Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has fallen out of first place in the state’s Republican Senate primary, a slide that corresponds with aggressive advertising spending by his opponents — and Donald Trump’s ire.
For nearly a year, Brnovich held a steady lead in the primary to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, a key race as the GOP seeks to take back the Senate majority.
But walking the fine line between his responsibilities as attorney general and Republican Senate hopeful has proved challenging in a state where Trump allies have unsuccessfully sought to challenge the 2020 presidential election results.
While struggling to articulate a clear position on the election, Brnovich has lost his commanding lead, according to four separate public and internal polls conducted in the past month. He’s been surpassed by wealthy solar power executive Jim Lamon, a self-funder who has spent $3.8 million on advertisements ahead of the Aug. 2 primary.
An internal Lamon poll obtained by POLITICO shows him with a three-point lead over Brnovich, putting Lamon at 25 percent, Brnovich at 22 percent, Blake Masters at 16 percent and Mick McGuire at 6 percent, while 31 percent remain undecided.
The poll, conducted April 21 through 24 by McLaughlin & Associates, is consistent with other surveys done since April 1 by The Trafalgar Group, Remington Research Group and Data Orbital.
Meanwhile, Trump has shown an interest in Masters, an associate of billionaire tech executive Peter Thiel who resigned in March from leading Thiel’s venture capital firm. On Saturday evening, Trump called in to address a crowd gathered at an election integrity event that Masters held in Chandler. The public display of support for Masters, while not an official endorsement, came one week after the former president blasted Brnovich for declining to take action to address his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in the state.
“I heard Blake was the person that showed up,” Trump said through cellphone audio being blared into the crowd. “And I want to thank Blake.”
Masters had challenged Brnovich to debate him on election integrity issues, though Brnovich declined to participate in the event. Lamon was not invited.
In early April, Brnovich’s office released an interim report on the status of his still-ongoing, monthslong investigation of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, where Trump has alleged massive voter fraud occurred.
While Brnovich wrote in the report there were “serious vulnerabilities” in the election process, he did not outline evidence of widespread fraud or assert that the election outcome was different. He said his office’s investigation will continue.
Trump took note of the report, releasing a statement nearly two weeks later bashing Brnovich as “politically correct” for not taking any substantial actions to challenge the election results.
“Because of the amount of time that it took him to do the report, which was endless, his poll numbers have been rapidly sinking,” Trump wrote of Brnovich on April 18. “Now, people are upset with the fact that while he states the problem, he seems to be doing nothing about it — he doesn’t give the answers.”
Trump’s approach to Brnovich is similar to one he took to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, whom Trump has also criticized for supporting the certification of the 2020 election results in the state. He berated Ducey for months until Ducey confirmed earlier this year he would not be seeking the GOP nomination for Senate, despite being encouraged by national Republicans to do so.
After Trump’s comments in April, Brnovich released his own statement suggesting he is unwilling to say unequivocally that the election in Arizona was fraudulent.
“I understand his frustration, but as I’ve said previously, I will continue to follow the facts and evidence and do what the law requires,” Brnovich said at the time. “That’s what I’ve always done and what I will continue to do as Arizona’s next senator.”
Brnovich’s campaign declined to respond to a request for comment for this story.
If Trump continues to make GOP candidates’ rhetoric on election fraud the top criteria of his endorsement decision in the Arizona Senate primary, Lamon will likely also be at a disadvantage.
Lamon has not gone as far as Masters in insisting the last presidential election was stolen. Days before Trump attended a Masters fundraiser in November at Mar-a-Lago, Masters released a video saying “I think Trump won in 2020.”
While Lamon helped fund a partisan audit into the Maricopa County election results and has said he believes there were significant election irregularities that should be addressed, he maintains there was not enough information uncovered to know whether Biden’s victory in the state was fraudulent.
Richard Grenell, Trump’s former acting director of national intelligence, and two other Lamon surrogates have spoken to Trump about him in the last two weeks, according to a person familiar with the conversations, though there is no clear indication Trump has taken an interest in Lamon. His last visit with Trump was at the end of the year, Lamon’s campaign confirmed.
Despite being a statewide elected officeholder, Brnovich hasn’t shown strength in fundraising.
In the first quarter of the year, Brnovich spent more than he raised. And of his half-million dollars on hand at the end of the quarter, less than $175,000 of it is able to be spent on the primary, according to FEC data.
Those limits on individual donation amounts don’t exist for self-funders, meaning Lamon can use for the primary nearly all of his $7 million on hand. And he intends to put in “many more millions,” in addition to the $13 million Lamon has already invested, his campaign confirmed to POLITICO, declining to elaborate on exactly how much Lamon is willing to spend on the race. Lamon said at a private gathering last year he intended to spend as much as $50 million to win the Senate seat.
Masters, meanwhile, has declined to self-fund and is raising money through individual donors, while benefiting from $3.5 million that Saving Arizona — a Thiel-funded super PAC — has spent for him on advertising. Thiel has pledged $10 million to the effort. Lamon’s campaign has so far spent roughly the same amount on television ads, while Brnovich has remained off the air.
“Our campaign has been steadily rising in the polls, as Blake outpaces his opponents in events, media and fundraising,” said Amalia Halikias, Masters’ campaign manager. “Brnovich had an initial name ID advantage, but is falling fast. Lamon has been spending his millions, but there’s a limit on what an out-of-touch unlikeable guy can buy. We are on track to win in August and November.”
In Ohio, Trump recently endorsed J.D. Vance, who, like Masters, is supported by Thiel and who lagged in polling throughout much of the primary campaign. The Trump endorsement appears to have given Vance somewhat of a last-minute boost in polling ahead of the state’s Tuesday primary, in addition to fundraising help. In the days after the endorsement, more than $5 million poured into a pro-Vance super PAC, including a new $3.5 million donation from Thiel.