Politics Senate candidates walk Trump tightrope as he returns to Arizona

12:42  22 july  2021
12:42  22 july  2021 Source:   rollcall.com

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  Arizona Senate liaison granted 'full access' to Maricopa audit Ken Bennett will continue to serve as Arizona Senate liaison to the Maricopa County 2020 election audit after coming to an agreement that will allow him full access while a report is put together. © Ross D. Franklin/AP FILE - In this Thursday, April 22, 2021, file photo, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett arrives at a news conference to talk about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit. (AP Photo/Ross D.

When pressed over and over again, Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona would not say on Tuesday whether she was proud of her support of President Donald Trump in her debate against Democratic opponent Mark Kelly.

He called Trump ’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel “deeply offensive” and said that treating a Gold Star family with “anything” other than “gratitude and honor” is “inappropriate.” He hasn’t attended any of Trump ’s four Keystone State events. He even characterized Trump ’s campaign as “highly problematic.” And the most recent Arizona Senate survey actually put Kirkpatrick ahead. Going forward, McCain needs to be careful. It looks as if he may be walking the Trump Tightrope too.

Former President Donald Trump will return Saturday to Arizona, where Republicans are looking to rebound after losing both of the state’s Senate seats in the past two elections.

Donald Trump et al. standing in front of a crowd: Former President Donald Trump, here campaigning in Pennsylvania in 2019, heads to a rally in Phoenix on Saturday. © Provided by Roll Call Former President Donald Trump, here campaigning in Pennsylvania in 2019, heads to a rally in Phoenix on Saturday.

Unlike candidates in other states with contested Senate GOP primaries, the top four Republicans vying to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly next year are embracing Trump’s policies but aren’t mentioning Trump by name in their early messaging. Their launch videos and websites make little to no mention of the former president, who lost the Grand Canyon State by just 10,000 votes in November.

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He is one of the Republican Party's most-prized recruits, a young U.S. Senate candidate with an outsider resume and a populist message designed to appeal equally to farmers, suburban moms and the national GOP's moneyed elite. But things get complicated when you ask Josh Hawley about "I value my independence very highly," he added. "My loyalties as a U.S. senator would be first and foremost to the people of Missouri and their needs." Hawley's cautious answers underscore a delicate political reality on the ground in Missouri, one that also is challenging other Republican candidates

He criticized Trump 's efforts to overturn the election results on January 6. But Pence and Haley aren't the only familiar Republicans from the Trump years hoping to carve out space on the 2024 campaign trail -- with varying levels of success. * Arizona Gov. In a (not exactly scientific) straw poll gauging support for potential 2024 candidates , DeSantis narrowly bested Trump for first place. The Point: Would-be challengers are awkwardly threading the needle of fealty to Trump while trying to offer themselves as a Trump alternative, all while Trump himself hits the road this weekend.

Some Republicans expect that to change as the jockeying for Trump’s endorsement picks up.

Doing that, however, requires walking a political tightrope. Candidates need to win over enough Trump supporters to secure the GOP nomination without alienating the broader coalition needed to win in November 2022. Arizona Republican strategists largely agree that the broader coalition includes disaffected Republicans who were fed up with Trump’s rhetoric.

“Trump policies did not lose Arizona,” said Stan Barnes, a GOP political consultant and former state legislator. “Trump the personality lost Arizona.”

Balancing act

Trump’s name was mostly missing from each of the four top candidates’ launch videos and campaign websites. His name briefly flashed on screen during state Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s video as part of a headline noting that Brnovich defended Trump’s immigration policies.

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  'Sore loser' Trump reaps fruits of election lies in Arizona Ex-President Donald Trump's big lie came full circle on Saturday as he traveled to Arizona to dangerously seize on the false fruits of a sham election "audit" precipitated by his own discredited claims the 2020 election was stolen. © Ross D. Franklin/AP Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a Turning Point Action gathering, Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D.

