TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters said Friday he hopes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will back his close campaign in Arizona, striking a magnanimous tone toward the GOP leader he fiercely criticized during the primary.
“I think he’ll come in and spend. Arizona’s gonna be competitive. It’s gonna be a close race, and I hope he does come in,” Masters told The Associated Press during a brief interview following a roundtable with construction industry leaders outside Phoenix. “And we’ll find a way to work together.”
Masters has softened the harder edges of his confrontational style and moved toward the center on key issues, including abortion and Social Security, since emerging atop a crowded GOP field in this month's primary. He's relying on deep-pocketed donors and national Republicans to make up for a severe financial deficit against Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, one of the most prolific fundraisers in the Senate who collected nearly $55 million through the end of June. Masters reported raising $5 million.
The McConnell-controlled Senate Leadership Fund bought $28 million in advertising to boost Republican J.D. Vance in Ohio, a seat many Republicans thought to be safe. Vance, like Masters, won his primary with millions of dollars in support from billionaire Peter Thiel but has lagged his Democratic rival in fundraising.
Masters spoke a day after McConnell suggested that Republican efforts to win control of the Senate could be imperiled by lackluster candidates, a remark widely interpreted to be directed at candidates including Masters.
“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 told business leaders Thursday in his home state of Kentucky.
Masters said he's “not Mitch McConnell's favorite candidate,” but they'll manage to get along.
“He wants to win Arizona,” Masters said. “I think I’m a much better candidate than Mitch McConnell gives me credit for.”
During the primary, Masters called for McConnell to be replaced as GOP leader, saying he’d support Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri or Tom Cotton of Arkansas for the position. McConnell was a roadblock to enacting parts of former President Donald Trump's agenda, he said.
“I’ll tell Mitch this to his face,” Masters said during a GOP primary debate in June. “He’s not bad at everything. He’s good at judges. He’s good at blocking Democrats. You know what he’s not good at? Legislating.”
On Friday, Masters predicted McConnell will get another term as GOP leader and no Republicans will challenge him.
“I think he’ll be in charge. And I’m not just going to be a senator that falls in line to whatever he says,” Masters told construction company officials. “I’ll hear him out. I’m happy to listen. But my vote doesn’t belong to Mitch McConnell. It doesn’t belong to Donald Trump.”