A super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has canceled nearly $10 million it had reserved for television ads in Arizona, an official with the group said Tuesday, pulling out of a battleground state where Republican challenger Blake Masters trails Sen. Mark Kelly (D) in the polls.
The spending cuts — which slash all of the super PAC’s remaining ad investments in Arizona — are another blow to a GOP candidate who has been significantly outraised by his Democratic opponent and outmatched on the airwaves. The super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), also cut $8 million in Senate ads in Arizona last month, delaying its entry into the race to October — and stoking some GOP alarm in a state long seen as a top Republican pickup opportunity.
Steven Law, president of the SLF, said in a statement that the super PAC is canceling the remaining ads because “Republican outside forces” are “showing up” in the state “with millions in new spending pledged to take down Mark Kelly in the final stretch.” The spending by those outside groups is about $7.5 million, compared with the $9.6 million the SLF had planned, according to the group.
Law said the spending from those other groups means the SLF can “pursue offensive opportunities” and “concentrate our efforts” to flip the evenly divided Senate. “We remain optimistic that the issue environment is in our favor, we have multiple pathways to obtain the majority, and we are spending heavily and strategically to achieve that goal,” he said.
Masters, a venture capitalist and first-time candidate, has consistently trailed Kelly, a former astronaut with a massive campaign war chest. Recent Senate race polling in swing states such as Georgia and Nevada has suggested closer races there.
But the SLF has yet to pull out of New Hampshire, where the GOP nominee, Don Bolduc, is polling well behind Democratic incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan. This week, the SLF spent more than $3 million in Georgia, $2.4 million in New Hampshire and about $2 million in Nevada.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report still rates Arizona a “toss-up” along with Georgia and Nevada, while the New Hampshire race leans Democratic.
Axios first reported the new ad cancellations. Masters’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
McConnell and Masters’s former boss and political benefactor, Peter Thiel, have clashed over who should bankroll Masters in the general election. Thiel spent $15 million boosting Masters in the primary but has declined to invest further. Before the SLF canceled some of its ads last month, McConnell urged Thiel to “come in, in a big way, in Arizona,” according to a person who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the conversation, and Law expressed pessimism about the viability of Masters’s campaign.
Law at the time publicly cited an “unexpected expense in Ohio,” where the SLF had just announced it was spending an additional $28 million. GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance — another candidate whom Thiel bankrolled in the primary — had struggled to match his Democratic opponent on the airwaves.
McConnell attended a Washington fundraiser for Masters this month and will join him for another one Wednesday, Punchbowl News first reported.
Jon Seaton, a GOP strategist who works on Arizona races, said he expects the race to tighten and pushed back on the idea that the SLF’s move represents a Republican “white flag.”
“I don’t think Arizona is the kind of state that lends itself to blowouts anymore,” he said.
But other Republicans have expressed mounting pessimism about Masters’s chances without significant additional spending.
One GOP campaign consultant said Republicans in Arizona have always viewed the Senate race as a tougher fight than other statewide races. No matter who emerged from the GOP primary, “you still run up against the same dynamic — you run against Mark Kelly, a political unicorn in a lot of ways,” said the consultant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment. But the lopsided ad spending has made things worse in a contest “that should be, under normal circumstances, a competitive race,” he said.
People familiar with Masters’s campaign have said he has been working strenuously to fundraise since Arizona’s Aug. 2 primary — an expensive battle primarily between Masters, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Jim Lamon, a businessman who spent $14 million of his own money on the race.
Masters spends at least several hours each day calling donors and will report his best fundraising quarter to date soon, one person said this month, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share non-public funding information; he’s expected to raise at least several million dollars. But Republicans acknowledge that Masters will never be able to match Kelly, who had raised more than $50 million by July, including some $33 million from donations $200 and under.
Saving Arizona PAC, which boosted Masters during the primary with funding from Thiel, recently booked more than $1.5 million in ads supporting Masters. But Thiel did not bankroll those new reservations.
Kelly’s campaign and Democratic groups spent three times more than the Republican side on TV and radio ads in August, AdImpact’s data shows. Mail ballots go out Oct. 12, making the coming weeks critical.
Many Democratic ads have attacked Masters for his past comments on abortion that he has sought to back off, and GOP strategists in Arizona have noted a striking gender gap in Masters’ support.
Masters changed his campaign website after the primary to specify that a national abortion ban should target third-trimester procedures and “partial-birth” abortions. Last week, he also backed a proposal to ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.