SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Blake Masters and Jim Lamon, who are competing for a shot to unseat Sen. Mark Kelly, traded barbs as each claims to be the America First candidate in the Arizona primary.
The race is particularly crucial, since Republicans, hoping to take control of the Senate after the November midterm elections, view Kelly as vulnerable. Both candidates touted their MAGA bona fides as a pitch for the primary as well as the general election, which Cook Political Report labels as a toss-up.
“I’ve created lots of jobs in America, thousands of them—tens of thousands in counting all the companies that I’ve got,” Lamon told Fox News when touting his America First credentials. “Hiring veterans first, giving back philanthropically.”
But Masters pointed to his endorsement from former President Trump, a fact plastered on his campaign ads and on the back of his campaign van.
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“President Trump endorsed me because he knows I’ll be the best in terms of securing our border,” Masters told Fox News in an exclusive interview.
The former president is scheduled to rally with the Peter Thiel protégé in Arizona Saturday night. And during a debate earlier this week, Masters said Trump thought Lamon was a “bozo” after meeting with him.
But Lamon, a former energy executive, said Trump wasn’t aware of claims against Masters at the time of his endorsement.
Jewish Insider reported that Masters advocated for “unrestricted immigration” in blog posts published under a pseudonym in 2005. A single anonymous source told the publication that Masters, who would have been about 19 at the time, was the author.
“I don’t believe that President Trump knew what we found and seen from Jewish Insider and a lot of other publications about Masters since that endorsement,” Lamon, who used the reporting in an attack ad, said. “One hundred percent for open borders, unrestricted immigration.”
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“Those kind of things in Arizona are not Arizona values,” he added.
Masters told Fox News he didn’t remember writing the posts, though he said the pseudonym was the same as his middle school screen name.
“Like many 19-year-olds, I thought I had the whole world figured out, and it turns out I didn’t,” Masters said. “Some of those views are obviously very childish, and in my adult life, I’ve gotten a lot wiser.”
“If that’s the best that my opponents can come up with, that’s crazy,” he continued.
Both candidates pointed to border security as a top issue and take a hard stance.
“We love immigration from a legal standpoint, but this coming through, that kind of rate is just crazy,” Lamon, who’s earned endorsements from the Border Patrol union and several police organizations, told Fox News. “It has to be stopped.”
He added that Remain in Mexico needs to be made into law, since the Supreme Court stood by the Biden administration’s to end the policy. The Trump-era order required immigrants to stay in Mexico while awaiting a decision on asylum requests.
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Masters, meanwhile, vowed to pass a bill that strengthens border security through measures like ballooning Border Patrol’s size and finishing the wall, though he said President Biden would veto that sort of legislation.
“My job in the U.S. Senate will be to just block the Biden agenda,” Masters told Fox News. “Biden’s not getting a damn thing – not a single appointee, not a single long-term funding bill – unless and until we restart construction of the border wall.”
Masters and Lamon both attacked Kelly, Biden and Democrats at large for the surge of illegal immigrants into Arizona, among other issues facing the nation, such as violent crime, fentanyl overdoses and inflation.
“Joe Biden has manufactured this border crisis,” Masters told Fox News, adding that Arizonans across the political spectrum are “pissed off about it.”
“It’s not just the people, of course … It’s also the fentanyl, the drugs, the crime,” he continued. “So we’ve got to shut the border down. That’s priority number one.”
Both Masters and Lamon argued that Kelly is a progressive, rather than moderate Democrat, and said he supports open borders.
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“He’s voting like Bernie Sanders,” Masters told Fox News. “He pretends to be a moderate, but he’s laying down a hyper left-wing voting record.”
Both Republicans pointed to Kelly’s voting record. The Democrat has voted with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer 96% of the time since 2021, and 92% of the time with Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to ProPublica.
“When we expose him for what he is and expose him for the votes he’s taken in the Senate and then run on this common sense agenda of border security, sanity in the schools, low inflation, America First economics, I think we’re going to crush Mark Kelly,” Masters said.
A spokesperson for Kelly’s campaign declined to comment. She did, however, provide Fox News with actions the senator has taken, such as providing funding for improved border security, increase Border Patrol pay and introduce bipartisan legislation to keep Title 42.
The spokesperson also pointed to Kelly’s criticism of Biden on issues such as inflation.
Masters has repeatedly faced critical media attention over the course of his race. Last month, for example, the candidate faced backlash after saying that “Black people, frankly,” are often behind gun violence.
“Most victims of gun murder in this country are Black males,” Masters told Fox News. “I think that’s horrible and nobody is trying to help or fix that situation.”
“Most perpetrators of gun murder in this country are Black men, and Republicans don’t want to talk about it because they’re terrified of being called racist,” Masters added.
Half of homicide offenders and 56% of victims in 2020 were Black, according to FBI data, though the dataset doesn’t include all murders nationwide, since some police departments don’t provide their figures to the bureau.
“All I did was point out that the Democrats don’t care about actual crime,” Masters said. “They’d love to disarm law abiding citizens … but they turn a blind eye to actual violent crime.”
“I don’t care if the media calls me racist. Everybody knows that that’s bulls—,” Masters said. “I’m proud of what I said.”
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Still, Masters gained a lead in the polls after Trump endorsed him in June, with the most recent survey showing a seven-point lead over Lamon.
“That’s why my opponents have been increasingly desperate,” Masters told Fox News.
Lamon contested the polling and cited his own survey that showed him leading the race. He also doubted that Masters’ favorability would continue improving after the initial bump from Trump’s endorsement.
Both candidates told Fox News were confident they could defeat Kelly despite polls showing the incumbent holding a notable advantage in hypothetical matchups. They also challenged the notion that Arizona is a purple state.
“It’s still pretty Republican,” Masters said. “Those independents … they all look at what’s happening and they just want a change in leadership.”
Trailing in the polls are Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and retired Gen. Mick McGuire.
Brnovich wasn’t made available for an in-person interview. But in a statement provided through a campaign official, the attorney general said he’s the only candidate who can beat Kelly and that “we’ve seen the damage that sending the wrong people to Washington can do.”
A McGuire campaign official touted the former general’s leadership and military credentials.
The Arizona primary is Aug. 2, though early voting has already begun.
Megan Myers contributed to this report.