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Senate candidates walk Trump tightrope as he returns to Arizona

Bridget Bowman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

Former President Donald Trump will return Saturday to Arizona, where Republicans are looking to rebound after losing both of the state’s Senate seats in the past two elections.

Unlike candidates in other states with contested Senate GOP primaries, the top four Republicans vying to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly next year are embracing Trump’s policies but aren’t mentioning Trump by name in their early messaging. Their launch videos and websites make little to no mention of the former president, who lost the Grand Canyon State by just 10,000 votes in November.

Some Republicans expect that to change as the jockeying for Trump’s endorsement picks up.

Doing that, however, requires walking a political tightrope. Candidates need to win over enough Trump supporters to secure the GOP nomination without alienating the broader coalition needed to win in November 2022. Arizona Republican strategists largely agree that the broader coalition includes disaffected Republicans who were fed up with Trump’s rhetoric.

“Trump policies did not lose Arizona,” said Stan Barnes, a GOP political consultant and former state legislator. “Trump the personality lost Arizona.”

Balancing act

 

Trump’s name was mostly missing from each of the four top candidates’ launch videos and campaign websites. His name briefly flashed on screen during state Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s video as part of a headline noting that Brnovich defended Trump’s immigration policies.

Blake Masters, who runs billionaire Peter Thiel’s investment firm and foundation, mentions the former president once on his campaign website, noting, “And President Trump was right to draw attention to bad trade deals.”

The Senate hopefuls may be treading carefully since Trump has criticized candidates who falsely claimed to have his backing.

“The last thing you want to do is stake your candidacy on being the Trump candidate in the race and watch him endorse somebody else,” one Arizona GOP consultant said.

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