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Trump visit, debate put focus on GOP Senate race in Arizona

Primary on Aug. 2 will pick challenger to Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly

Republican Senate candidate Jim Lamon speaks during his town hall event at the Combs Performing Art Center in San Tan Valley, Ariz., on July 7.
Republican Senate candidate Jim Lamon speaks during his town hall event at the Combs Performing Art Center in San Tan Valley, Ariz., on July 7. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. — With a televised Senate debate scheduled for Wednesday night, and an appearance by former President Donald Trump set for Saturday, Arizona will be the center of attention ahead of the state’s Aug. 2 primaries.

The venue for Trump’s rally with his endorsed slate led by gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Senate candidate Blake Masters is in the very conservative Yavapai County, where at a recent GOP women’s luncheon it was hard to find local candidates willing to say thought Trump actually lost the state in 2020, even though the results show he did.

Masters and businessman Jim Lamon have appeared to pull away from state Attorney General Mark Brnovich in what recent polling there is available.

Lamon said in an interview he thinks Arizona GOP voters are “not looking for somebody who’s a puppet for big tech, you know — globalist guy,” referring to Masters, who’s received massive financial backing from tech billionaire Peter Thiel, for whom he previously worked.

“People see through things out here that maybe others might not. This is a freedom-loving state. They see what’s going on, that Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member since 2005, only resigned a few weeks ago, is putting $16 million into this race from California. That’s not going over well here,” Lamon said.

He also said Trump’s endorsement of Masters was “the wrong decision, but again, that’s his prerogative. The folks in Arizona though, they’ll make a big endorsement on Aug. 2.”

Much of the election will be conducted through mail-in ballots and those placed in drop boxes, despite failed efforts by the Arizona Republican Party to get the system thrown out.

A Yavapai County ballot drop box stands in the parking lot of the Prescott Valley Civic Center in Prescott Valley, Ariz., on the first day of early voting for the primary election. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“Our modeling shows that something like 70-to-80 percent will be mail-in,” Lamon said in the interview, conducted last week on the second day of the early voting period. “The numbers, they start really climbing about mid-month, crescendo of course the last day, last two days.”

Lamon has been aggressively courting early voters, and his major events have drawn crowds in the hundreds, perhaps in part because he likes to bring guests popular with the conservative movement, like Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb.

At a town hall-style meeting in San Tan Valley last week, Lamon and Lamb took questions from a moderator on topics that Republicans hope will drive the general election against Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., in November, including crime and border security. While he fielded questions at the town hall with Lamon, Lamb made clear at the event that he did not make endorsements in political races.

The Lamon town hall format was more organized than the freewheeling discussion Masters had at a town hall the night before in Williams, which is in northern Arizona.

Masters was touting his Trump endorsement before a friendly crowd, telling them exactly what he liked so much about the former president, also saying that current Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was “too nice” during the 2012 presidential campaign against Barack Obama.

“He was terrified of being called a racist and Trump — Trump’s not a racist, Mitt Romney‘s not racist — but you know what the difference is: Trump didn’t care what you called him in 2016. He was willing to go out and speak in plain terms, right, like the Iraq war was a mistake. Oops,” Masters said July 6. “God bless our men and women in uniform, who will do whatever they’re told, they will go and fight and die for this country. It wasn’t their fault. It was the botched intelligence, it was the George Bush war machine.”

Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters speaks during his town hall event at Miss Kitty’s Steak House in Williams, Ariz., on July 6. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Those remarks came as The New York Times was reporting on commentaries posted by a young Masters in a Crossfit chat room espousing a libertarian view skeptical of U.S. involvement in World Wars I and II.

The third contender in the race, Brnovich, has been balancing the campaign trail with his official duties, attending Fourth of July parades in both Prescott and Show Low. He’s also been a fixture on Fox News Channel and other conservative media outlets.

“This is the largest invasion of the southwest border since the Alamo,” Brnovich said Tuesday on Fox News Channel discussing Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s visit to the White House. He called President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris the “root causes” of migration, a reference to the way in which the White House describes the vice president’s role in immigration policy.

Wednesday evening’s debate, which is being hosted by the conservative outlet Newsmax, is scheduled to feature Lamon, Masters and Mick McGuire, a retired Air Force major general, but Brnovich was not listed by the television network.

While results may not be known for a while because of the mix of mail-in and in-person voting, the candidate who emerges after Aug. 2 will face Kelly, who is seeking election to his first full term, after winning a 2020 special election to unseat appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally. The race is rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, though as always, the rating may be reassessed after the primary.

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