AZ: GOP More Complicated; Dems Less

Late yesterday, we saw potential action unfolding in the Arizona Senate race, which adds even more uncertainty into this budding political contest.

For the Democrats, US Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Phoenix), who was twice elected Phoenix’s mayor before winning his congressional seat in 2018, stated that he will not run for US Senate next year.

A budding Stanton statewide candidacy could have led to a tough August Democratic primary race with fellow US Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix) who appears a sure bet to challenge Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Rep. Stanton’s early decision not to pursue his own Senate campaign considerably strengthens the Democratic position in this race.

Earlier in the week, defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, a former news anchor in the Phoenix television market for almost 30 years, was reported to be seriously considering a Senate bid next year. Last night, around the time that Rep. Stanton was making it known that he would not force a Senate primary, 2022 defeated GOP Senate nominee Blake Masters confirmed that he, too, is contemplating another run for the Senate.

What makes the 2024 Arizona Senate race unique is Sen. Sinema’s presence as an Independent, remembering that, in 2018, she was elected as a Democrat. As we know, two other Independents are also in the Senate, Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME), but they caucus with the Democrats and are virtual Democratic incumbents. Since leaving in December, Sen. Sinema has distanced herself from her former party, and will be a true Independent on the ballot in 2024; hence, the Arizona race becomes a wild card campaign.

Since both major parties will have their own nominee battling the Independent Sinema, and this assumes she does in fact seek re-election in 2024, the trio of Senate candidates would each have a victory path and a reasonable chance of winning the seat, mostly because the first-place finisher of a tight three-way scenario would claim victory with less than 40% of the vote.

Though polling currently looks bad for Sinema, such will likely change once the campaign starts. If she can simply convince the represented number of people who have a favorable impression of her job performance, according to various statewide polls, Sen. Sinema would have enough votes to win a tight three-way election.

Neither Ms. Lake nor Mr. Masters drew positive views of their 2022 candidacies, though the former performed much more credibly in the general election than the latter.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D) financially overwhelmed Mr. Masters ($92 million to $15 million) within their respective campaign committees. This led to a game of political “chicken” between the Senate Republican leadership and billionaire Peter Thiel, who largely financed a major primary independent expenditure, as to who would attempt to pull Masters across the political finish line. The end result was a relatively decisive 51-47% victory for the Senator.

Should both Lake and Masters decide to enter the 2024 race such would create an additional interesting dynamic in the Republican primary, and might actually produce a candidate who could win the general election. If Lake and Masters were to fairly evenly split the Trump faction of the primary vote, a third candidate, perhaps Karrin Taylor Robson, the former Arizona Board of Regents member who placed a close second in the Republican gubernatorial primary and is also reported to be considering her own Senate bid, or another could come through a split primary and give the GOP an improved chance of winning the general election.

Obviously, the accompanying presidential race will largely set the political tone for the ’24 election, which will greatly influence what happens in this Senate race and, of course, many others. With so many moving parts and a long election cycle through an August primary when we will finally see some clarity for the November election, this Arizona Senate contest will provide substantial political fodder for most of the 2024 election cycle.

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