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Three states’ Senate primaries will fill gaps in fall landscape

Arizona and Washington voters are picking challengers to Democrats Mark Kelly and Patty Murray, while Missouri sets matchups for open seat

Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters is in a competitive primary in Arizona.
Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters is in a competitive primary in Arizona. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Voters in three states will pick Senate nominees Tuesday, with Missourians setting the general election contest to fill the seat being vacated by the pending retirement of a fixture in Missouri and Capitol Hill politics. In Arizona and Washington state, all eyes will be on who makes it to the November ballot to challenge incumbent Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly and Patty Murray.

National Republicans have made no secret of fears that the contentious GOP primary to replace retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt could jeopardize their chances in November, especially if scandal-plagued former Gov. Eric Greitens wins the nomination. 

Those fears have receded in recent weeks, thanks in part to a relentless media attack funded by outside groups, and former President Donald Trump has declined to make an endorsement after hinting that he favors Greitens. 

A series of recent polls has shown state Attorney General Eric Schmitt taking the lead over Greitens. Schmitt said last week that he would join an effort on the far right opposing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a position that Greitens took early in the campaign. 

Schmitt is the fundraising leader, with $3.6 million in receipts and $1 million left in the bank as of July 13. He also had $7.7 million in outside support, including $4.8 million from the libertarian Americans for Prosperity Action, founded by the Koch brothers, and $2.5 million from Save Missouri Values, which also spent $74,000 opposing Greitens. 

That group is funded in part by Missouri GOP megadonor Rex Sinquefield, who is also helping to bankroll the Show Me Values PAC, which spent almost $8 million opposing Greitens, much of it on ads highlighting his ex-wife’s domestic abuse allegations. 

Rep. Vicky Hartzler has run on her experience representing the heavily rural 4th District, which is also home to two military bases. She closely trailed Schmitt’s fundraising, with $3.5 million in receipts. But she also faced more than $2 million in spending against her by Save Missouri Values, and she was dealt a blow in July when Trump announced that he would not recommend voting for her. 

Rep. Billy Long raised $2 million, but he has struggled to stand out in the crowded field. St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey, who is also among the 21 candidates on the ballot, attracted early attention after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for waving a gun at Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020, but he has not been considered a contender in the race. 

On the Democratic side, the 11-candidate race has narrowed to a contest between populist veteran Lucas Kunce and Anheuser-Busch beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine. 

Kunce has raised $4.7 million, more than half of it from donors giving less than $200, while Valentine has funded most of her $3.5 million campaign with her own money. The SuperPAC Missouri Voices Action Fund has spent $100,000 opposing her campaign, and she has attracted criticism from liberal groups for not taking a forceful enough position against Republican attempts to influence how race and gender identity is taught in schools. 

The primary winners from both parties will appear on the November ballot with former Jan. 6 committee investigator John Wood, a former Republican running as an independent with support from former GOP Sen. John Danforth. The race in November is rated Solid Republican. 

Battle to be Kelly opponent

In the Republican race to take on Kelly, D-Ariz., in November, Blake Masters is banking on Trump’s endorsement and the outside support from his former boss, venture capitalist Peter Thiel, to help propel him to victory on Tuesday.

Masters is a 35-year-old firebrand candidate who says he would align himself with incumbent Republican senators like Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

With early voting underway for almost a month, the most recent polling has shown Masters ahead of his closest rival, self-funding businessman Jim Lamon, as well as state Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

Lamon previously told CQ Roll Call in an interview that his campaign expected as much as 80 percent of the vote to come through mail-in ballots.

Lamon has lent his campaign $14 million and said he would continue to invest more of his own money. Masters, who has raised more than $4 million so far this year but had limited cash left for the primary, is backed by Thiel’s Saving Arizona super PAC, to which Thiel has contributed about $16 million.

Brnovich, who has a strong name ID and holds statewide elected office, has been in a rather distant third.

Murray may face veterans advocate

Murray, in seeking a sixth term, is expected to have no problem in her state’s all-party primary among a field of 18 candidates, from which the top two finishers will face off in November. Republicans are feeling good about her expected opponent, Tiffany Smiley, a political novice and veterans advocate whose husband lost his sight serving in the Army in Iraq. 

Anticipating a possibly competitive race in the event of a red wave in November, Murray’s campaign has already been running ads. Women Vote, the super PAC of EMILY’s List, which supports Democratic women who support abortion rights, has been the biggest outside spender to date, investing $1.3 million to boost Murray, FEC disclosures show.

Murray’s campaign had $6.7 million on hand as of July 13, while Smiley’s campaign reported $2.3 million. In a sign of what’s to come, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is planning an ad buy to begin right after Tuesday’s primaries, NBC News reported.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Democratic.

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