Donald Trump blasted Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) for refusing to kill the filibuster - now the roadblock to partisan Democrat bills - and complained that former allies allowed Joe Biden to steal the presidency from him . And beyond McConnell, he ripped such Republicans as former US House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator Mitt Romney (Utah) and the late John McCain ( Arizona ) for hindering his agenda while in office. Another culprit, Trump pointed out, was the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the virus outbreak, he saw himself as "unbeatable," regardless of how strong a candidate he might face in 2020.

Republican candidates in down ticket races this year face a difficult balancing act: distancing themselves from Trump 's egregious statements without alienating his supporters. This is not to say that Ayotte & Co. should simply celebrate Trump (like Pence) or condemn him (like a Democrat). But Republican Senate candidates should know where they stand on their party’s nominee — no ambivalence, no equivocation — and they should stick to that stance whenever the subject comes up.

Blake Masters, who runs billionaire Peter Thiel’s investment firm and foundation, mentions the former president once on his campaign website, noting, “And President Trump was right to draw attention to bad trade deals.”

The Senate hopefuls may be treading carefully since Trump has criticized candidates who falsely claimed to have his backing.

“The last thing you want to do is stake your candidacy on being the Trump candidate in the race and watch him endorse somebody else,” one Arizona GOP consultant said.

Democrats expect the Senate candidates to tie themselves to Trump, especially as he returns to the spotlight.

“The only question that remains is: which candidate will go the farthest to sell out Arizonans to try and earn Trump’s support?” Arizona Democratic Party spokeswoman Sarah Guggenheimer said in a statement.

While they aren’t initially mentioning Trump, the GOP Senate candidates aren’t disavowing him, either.

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  Arizona Senate powerless to recall electors, president says The Arizona Senate lacks the authority to recall electors, the legislative body's Republican president said on Friday. © Provided by Washington Examiner That statement by Karen Fann came in response to fellow state Sen. Wendy Rogers, who called for a new election after the Arizona Senate held a briefing in which contractors hired for its 2020 election audit in Maricopa County said they don't have enough information to complete a report.

Trump 's Wednesday walkout marked a clear strategic shift. He 's decided that as long as he 's under investigation, his hopes of finding any common ground with Democrats on issues that could help both sides in 2020 are a busted flush. Let them finish up," Trump said, adopting an absolutist position that could strip his legacy of badly needed domestic achievements. By Thursday morning, the President was trying to spin the stalemate to his advantage, painting Democrats as uncooperative on issues important to Americans including health care, infrastructure and high prescription drugs prices.

Both Kyrsten Sinema and Doug Ducey are walking a political tightrope as Arizona flirts with sliding from a solid red state to a perennial purple battleground. He 's striving to stay focused on the state's business and economic climate while keeping safe distance from the daily hysteria and scandal ensnaring the Trump administration. Asked on "Good Morning Arizona " this week if Trump would be a drag on him if he campaigned in the state, Ducey replied neutrally, "People have their thoughts on the president."

“What President Trump ran on in 2016 — restricting immigration, shoring up the economy for American workers, and resisting deranged cultural pushes from the left — is still extremely popular,” Masters said in a statement. “I was proud to support President Trump early in 2015 and to vote for him twice. And I don’t think I lose support by saying that.”

Mick McGuire, a retired major general of the Arizona National Guard, took a similar tack.

“I am not worried about alienating voters by supporting policies that will end our current border crisis and continue President Trump’s economic legacy that saw improvements for all Americans, including record levels of employment for Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans,” he said in a statement.

Masters and McGuire are expected to speak Saturday at the rally in Phoenix, where Trump is the featured speaker, according to their campaigns. The event is being hosted by the nonprofit affiliate of young conservatives group Turning Point USA.

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Solar power executive Jim Lamon’s campaign said he will not be at Saturday’s event, but he will be at an event next week featuring the other Senate candidates and Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA as the emcee.

