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How Far Right Will Republican Primary Voters Go In Arizona And Missouri?

After taking a month off (mostly), primary season is back in full force this Tuesday, Aug. 2. Voters in six states will choose candidates for the November elections, and there are so many compelling primaries that we’re previewing them in two installments again. Today, we’ll take you through the 12 races we’re watching in Missouri and Arizona, highlighted by two open and very uncertain GOP primaries for Senate and two election deniers who could win high office in a key 2024 swing state.

Once the front-runner in Missouri’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate, the state’s disgraced former governor, Eric Greitens, is now trailing in the polls.

Tristan Wheelock / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Missouri

Races to watch: U.S. Senate; 1st, 4th and 7th congressional districts

Polls close: 8 p.m. Eastern

With the retirement of Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri has an open U.S. Senate seat for the first time since 2010. At first, the front-runner in the Republican primary was former Gov. Eric Greitens, who is attempting a political comeback after resigning under pressure in 2018. But the prospect of Greitens as the nominee gave many Republicans heartburn: Greitens had resigned amid disturbing allegations that he had abused and blackmailed a woman he was having an affair with, coercing her to perform oral sex, hitting her and taking nude photos of her without her consent and then threatening to release them if she spoke out, among other things.

Voters were reminded of Greitens’s past this year, too, when his ex-wife accused him of hitting her and their children during their marriage. The problem for anti-Greitens Republicans, though, has been settling on a single alternative. GOP megadonors Rex Sinquefield and Peter Thiel have backed Attorney General Eric Schmitt, while Missouri’s other senator, Josh Hawley, got behind Rep. Vicky Hartzler. And the field has three other serious candidates, too: Rep. Billy Long, state Sen. Dave Schatz and Mark McCloskey, the attorney who gained national attention in 2020, along with his wife, for pointing a gun at racial-justice protesters walking past his St. Louis home.

Once the latest abuse allegations against Greitens became public in March, Greitens, Schmitt and Hartzler traded leads in the polls. But since June, a trio of polls conducted in late July all put Schmitt in first place, Hartzler in second and Greitens in third, albeit by differing margins. What changed? Shortly after Greitens released a heavily criticized campaign ad showing him “hunting” moderate Republicans with a gun, a new Sinquefield-backed super PAC, Show Me Values, spun up and spent a whopping $7.9 million attacking Greitens. Meanwhile, spending by the pro-Schmitt Americans for Prosperity has reached nearly $4.7 million, while another Sinquefield super PAC, Save Missouri Values, has spent almost $5.2 million supporting Schmitt and attacking Hartzler.

Former President Donald Trump hasn’t endorsed anyone in this primary, though he has spoken favorably of Greitens, who has embraced Trump-style grievances in his own campaign, and Long, who voted not to certify the 2020 election. And, of course, whoever the winner of the GOP primary is will be strongly favored to win this seat in November (yes, even if it’s Greitens). But 11 Democrats are hoping to buck the odds. The two main candidates are Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, who has raised $4.7 million, and Trudy Busch Valentine, a registered nurse and heir to the Anheuser-Busch beer fortune, who has self-funded more than $3 million. The race has gotten nasty in the past couple weeks, though, with Kunce airing attack ads publicizing how, as a young woman in 1977, Busch Valentine was crowned “Queen of Love and Beauty” by a St. Louis secret society that did not admit Black or Jewish people at the time.

Rick Brattin
State Sen. Rick Brattin is vying to take his brand of tea party conservatism to Capitol Hill and represent Missouri’s 4th Congressional District.

Julie Smith / The Jefferson City News-Tribune via AP

Missouri’s Senate race has also had down-ballot effects: Namely, two safely red congressional seats are now wide open. In Hartzler’s 4th District, seven Republicans are hoping to punch their ticket to Congress, and there’s no clear front-runner. According to an early poll, former local-news anchor Mark Alford started off with a modest lead (perhaps due to name recognition). But he’s been convincingly outraised by former Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks, by about $851,000 to nearly $600,000, and CPA and cattle farmer Kalena Bruce was able to snag the endorsement of Gov. Mike Parson. Meanwhile, School Freedom Fund, a super PAC connected to the tea party group Club for Growth, has spent $1.3 million to help boost state Sen. Rick Brattin, a member of the “conservative caucus,” a thorn in the side of Republican leadership in Jefferson City. 

