Blake Masters, a Big Lie enthusiast who ran arguably the worst Senate campaign of 2022 in a cycle chock-full of terrible Republican candidates, announced Thursday that he'd run to succeed retiring Rep. Debbie Lesko in Arizona's 8th District.
Multiple media publications reported in late August that Masters planned to campaign for Arizona's other Senate seat, but he put all that on hold after Donald Trump made it clear he'd be back one of Blake's fellow Arizona losers, Kari Lake, instead. Masters' calculations shifted further last week after Lesko unexpectedly announced that she wouldn't seek reelection in the reliably red 8th in Phoenix's western suburbs.
But Masters will face yet another high-profile 2022 failure on his road to the GOP nomination. Abe Hamadeh, a fellow election denier who narrowly lost last year's general election for attorney general, launched his own campaign to replace Lesko hours after she called it quits, and he was quick to portray his former ticketmate as an outsider.
"It is sad to see the establishment tricking @bgmasters into driving up all the way from Tucson and getting in the race," Hamadeh said in a tweet that included a photo of Masters campaigning alongside Mike Pence last year.Campaign Action
Masters does indeed live 100 miles away in southern Arizona, though Hamadeh also resides outside the 8th, making his home in GOP Rep. David Schweikert's neighboring 1st District. Lesko herself is supporting state House Speaker Ben Toma, who is one of her constituents, though he hasn't actually announced he's running yet. Lake, for her part, is backing Hamadeh.
A pair of polls surfaced the day before Masters launched his new effort, but they disagree who has the edge in the August primary. A Data Orbital survey sponsored by Masters showed him beating Hamadeh 33-18, with Toma at just 7%. But National Public Affairs, a Republican firm that says it commissioned its own survey, has Hamadeh defeating Masters 31-24 as Toma grabs 11%.
Masters won the GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly last year after receiving Trump's endorsement and benefiting from heavy spending by his old boss and mentor, Peter Thiel. Reuters, though, reported back in April that Thiel doesn't plan to contribute to any candidates this cycle, a development that could spell trouble for his one-time protégé. (It's not clear, though, whether Thiel was ruling out redeploying his super PAC.) But the Club for Growth may come to Masters' aid, as Politico reported last week that it was encouraging him to run following Lesko's surprise announcement.
Masters ultimately lost to Kelly 51-47 statewide, though Bloomberg's Greg Giroux says the Republican carried the 8th 52-46. However, that 6-point margin was less than half of Trump's 56-43 performance, a shortfall almost certainly due to Masters' preternaturally weak campaign.
That bid was defined by poor fundraising and some truly strange gaffes. To take just one example, he called Ted Kaczynski a "subversive thinker that's underrated" before belatedly acknowledging that it's "probably not great to be talking about the Unabomber while campaigning.” Indeed, the University of Virginia’s J. Miles Coleman aptly summed him up last year when he said that Masters “comes across as a 4chan guy.” (If you're not familiar with 4chan, you're one of the lucky ones.)
However, not everyone is convinced Masters' new effort will be like his first. Time's Eric Cortellessa wrote in June that unnamed state Republicans were "impressed with Masters’ introspection" since his defeat, saying that he'd "made clear to party insiders his desire to seek public office again and has recognized a need to soften his image." It remains to be seen, though, what this type of softening entails, or if Masters will even bother to stick with it now that his top priority is winning the primary.
An exclusive focus on wooing MAGA voters could be a mistake, though: When Lesko first won office in a 2018 special election, she did so by just a 52-48 margin, and she didn't have anything like Masters' baggage. (Like, what the hell was this?) A Masters candidacy could therefore create an unlikely opening for Democrats. So far, former Defense Department official Greg Whitten is the only Democrat to report raising any money, and he's brought in just $58,000 so far, but with an open seat and a notorious opponent potentially in the offing, he'll now have the chance to prove himself.