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Arizona Senate race awash with cash

Sen. Mark Kelly (D), left, and Blake Masters (R)

Sen. Mark Kelly is financially overwhelming Republican challenger Blake Masters in the race for who gets to occupy the seat for the next six years.

But the incumbent Democrat faces headwinds in the form of lots of money being spent by outside groups hoping to cut his political career short at just two years.

Kelly has collected nearly $75.5 million, new figures filed with the Federal Elections Commission show. That figure is second in the nation only to Democrat Ralph Warnock of Georgia, whose campaign has pocketed more than $111 million in his bid to hold off a challenge from Herschel Walker.

By contrast, Masters has raised less than $9.9 million.

Still, that’s not the only money in the race.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee already has spent $6.7 million buying commercials to send Kelly back to Arizona. And Saving Arizona PAC lists another $7.3 million in pro-Masters spending.

Total outside spending, both pro Masters and anti Kelly, totals $15.8 million.

But Masters is not getting the help that the Senate Leadership Fund provided just two years ago when Martha McSally, appointed to the seat by Gov. Doug Ducey after the death of John McCain, was trying to hang on.

At that time, the SLC, with ties to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, dumped $14.9 million into defeating Kelly and regaining a GOP majority. So far this election, however, the PAC has decided to spend its money elsewhere.

Total outside spending to keep Kelly in Washington has so far totaled about $16.7 million. And that was led by nearly $6 million in anti-Masters expenditures by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The Kelly-Masters race has garnered national attention — and lots of spending — because the outcome could decide who controls the Senate, at least for the next two years, if not longer.

Currently, the chamber is divided 50-50. Democrats retain a majority only because Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie.

That is reflected not only in the spending by national groups but also that both candidates are taking in individual donations from across the country.

In fact, the $5.4 million Kelly has collected from Californians is just $8,710 shy of what he brought in from Arizonans.

And donations from Californians to Masters are double what Arizonans have given to his campaign.

Early voting began in Arizona last week.

Two years ago, close to 90% of those who cast a ballot did so through that process. And that makes the spending going on right now especially critical.

Masters has been behind financially the entire race. And at least part of that is because much of the nearly $9.9 million he raised this election cycle had to be spent to win the five-way Arizona GOP primary.

That leaves Masters with $2.8 million cash on hand as of Sept. 30, the date through which the new reports run, compared to nearly $13.2 million for Kelly who has been on a spending spree and has shelled out close to $63.7 million so far.

What Masters also has is $8 million spent on his behalf by Saving Arizona. That political action committee, initially bankrolled by venture capitalist and billionaire Peter Thiel, is responsible for $7.3 million of that.

But that outside spending for Masters is topped by $9 million being spent in commercials urging his defeat. That is led by nearly $6 million from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and another $3 million from the Senate Majority PAC.

Having lots of his own campaign donations to spend compared with Masters gives Kelly another advantage. That’s because of a federal law signed in 1971 by President Richard Nixon revamping law revamping campaign finance.

One of the lesser-known provisions, billed as an effort to rein in campaign spending, requires TV and radio stations to offer candidates the same unit rates in the 60 days prior to the general election that they offer their best high-volume customers, like national restaurant chains and auto manufacturers.

By contrast, there are no such restrictions on ads bought by political action committees, effectively resulting in them having to pay three times as much — or more — to buy the same commercial time.

Stations also have to offer candidates a reasonable number of advertising slots in all time periods except for news shows, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

PACs, by contrast, have no such guarantee. And if they do get time, it could be in the little-seen overnight hours.

Recent polls have shown Kelly with close to an 11-point lead over Masters, though one released this week puts Masters, who is backed by former President Trump, within three points among those who said they definitely or probably would vote for one or the other.

Got your ballot? Here's your guide to Arizona's 2022 election

The Star put together a set of tools to make it easier to learn more about the candidates as you fill out your ballot.

In the guide below, you can find videos of interviews with candidates for Congress, the state Legislature, and local school boards. You can read written responses, unedited and as submitted to the Star, to a questionnaire we sent to candidates. If you want to see the company each candidate keeps, we compiled a lengthy list of endorsements.

We also included links to relevant news articles, as well as guest opinions that candidates wrote for the Star's opinion pages.

We will update the guide regularly. If you have any questions, please email staropinions@tucson.com

Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has been reporting since 1970 and covering state politics and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on Twitter at @azcapmedia or email azcapmedia@gmail.com.


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