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The tea party movement is also hoping to notch a win next door, in Long’s 7th District. Eight candidates are seeking the GOP nomination, but the Club for Growth has spent $1.3 million to ensure it goes to state Sen. Eric Burlison, another conservative caucus member who is also endorsed by FreedomWorks and the political arm of the House Freedom Caucus. His main foe appears to be former state Sen. Jay Wasson, who has raised $1.3 million for his own campaign and has also benefited from a super PAC spending more than $945,000 attacking his opponents. Burlison’s and Wasson’s campaigns have released dueling internal polls, each showing their own candidate ahead; in both polls, though, second place belongs to state Sen. Mike Moon, who could shoot the gap if Wasson and Burlison go nuclear on each other.

Finally, Republicans — and even some Democrats — would love to see progressive Rep. Cori Bush lose the Democratic primary in Missouri’s 1st District, but like other primary challenges of both far-left and far-right representatives recently, this one is likely to fall flat. With the support of former Rep. Lacy Clay, whom Bush upset in 2020, a former Republican operative has created a super PAC to support state Sen. Steve Roberts, who is running as a “normal Democrat” who won’t give the Biden administration a hard time. However, Roberts has been dogged by previous allegations that he raped former state Rep. Cora Faith Walker and groped a law student at a bar. Bush has also raised more than four times as much money as Roberts, and a poll from early July showed her beating him 40 percent to 20 percent.

Senate candidate Blake Masters is the front-runner in Arizona’s Republican primary, thanks to the support of billionaire Peter Thiel, his former boss, and former President Donald Trump.

Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc / Getty Images

Arizona

Races to watch: U.S. Senate; 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th congressional districts; governor; attorney general; secretary of state

Polls close: 10 p.m. Eastern

At the top of Arizona’s packed ballot is the race for Senate, where Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly is seeking a full term after winning a special election in 2020. Kelly is unopposed in the Democratic primary, but the GOP contest has developed into a contentious race between former Thiel Foundation President Blake Masters and solar power businessman Jim Lamon, with Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich trailing just behind them. 

Masters is arguably the front-runner in this race, boosted by an endorsement from former President Donald Trump and close ties to billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who has dropped about $15 million into the pro-Masters super PAC Saving Arizona. Three recent surveys both put Masters ahead of Lamon, but the margin varied between 8 and 15 points. The Trafalgar Group found Masters up 35 percent to 27 percent, Rasmussen Reports/Arizona Rock Products Association showed Masters ahead 31 percent to 19 percent, and OH Predictive Insights found Masters up 36 percent to 21 percent. A number of polls from earlier in the month put Masters in the lead, too. However, Battleground Connect has released three polls last month, most recently last week, that all gave Lamon a small edge, but inside the margin of error. Brnovich has run third in every poll, with support in the low to high teens.

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However, Masters has expressed some views that have already come back to bite him. On the campaign trail, he praised positions held by Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, though did not endorse his terrorism. As a college student, he argued online that “unrestricted” immigration was the appropriate position to take as a Libertarian, as he then identified. Lamon has tried to attack him as favoring “open borders” and as “not right” for Arizona, but Masters and his allies have fallen back on his Trump endorsement, airing an ad of the former president praising him and ads from Club for Growth Action and Saving Arizona calling Masters an “America First” political outsider. They’ve also attacked Lamon in the final days of the campaign, arguing he opposed Trump’s policies toward China because of his business dealings there.

This race has cost gobs of money, too, with Lamon loaning his campaign $14 million and Masters’s allies spending $8.3 million supporting him and $5.3 million attacking Lamon. Brnovich has also raised $3.1 million and could still be in the hunt. The eventual GOP nominee will face a tough race against Kelly, who has raised over $50 million this cycle — although the midterm environment should provide the Republican with a tailwind.

Kari Lake is one of two front-runners in the Republican primary for Arizona’s governor; as the Trump-endorsed candidate, she is a big contrast with the more establishment Karrin Taylor Robson.

Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc / Getty Images

Arizona’s governor race is also a high-stakes affair with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey term-limited. On the Republican side, it’s turned into a two-way contest between former TV anchor Kari Lake and former Arizona Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson — and something of a proxy war between Trump and more traditional GOP forces led by Ducey. Lake backs Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen and has earned his endorsement, while Robson has avoided taking a public stance on the 2020 election and has earned support from Ducey and other Republican notables like former Vice President Mike Pence

Up until recently, Lake looked like a clear front-runner, but the primary has tightened after former Rep. Matt Salmon dropped out and threw his support behind Robson (although his name will still be on the ballot). Plus, Robson has an overwhelming spending advantage: She spent $18.4 million through July 16, around five times as much as Lake’s $3.6 million — an edge enabled by Robson’s $15.2 million in self-funding.

