In his campaign to unseat Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Republican Blake Masters has consistently amplified skepticism and conspiracy theories surrounding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
But during the final stretch of his own 2022 race, Masters is starting to cast doubt on the outcome of this election—before the votes are even counted.
At a campaign stop on Tuesday in a small town north of Phoenix, Masters was confronted with one voter’s concern that he could win by a “landslide” but that voting machines would “flip the vote” in Kelly’s favor, according to audio of the event obtained by The Daily Beast.
“Unfortunately, we still have the machines in this election,” Masters replied. The “machines” refer to Dominion Voting Systems’ machines, which were used in Arizona and have been the subject of countless unfounded conspiracies. Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, used paper ballots in the 2020 election; audits found no evidence of fraud.
Masters expanded on the voter’s concern by recounting a conversation he had with his father before launching his campaign. In Masters’ telling, his father said he didn’t want him to run because he couldn’t beat Kelly, because of voter fraud.
“But say you beat Mark Kelly by 30,000 votes,” Masters said. To which his father responded: “I’m worried they’ll just find 40,000 for Mark Kelly.”
“He invited me to prove him wrong,” Masters continued. “I said, ‘Dad, I can’t prove you wrong. All I know is, if those are the numbers, I’ve got to win by 80,000.’”
At that line, the crowd exploded in applause.
A spokesperson for Masters did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for Masters to explain his exact concerns about voting machines.
Sarah Guggenheimer, a spokesperson for Kelly, said in a statement that Masters is “dabbling in conspiracy theories” and “has made it clear that he is willing to threaten our democracy because he believes his baseless lies matter more than Arizonans’ right to vote.”
The GOP hopeful’s comments on Tuesday mark at least the second time he has publicly cast doubt on the upcoming November election. In June, before his primary election, Masters told a crowd about 2020, “whatever their cheating capacity is, I’m pretty sure they pulled out all the stops… And the question is, will that happen again?”
These days, in the pro-Trump right, the idea that Republicans candidates need to win by wide margins so that they can overcome systemic pro-Democrat voter fraud is prevalent. Candidates have struggled to carefully validate continued baseless suspicion of voter fraud while not sowing so much doubt in the system that they turn off GOP voters.
The failure of that balancing act arguably cost Republicans control of the Senate in 2020. In the pivotal Georgia runoffs, former Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler amplified suspicion in the state’s election system and called for the resignation of the GOP Secretary of State while urging the party faithful to vote anyway. They didn’t, and both lost, with turnout noticeably lower in conservative areas.
Like Georgia, Arizona has been at the forefront of 2020 election conspiracies and continues to produce Republican leaders who put fixation on Trump’s loss at the center of their political agenda. Mark Finchem, the GOP candidate for Secretary of State, has premised his candidacy on the lie of a stolen election, causing widespread alarm about how he might handle the 2024 election if elevated to the position.
Masters, the 36-year old protege of conservative tech billionaire Peter Thiel, launched his GOP primary campaign as a hardline election denier. “I think Trump won in 2020,” begins one Masters video posted to Twitter last November. After his primary win, Masters backed away from that position slightly, scrubbing his campaign website to soften his rhetoric around 2020. But he has since shifted again, telling Fox News last week that he still believes Trump should be in power now.
The contest between Kelly and Masters is expected to be among the closest in the country and could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. In 2020, Kelly defeated former Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) by roughly 80,000 votes, while President Joe Biden defeated Trump by a mere 10,500-vote margin.