Lamon campaign adviser Stephen Puetz said Lamon would welcome Trump’s support and “isn’t shying away” from the former president. Lamon’s campaign ran television ads in New Jersey, aimed at appealing to Trump while he was at his Bedminster golf club.

“You want to make sure that the president is aware of your candidacy,” Puetz said of the New Jersey ad.

Brnovich’s campaign did not respond to questions about whether he would also attend Saturday’s rally. The attorney general drew Trump’s ire over the controversial audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.

Trump said in a May statement that Brnovich was “always on television promoting himself, but never mentions the Crime of the Century, that took place during the 2020 Presidential Election.” Brnovich has said he will examine the results of the audit, and last month he told the Justice Department that his office “will not tolerate any effort to undermine or interfere with our State Senate’s audit.”

The controversial audit has been a microcosm for the dilemma facing the Republicans running for Senate. They have generally supported the audit as they appeal to Trump and his supporters, but some Republicans in the state warn the audit could backfire in the general election, by depressing GOP turnout or turning off more moderate voters.

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“It’s a minefield,” said veteran Arizona strategist Chuck Coughlin, a former Republican who is now not registered with any party.

Coughlin’s firm, Higher Ground, surveyed 500 voters in Maricopa County from July 6-7 and found that nearly 51 percent opposed the audit, 41 percent supported it, and 9 percent did not know or refused to answer. The survey was conducted by phone, and used both cellphones and landlines.

Support for the audit split along party lines, with voters not tied to either of the two major parties, a key voting bloc, mostly opposing it. While 67 percent of Republicans backed the audit, just 9 percent of Democrats did so. Roughly 38 percent of voters not registered with any party supported the audit, while 37 percent of independents also supported it.

Tough race ahead

Arizona is a top target for Republicans, who need a net gain of just one seat to retake the Senate. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales counts it among eight battleground states in early race ratings.

Republicans in the state believe the primary field is set. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott told the Ruthless podcast that there is “still a chance” term-limited Gov. Doug Ducey could jump in the race, but Ducey has repeatedly said he does not plan to run.

GOP Rep. Andy Biggs has expressed interest in the race, but some Republicans do not believe he will jump in, noting he could wield considerable influence as chairman of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus, especially if Republicans win back the House next year.

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Coughlin said he has never seen such a wide-open primary field in his 30-year career in Arizona politics. Some Republicans said Brnovich has an early edge as a statewide-elected official, but Trump’s involvement in the primary remains a wildcard.

Republicans are concerned a contested primary, which won’t be decided until August 2022, could leave the eventual nominee with less than three months to focus solely on Kelly.

Former GOP Sen. Martha McSally said that short runway was a problem in 2018, when she lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema after winning a contested Senate primary. Despite that loss, McSally was appointed to the state’s other Senate seat, left vacant by the death of Sen. John McCain, and then lost a race to Kelly last fall for the remainder of McCain’s term.

As Republicans fight amongst themselves, Kelly can continue to raise millions for his campaign.

He raised $6 million in the second quarter and had $7.6 million in his campaign account as of June 30. Lamon raised $2.2 million, but that included a $2 million personal loan, and he reported $1.2 million in the bank. Brnovich and McGuire launched their runs in early June, and with less than a month before the quarter ended, they raised $438,000 and $426,000, respectively.

Masters has not yet filed a fundraising report since he just launched his campaign, but Thiel is bankrolling a super PAC to support his campaign.

The GOP candidates will also get some help from outside groups. One Nation, the nonprofit arm of the super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, has launched a $1 million digital campaign tying Kelly to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

Republicans said keeping the focus on Kelly and the Biden administration is key to winning back McCain’s old seat. But that may be easier said than done, especially as Trump returns to the state and continues to make false claims about fraud in the 2020 election.

“There’s about 10 other issues … that we would rather be talking about than relitigating 2020,” one GOP strategist involved in Senate races said. The strategist said the GOP candidates need to recognize that “they’re going to need to start using some more general-election oriented themes next year.”

“We’ll see how much they’re able to do that,” the strategist said.

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