Preview of US Senate Races in Arizona and Wisconsin
Elections & Politics Policy Brief #33 | By: Ian Milden | August 27, 2022
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Control of the U.S. Senate will be up for grabs in the 2022 mid-term elections. Competitive races in key states will determine the balance of power. In this brief, I will preview the US Senate races in Arizona and Wisconsin.
In Arizona, Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) is running for a full term after winning a special election in 2020 to fill the remainder of the late Senator John McCain’s term. Before his election to the Senate, Kelly served in the navy and was an astronaut for NASA. Senator Kelly has been an advocate for reducing gun violence. He founded a political advocacy organization focused on reducing gun violence with his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
The Republicans nominated Blake Masters, who won the primary after receiving Trump’s endorsement and substantial financial support from Peter Thiel, a billionaire who made his fortune in the tech industry and holds conservative and libertarian political views. Thiel also provided substantial financial support to the Republican nominee in Ohio’s Senate race, J.D. Vance. Masters has never run for office before and has spent most of his career working for Peter Thiel.
Thiel has argued that democracy and liberty are incompatible. Blake Masters has expressed support for eliminating several norms, processes, and agencies in our system of government. For example, Masters wants to eliminate the civil service system and have government jobs filled by people who share his ideological beliefs.
Masters also supports privatizing Social Security. During the primary, the rhetoric on his website also leaned heavily into “culture war” themes, particularly on issues such as abortion, education, immigration, and guns. Many beliefs that Masters espouses seem designed to appeal to the most ideological and partisan Republican voters. Masters’ website was edited after the primary to scrub some of his more controversial positions.
There are also important questions regarding the development and evolution of Blake Masters’ political views. His positions on some issues, such as immigration, have shifted dramatically from online postings in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Masters also approvingly quoted Hermann Goering, a prominent Nazi official, in those posts. When asked about it on the campaign trail, Masters did not apologize or walk back the statement he made in the posting. Masters has also voiced support for conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
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Fox News recently released a poll showing Mark Kelly ahead by 8 percentage points. The crosstabs of the poll provide clear reasons for Kelly being ahead. Kelly gets about 8% support from self-identified Republicans, while Masters has very negligible support from self-identified Democrats. Additionally, Masters fares relatively poorly among moderate voters and unaffiliated voters.
Kelly also holds a double-digit lead over Masters among seniors, which is important because Arizona has a relatively large population of senior citizens. Masters may have trouble addressing his limited support among seniors due to his policy positions on issues like Social Security.
While the polling data provides some positive signs for Kelly’s reelection campaign, Arizona is still a competitive state and Democrats would be wise to continue to treat it as a competitive state if they want to continue winning elections in Arizona. Even if Senator Kelly wins reelection by a large margin, investing in the race as if it is a competitive race can help Democratic candidates running for other statewide offices.
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In Wisconsin, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) is running for a third term after previously promising to retire. Before his election to the US Senate in 2010, Johnson was in the private sector and had not previously run for public office.
Senator Johnson is currently on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and he is the top Republican on the Homeland Security subcommittee for investigations. He would likely become the chairman of the Homeland Security investigations subcommittee if Republicans took control of the Senate.
There are reasons to question Johnson’s fitness for his position on the Senate Homeland Security Committee. There are important questions about Ron Johnson’s role on January 6th. Congressional Investigators with the Committee investigating the events on January 6th, 2021 found text messages between members of Johnson’s staff and Mike Pence’s staff trying to get Pence to take a set of electors for Wisconsin that would vote for Donald Trump in the 2020 Electoral College vote. Johnson has also spread conspiracy theories about Covid-19.
Johnson has said that he supports converting funding for programs like Social Security and Medicare, which are funded automatically by law, to discretionary spending, which would require Congress to allocate and approve funding annually. If this proposal is approved, it could lead to cuts to both programs.
Democrats have nominated Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes to run against Senator Johnson. Barnes served as a state representative for four years before he was elected to be the Lieutenant Governor. Barnes also chairs the Governor’s task force on climate change, which works with communities across the state to develop strategies to help people in Wisconsin deal with the effects of climate change.
A poll conducted by Marquette University Law School shortly after the primary found Barnes ahead by seven points. The poll also finds that 41% of respondents don’t know enough about Barnes to form an opinion of him, which suggests that his support among voters could change as voters get to know him.
Of the respondents who have an opinion, a majority of them had a positive opinion of Barnes. More respondents had an opinion on Ron Johnson with 38% having a positive opinion of Johnson and 47% of respondents having a negative opinion of Johnson. It would have been helpful to have this data broken down by party ID, but this data was not provided to the public.
While the Marquette University Law School poll has a very good reputation, I would still expect a close race in November. Wisconsin is a very polarized state and many of the major statewide elections in the past six years have been decided by close margins.
If Barnes can maintain the lead that he has in the Marquette University Law School Poll as voters get to know him and if voter turnout for the general election reflects the demographics of the survey respondents, then Democrats should feel good about their chances of taking this seat.