By JONATHAN J. COOPER and JILL COLVIN, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — Donald Trump backed investor Blake Masters in Arizona’s crowded Republican Senate primary on Thursday, citing the candidate’s vocal support for Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
The former president said in a statement that Masters is a “great modern thinker” and that Masters’ main rival, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, has done nothing to stop the voter fraud that Trump falsely claims caused him a second tenure cost.
Republicans are hoping the winner of the Aug. 2 primary can unseat Sen. Mark Kelly, who faces no major opposition for the Democratic nomination, and take control of the Senate in one of November’s most competitive races to the GOP can return.
Trump’s support could shake up a primary campaign that has no clear front-runner and is largely characterized by jostling for Trump’s support. Despite his re-election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, Trump remains popular with his party’s core supporters.
In selecting Masters, Trump sided with another acolyte of tech investor Peter Thiel after Trump’s endorsement helped Hillbilly Elegy author JD Vance secure the Ohio GOP nomination last month.
The 35-year-old Masters has been a harsh critic of the tech industry in which he built his career and has voiced the cultural grievances that animate GOP grassroots voters. He called for a reduction in legal immigration and espoused the baseless “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, claiming that Democrats were trying to “replace Americans who were born here.”
He said “I think Trump won 2020” and claims election officials, the media and big tech companies “conspired to rig the 2020 election.”
Masters, who grew up in Tucson and relocated to southern Arizona in 2018, was until recently an executive for Thiel’s investment firm and foundation. Masters is running for political office for the first time.
He gained notoriety in some circles for his detailed notes on a class Thiel taught at Stanford University. The two worked on the book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future in 2014 and Masters went to Thiel. He rose to become the Chief Operating Officer of Thiel Capital and President of the Thiel Foundation.
Trump, who has long played up the power of his endorsements and held up his record as a measure of his enduring influence in the Republican Party, has been hurt by a string of early primary election losses in recent weeks.
Last month, Georgia voters dismissed Trump’s efforts to punish the Republican governor and secretary of state, both of whom dismissed Trump’s extraordinary efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s chosen candidates lost in Nebraska, Idaho and North Carolina. In Pennsylvania, the Senate primary pitting Trump-backed famed heart surgeon Mehmet Oz against former hedge fund CEO David McCormick is in the middle of a recount.
But the former president has some big wins, notably in Ohio last month, where Vance rose in the polls following Trump’s endorsement in the Senate race.
Trump is anticipating the next round of major primaries to counter the perception that his hold on the Republican Party is waning as he lays the groundwork for a presidential nomination in 2024.
In addition to the Arizona Senate race, Trump is targeting Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a chief critic of Trump who voted to impeach him and is the top Republican on the House committee that approved the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol examined. Trump held a rally in the state last weekend to bolster Cheney’s main challenger, Harriet Hageman, who is currently well ahead in the polls.
Trump had long been expected to endorse Masters. Masters, like Vance, is a Thiel protégé whose campaign has garnered millions in backing from the tech billionaire who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook. Many had expected Trump to make his support official after Vance’s win.
“Even though Blake has such an amazing business career and a wonderful family, he has decided that he wants to make a difference for the people of our country,” Trump said in a statement endorsing Masters.
He said Masters will campaign heavily on border security and gun rights, cut taxes and regulations, and support the military.
In response, Masters said in a statement, “I wish everyone could know how that feels.” He said that “soon we will have a young, fearless, dynamic America First coalition in the US Senate.”
As in most hard-fought Republican primaries, Trump’s Arizona confirmation is a prize that has been intensely positioned by most candidates. Several, including Masters, made multiple trips to Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, seeking the favor of the former president’s advisers. Last summer, to get Trump’s attention, businessman Jim Lamon aired an ad on Fox News in the New York-New Jersey market while Trump was at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Trump in April ruled out supporting Brnovich, who launched a criminal investigation into the 2020 election in Arizona’s largest county, following allegations of fraud by Trump and his allies based on conspiracy theories and misleading data. Brnovich has trumpeted some of the allegations, claiming they raise questions about this election, but he hasn’t delivered what Trump wanted most: indictments against poll workers.
Trump again attacked Brnovich in his statement endorsing Masters, repeating the untruth that the Arizona election was “rigged and stolen.”
Brnovich defended his record from the 2020 election in a statement, responding to Trump’s endorsement and noting his ongoing investigation into allegations of fraud. Lamon doubled down on the attack on Masters, which he called “a wholly owned subsidiary of a Big Tech, California billionaire.”
Trump has made it a habit to announce his endorsements just days or weeks before major races. That can add to the drama, but it also gives the campaigns he supports little time to make his endorsements known. Trump has noted in the days following the Pennsylvania primary that his endorsement of Oz came “very late, many days AFTER early voting began,” suggesting he may have recognized these implications of his timing.
Former Arizona National Guard aide Gen. Mick McGuire and state supply regulator Justin Olson are also running for the Senate nomination.
Kelly is a retired astronaut who rose to state prominence when his wife, then-US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was shot and seriously injured at a 2011 inaugural event in Tucson. Kelly was elected last year to complete the last two years of the late GOP Sen. John McCain’s term and is now seeking a full six-year term.
Once a GOP stronghold, Arizona has become a battleground thanks to a growing Latino population, an influx of more moderate newcomers, and Republican struggles with suburban women during the Trump presidency.
The race will serve as a test of how sustainable these democratic achievements will be. Polls show Biden’s approval rating is teetering and voters are frustrated by steep inflation and soaring gas prices.
The Club for Growth, a powerful spending group that has clashed with Trump in recent weeks and has spent millions supporting rivals of several of his chosen candidates, praised Trump’s decision in Arizona.
The organization’s president, David McIntosh, said that when the group and Trump work together, “true conservatives win, and that’s what’s going to happen in Arizona.”
Colvin reported from New York.
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