the race in Arizona.
Following Masters’s election loss, he said he could have won the race if McConnell had put more money into the state during an appearance on Fox News.
“The people who control the purse strings, Senate Leadership Fund, Mitch McConnell — McConnell decided to spend millions of dollars attacking a fellow Republican in Alaska instead of helping me defeat Sen. Mark Kelly,” Masters said weeks after the election.
“Had he chosen to spend money in Arizona, this race would be over [and] we’d be celebrating a Senate majority right now,” he claimed.
According to Republican sources familiar with Masters’s campaign, it was only this week that he informed the National Republican Senatorial Committee of his intention to run for Senate.
“He hasn’t had a good relationship with the establishment wing of the party, so I don’t think he felt any obligation to tell them anytime before now,” said an Arizona Republican political strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity. “He didn’t run a great race last time, he was really an underwhelming candidate, and he won the primary only because he was Trump-endorsed and aligned with Kari Lake.”
“He probably has some residual support from the last race, but this idea that he is going to be a white knight to come in and save the ticket,” the operative added, “I don’t know that there’s going to be a massive upswell of support for Blake Masters from the donor community right now.”
Arizona, once a Republican stronghold, has become a major battleground in the years since Sinema was elected to the Senate in 2018. In 2020, President Joe Biden’s victory in the state over Trump helped him secure the White House. In December 2020, Arizona had two Democratic senators for the first time since 1952 after Mark Kelly was sworn in. In 2022, four Republicans running for major statewide offices lost. It was the first time Democrats held all major statewide positions since 1950.
“I think this primary is pretty unsettled, this isn’t a slam dunk for any of these candidates,” the Arizona Republican political strategist said.
Masters did not respond to a request for comment, but those familiar with his plans expect an official announcement could come as early as next week.