Robson has used that money to blanket Arizona with ads playing up her endorsements and arguing she has the best plan to deal with border security. Lake has staked much of her campaign on Trump’s endorsement and her own plans for the border, promising to issue a “declaration of invasion” as governor and attacking Robson as a “RINO” — a  Republican in name only.

Heading into primary day, the final polls still suggest that Lake is favored but, depending on the poll, Robson may be within striking distance. Last week, both Trafalgar Group and Rasmussen polls found Lake up 9 points, while OH Predictive Insights gave Lake an 18-point edge. Three earlier polls from Cygnal, Data Orbital and Alloy Analytics also put Lake ahead by the low-double digits. (Data Orbital didn’t name a client for the poll, but the GOP firm has connections to Lake’s campaign.) Finally, a late July survey by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of Robson’s campaign found the candidates tied at 43 percent apiece.

The winner of the Republican primary will likely face Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democratic front-runner. She faces one primary opponent, Marco Lopez, the former mayor of Nogales who worked under former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. (Former state Rep. Aaron Lieberman dropped out of the race in late May but remains on the ballot.) Hobbs has faced scrutiny over the 2015 firing of a Black female policy adviser while she was a state senator, but Hobbs has significantly outraised Lopez and has handily led in the polls, although we haven’t seen any new surveys since mid-May.

Arizona state representative Mark Finchem
State Rep. Mark Finchem is one of four Republican candidates for Arizona secretary of state who has denied or questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

Rachel Mummey / REUTERS

With Hobbs’s campaign for governor, secretary of state is now an open race, too, and the stakes are high: Whoever wins will be in charge of administering the 2024 presidential election in this swing state, and multiple Republican hopefuls have denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Fundraising reports suggest there are two main GOP contenders: state Rep. Mark Finchem and advertising executive Beau Lane, who have both raised $1.2 million for the cycle. And the two couldn’t be more different. 

Finchem is an outspoken supporter of the lie that Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election. He signed onto a resolution urging Congress to accept Trump’s fake electors in Arizona, and he attended the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, actions that helped him land Trump’s endorsement in this race. He has also previously associated himself with the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia, and supported the QAnon conspiracy theory. By contrast, Lane is the only candidate in the Republican primary who has unreservedly acknowledged the legitimacy of Biden’s win, and he’s defended Arizona’s widespread use of early and absentee voting. He also has the endorsement of Ducey, who fell out with Trump after the governor defended the integrity of Arizona’s 2020 election.

Two other Republicans who have encouraged election-fraud claims are also in the running, even if they haven’t raised quite as much cash: state Rep. Shawnna Bolick ($294,000 raised) and state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita ($122,000). Their presence, though, may not be enough to split the illiberal vote: The Rasmussen poll gave Finchem a 27-percent-to-16-percent lead over Lane, with Ugenti-Rita at 12 percent and Bolick at 11 percent. 

Whoever wins the GOP nomination, though, will be in for a tough race in November against the Democratic nominee, which could be either former Maricopa County Clerk Adrian Fontes or state House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding. Fontes led Bolding 44 percent to 29 percent in a July poll, but neither candidate is acting like the primary is in the bag. They generally agree on election-related issues, but this campaign has been marked by negative personal attacks.

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The last statewide race of interest is for attorney general, which is open due to Brnovich’s campaign for Senate. Here, too, there is a crowded Republican primary featuring four candidates who have embraced Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. One of them, former Maricopa County prosecutor Abraham Hamadeh, earned Trump’s endorsement in mid-June. However, the 31-year-old, first-time candidate has caught flak from Trump favorites like Republican Rep. Paul Gosar because he appears to have inflated his campaign fundraising numbers to woo Trump.

Instead, Gosar has backed Rodney Glassman, an attorney and former Democratic nominee for Senate (he lost badly to the late Sen. John McCain in 2010) who is also another election denier; joining him and Hamadeh are corporate lawyer Dawn Grove and 2020 congressional candidate Tiffany Shedd. The only competitive candidate who hasn’t fully bought into the idea the 2020 election was stolen is former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould, although he has said Brnovich, as attorney general, could have potentially slowed down the election certification process. 

The only poll we’ve seen is the Rasmussen survey, which found Hamedeh holding a slim 5-point lead over Glassman, 26 percent to 21 percent, with Gould at 12 percent and Grove and Shedd in the single digits. Glassman will hope, however, that his fundraising edge makes a difference in the end, as he leads the way with $2.5 million raised, while Grove and Gould have each brought in about $1.4 million. (Grove self-funded roughly 90 percent of her campaign with help from relatives, while Gould raised money mostly from donors.) Hamadeh has now raised a tad over $1 million, around two-thirds from himself or family, while Shedd has brought in $475,000. The winner of this race will face Kris Mayes, an attorney and former member of the state’s public utilities commission who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

State Rep. Walt Blackman is one of three Republican front-runners in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Should he win the seat, he’d be the state’s first Black member of Congress.

Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc / Getty Images

Four congressional districts also have important primary action on Tuesday, and the 2nd District in northern Arizona may present the GOP with its best shot at defeating a Democratic incumbent in the whole country. Moderate Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran decided to seek reelection even though redistricting shifted his seat from R+6 to R+15, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric.1 The leading Republican contenders appear to be Navy SEAL veteran Eli Crane, state Rep. Walt Blackman and businessman Mark DeLuzio — although Ron Watkins, who may be behind Q, the message board account that fueled the QAnon conspiracy theory, is also in the running.

The polls here are far from definitive, though, as Blackman and Crane have each released surveys showing themselves leading. But Crane is probably the favorite: The founder of a bottle-opener business, he’s led the money race with about $2 million raised, and he earned Trump’s endorsement last month. He is one of several candidates to publicly support Trump’s false election claims. Blackman is another election denier who is trying to become the first Black member of Congress from Arizona. He’s raised about $1.1 million and sports endorsements from many fellow members of the state legislature. DeLuzio has self-funded most of his campaign with $1 million out of his own pocket. He’s also run ads promoting his endorsement from former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s retirement has made the 6th District the state’s only open House seat, which redistricting swung from D+2 to R+7. And this southeast Arizona seat is now a top-tier target for national Republicans, who have rallied behind Juan Ciscomani, a former advisor to Ducey. However, they aren’t taking a Ciscomani win for granted: The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC connected to House Republican leadership, has spent $1.1 million supporting him with ads touting his conservative bona fides. This investment might be because of Kathleen Winn, a member of the Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board, who rejects the validity of the 2020 election and has earned the backing of Gosar, Lake and Arpaio. However, Ciscomani, who has raised doubts about the 2020 election, still has far more resources, having raised $1.7 million to Winn’s $293,000.

Meanwhile, former state Sen. Kirsten Engel and state Rep. Daniel Hernandez Jr. are facing off in the Democratic primary, which has focused on abortion. Hernandez has portrayed himself as a defender of abortion rights, but Engel, a law professor at the University of Arizona, has criticized Hernandez for missing a vote on a bill in the legislature that banned abortion access after 15 weeks. While Hernandez released a poll in early June showing him up 36 percent to 20 percent, Engel has actually outraised him, $1.3 million to $1.1 million, and entered the final months of the race with nearly twice as much money in the bank. Still, Hernandez is well-known in Arizona because he helped save the life of then-Rep. Gabby Giffords after a gunman shot her in a failed assassination attempt in 2011.

The Phoenix-based 4th District is another district that’s gotten less friendly for Democrats, shifting from D+15 to D+1 in redistricting, which has put Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton on the defensive. He’ll likely face either former congressional staffer Tanya Contreras Wheeless or restaurant owner Kelly Cooper, the two leading contenders in the GOP primary. 

We haven’t seen any primary polling, but Wheeless may be favored given the support she’s received from national GOP groups. She has received around $800,000 in backing from the Winning For Women Action Fund (about half supporting Wheeless and half attacking Cooper), $344,000 from the Strong Leaders Fund and $175,000 from the CLF, and she’s raised $1.2 million on her own. But Cooper’s fundraising totals match Wheeless’s: He’s given himself $1.3 million and raised $1.5 million overall. 

Finally, scandal-plagued Rep. David Schweikert is trying to fend off insurance company founder Elijah Norton in the 1st District, which became somewhat less red in redistricting, going from R+13 to R+7. Norton has gone after Schweikert for a fine the Federal Election Commission issued for campaign finance violations and violations of House ethics rules. And thanks to around $4.5 million in self-funding, Norton has a huge money edge over Schweikert, who has raised only $1.3 million. But Schweikert and his allies have criticized Norton for running an insurance company that allegedly defrauded customers. They’ve also sent mailers to voters implying that Norton is gay, which prompted a lawsuit by a man pictured with Norton in the mailer. We don’t have any polling in this race so it’s hard to know how much trouble Schweikert is in, but the winner will likely face businessman Jevin Hodge, who is favored in the Democratic primary.

And believe it or not, that’s only the beginning of the races we’re watching on Tuesday. Come back tomorrow to read our preview of the Kansas, Michigan and Washington primaries; then, of course, join us as we live-blog the results starting at 8 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday night.

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight. @geoffreyvs

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight. @baseballot

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