An independent super PAC aligned with Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, is pumping money into the Arizona Senate race amid near-total abandonment by Republican leadership in this highly competitive race amid a currently 50-50 Senate..
On Monday, the Sentinel Action Fund announced $5 million to support Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters in the form of voter outreach efforts and television ad buys after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) pulled $8 million from the contest.
“We wanted to be there from a conservative standpoint,” said Jessica Anderson, the president of the Sentinel Action Fund, highlighting the group’s spending in Arizona, and Masters in particular, as a “clarion call for the conservative movement to come and support this candidate.”
While the group has also announced efforts to get involved with pivotal Senate races in Nevada and Georgia, Anderson emphasized “$5 million is so far our largest single expenditure that we have planned.”
In the final week of August, McConnell’s super PAC canceled nearly $8 million in ad buys for Arizona and demanded private entrepreneur and megadonor Peter Thiel step in to replace the lost funding. The money initially set aside for Masters will instead go to support J.D. Vance in Ohio.
Both Masters and Vance, who worked for Thiel prior to jumping into crowded Senate primaries, were backed by the billionaire venture capitalist with $15 million each during the party contests. McConnell is now demanding more money from Thiel, who has yet to spend on either in the general, to push the candidates across the November finish line.
The McConnell super PAC is driving more money from the Arizona Senate race, where Masters is down by 4 points in the RealClearPolitics aggregate of polls, to Ohio, where polls show Vance up by more than 2. In August, polling from the most reliable pollster of recent election cycles, the Trafalgar Group, showed Masters down by 4 points with Vance up by 5.
“McConnell told Thiel over the phone last week that Vance’s race in Ohio was proving more costly for the Senate Leadership Fund than anticipated,” the Washington Post reported on Aug. 31. McConnell added “that money was not unlimited and that there was a need for the billionaire to ‘come in, in a big way, in Arizona,'” an anonymous “person familiar with the conversation” reportedly told the Post.
Campaign finance data and recent electoral trends in each state, however, cast doubt on McConnell’s claims that Vance was in more desperate need of funds than Masters.
Former President Donald Trump carried Ohio comfortably by 8 points in both 2016 and 2020. Trump captured Arizona’s 11 electoral votes in 2016 by less than 4 points, and lost the state in 2020. Arizona’s two Senate seats also became filled by two Democrats for the first time since 1953 in 2020.
McConnell’s decision to pull $8 million from Masters drew criticism from Senate rivals who called out the Republican leader for aiming to re-elect a minority the Kentucky lawmaker can control as opposed to a fractured majority. Masters pledged during the Arizona Republican Senate debate not to back McConnell for another term at the top of GOP leadership. In August, McConnell complained about candidate quality among his own party going into the fall midterms.
“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different, they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” McConnell said on Fox News.
McConnell attempted to pre-emptively foil criticism over Arizona spending by also taking an axe to planned ads for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a key Senate ally who faces a tough challenge from Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka. Tshibaka has also promised not to support McConnell for another term in leadership.
McConnell canceled about $1.7 million in the relatively inexpensive Alaskan media market, although Murkowski maintains a steep financial advantage over the rest of the field with more than $9 million raised to Tshibaka’s less than $3.5 million, according to OpenSecrets. Murkowski is also running with the incumbent advantage amid a new system of ranked-choice voting.
Days after McConnell pulled ad spending on Masters in Arizona, Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott blasted the minority leader in the Washington Examiner.
“We have great candidates with incredible backgrounds and ideas to make our country better,” Scott wrote. “Do I wish they had more money than their Democratic opponent? Of course. But we have great candidates, chosen by the voters in their states, and our job is to help each one of them win.”
Last week, McConnell attempted an effort at capitulation by announcing he would attend a second fundraiser for Masters sometime in September. Showing up to an event, however, is far from the same as putting $8 million into a competitive race.
Anderson made clear during her interview with The Federalist that the seven-figure bid to bolster Masters in Arizona was not a response to McConnell’s decision to strip spending.
“[The] announcement today is a response to grassroots activists with the Sentinel,” Anderson said, emphasizing Arizona has always been on their map.
In July, the Sentinel Action Fund ran a $400,000 ad campaign that attacked Kelly’s embrace of President Joe Biden’s energy agenda fueling record-high gas prices.
“I think we were created for moments like this when the party is divided on who to support. We can come in and support the conservative candidate who is going to come in and lead the state’s voters,” Anderson added.
The $5 million-dollar campaign dump is a likely relief to grassroots Republicans aiming to bring down Kelly and flip the Senate.
“Jessica Anderson and her team at Heritage Action have built a serious and formidable operation and are making the right call by investing in Blake Masters,” Terry Schilling, the president of the conservative American Principles Project, told The Federalist. “Blake is one of the few politicians who will actually deliver for families and it’s why groups like American Principles Project and Heritage are each pledging 7-figure investments to help him get elected. This election will be the ‘Revenge of the Parents.’ Anti-family Democrats should be very worried.”