Why Arizona’s Senate race goes ‘Toss Up’ in our latest forecast update
By returning Arizona to the board, Republicans widened their path to a Senate majority. It’s now one of five « Toss Up » races, joining Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
If Republicans can hold Pennsylvania (where Democrats are sweating from John Fetterman’s shaky debate performance on Tuesday night) and Wisconsin (where GOP Sen. Ron Johnson opened a lead in some polls), they can likely overturn control of the Senate by ousting just one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents: Kelly and Sens. Raphael Warnock (Ga.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.).
Kelly’s dwindling lead — most polls still show the Democrat leading, but by shrinking margins — has little to do with Masters, who is widely seen as leading a underfunded and uninspired campaign. Democrats swamped the GOP nominee on the airwaves, though Masters received belated reinforcements, mostly from conservative groups seen as ideological fellow travelers.
But Masters is supported by the electoral environment and relative strength at the top of the ticket. While it’s true that Kelly and Lake run stronger campaigns than their opponents, Lake and Masters present themselves as more of a ticket than the Democrats. Billboards and street signs scattered throughout the Phoenix metro area read « VOTE LAKE & BLAKE. » And at Lake’s crowded campaign events, she often shouts her the Senate candidate in her stump speech.
For their part, Democrats say they expected the Senate race to end, and Arizona has always been a central part of their map. Even when Republican outside groups pulled out of the state, the official Democratic campaign arm and super super PAC kept the pressure on Masters.
In an interview here last weekend, Kelly recalled his special election victory two years ago, when he was staked with a double-digit lead in the polls on Labor Day, only to see the race narrowed significantly, leading to just a two-point victory over Republican Senator Martha McSally.
« I think in Arizona and other states, as you get closer to Election Day, the races become more competitive, » Kelly said. “There are fewer undecided voters. We saw it in 2020.”
Even as Democrats have surged to win the last two Senate races, the 2020 presidential election and a majority of Arizona House seats, the state’s GOP has surged further to the right . Kelli Ward, once ridiculed by the Republican establishment here as a conspiracy theorist, took over the state party organization three years ago.
And this year’s GOP ticket, populated largely by candidates who planted and promoted lies about the last Arizona election, is even further to the right. At an event earlier this week at a megachurch in Phoenix with most of the statewide and legislative candidates, Rep. David Schweikert (R-Arizona), who is seeking re-election in a swing Phoenix-area district, announced the combative stance House Republicans will take with the Biden administration, vowing to go “way beyond the funding » from federal agencies.
“We are going to have government closures. We need you to explain to our brothers and sisters out there that there is nothing wrong with this government shutdown,” Schweikert told the crowd of Republican activists. « That’s how the system is supposed to work. »
Meanwhile, State Rep. Mark Finchem, the Republican nominee for Secretary of State, appeared to suggest that if his opponent, Democrat Adrian Fontes, wins next month, Lake could face physical threats since the position is first in the line of succession to the office of governor in the event of a vacancy.
« Do you think that makes her a target? » Finchem asked the crowd for hypothetical ticket split wins. « Oh yeah. »
A spokesperson for the master’s declined a request for an interview with the candidate. At the same event in Phoenix, Masters predicted an « incoming red wave » in his remarks to the crowd.
Kelly, meanwhile, said he still expects the race to go to the wire.
“The statewide races in Arizona – they’re close. They’ve always been pretty close,” Kelly said. « I’m not your typical politician who says, ‘Oh, absolutely [I’m going to win].’ But I built a campaign designed to win. And I’ve been working on the issues that matter most to Arizonans for over 22 months now.
Here are two other significant changes to POLITICO’s election forecast:
Pennsylvania governor turns to Democrats
If Lake might have a few coattails for the Masters in Arizona, Doug Mastriano looks like an anchor on the Republican candidates in Pennsylvania.
Mastriano is trailing State’s Attorney Josh Shapiro in the polls, and Democrats are scrambling to tie Republicans of other races to the unpopular gubernatorial candidate. The race changes from “Lean Democratic” to “Likely Democratic”.
Fetterman interrupted GOP candidate Mehmet Oz during their debate on Tuesday to exclaim, « You’re rolling with Doug Mastriano! » And House Democrats are also trying to tie the nominee to an open seat in western Pennsylvania in Mastriano.
Other handicappers have called the Democrats strong favorites in Pennsylvania and Michigan, after August and September polls showed Shapiro and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer well ahead of their GOP opponents.
But even as confidence grows in Shapiro, there are signs Whitmer could face a tougher run than previously thought. Polls have tightened and MAGA, Inc., the Trump-linked super PAC, is launching TV ads there on Thursday. Michigan remains in the « Lean Democratic » category for now.
Republicans continue to make gains in the House
Two “Toss Up” congressional races are headed for Republicans — both for seats now won by President Joe Biden by strong margins in 2020 — a sign of the GOP’s continued momentum in the battle for the House.
Rep. Mike Garcia is now the frontrunner for re-election just north of Los Angeles, despite holding a seat that voted for Biden by 13 percentage points. Democrat Christy Smith is making her third attempt to defeat Garcia – after losing a special election and general election in 2020 – but outside Democratic groups have mostly abandoned her campaign, especially given the high media market price of Los Angeles. Garcia’s race moves to « Lean Republican. »
The same goes for an open seat in Oregon, where the moderate Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader was dethroned in a primary this spring. Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer leads Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who beat Schrader in May, and national Democrats have shifted their money in an effort to shore up two even bluer seats in the state.
Oregon’s 5th District goes from « Toss Up » to « Lean Republican ».
Meanwhile, the Democratic Rep. mike levin is no longer the favorite in his rematch with Republican Brian Maryott near San Diego. Levin won 49% of the vote in the June primary to 19% for Maryott, but there were four other Republican candidates on the ballot then. His district goes from « Lean Democratic » to the « Toss Up » category.
The changes leave Republicans favored in 213 seats – just 5 of the 218 needed for a majority – compared to 195 where Democrats are favored and 27 in the “Toss Up” column.