Election 2022

In Arizona's Senate Race, Blake Masters and Mark Kelly Battle Over Their Preferred Kinds of Big Government

Though the candidates have seemingly little in common, either one winning will harm the cause of individual liberty.


As Democratic candidates in a few battleground states now see their leads slipping ahead of the midterms, Arizona's Senate election stands out as one that could very well tip the body's balance in either party's favor. FiveThirtyEight notes that incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D–Ariz.) is currently polling at 48.4 percent compared to Republican candidate Blake Masters' 46.8 percent.

That puts Kelly, a veteran and former astronaut elected in 2020 to fill Republican Sen. John McCain's seat, and Masters, a first-time candidate and former Thiel Capital COO backed by former President Donald Trump, at their closest numbers since July. Though their backgrounds and political positions have seemingly little in common, either one winning Arizona's Senate race will displease supporters of small government and individual freedom.

Kelly is by no means the most extreme Democrat running for a Senate seat this election. Earlier this year, he bucked President Joe Biden and pushed him to delay the end of the pandemic Title 42 order, which allowed border officials to immediately expel migrants in the name of public health. Kelly introduced the bipartisan Border Patrol Enhancement Act, which proposed a Border Patrol hiring expansion and pay increase for agents. He was one of just eight Democrats in the Senate to vote to overturn the federal mask mandate on airplanes and public transportation. Among Democratic senators, Kelly has voted in line with Biden's position the seventh-lowest percentage of the time.

Still, that has resulted in Kelly aligning with Biden 94.5 percent of the time, translating to support for massive expansions of government spending. Kelly was a key negotiator behind the CHIPS Act, which lobbed $52 billion in subsidies toward an already healthy domestic semiconductor industry. He voted for the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which paid people not to work and fueled inflation. A "moderate," bipartisan senator in today's political climate still favors big-ticket legislation.

Kelly supported Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, which raises taxes—including on households making under $200,000—and funds a massive expansion of IRS manpower. Rather than pumping the breaks on federal spending to quash inflation, Kelly cited his microchip legislation and his efforts to stop oil companies from "price gouging" as ways to lower consumer costs. And he's proven amenable to other positions that have become largely orthodox on the left, including raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and changing filibuster rules to push voting rights legislation forward.

"I don't look, sound, feel like a conventional Washington politician," Masters said in an interview with the Washington Examiner this week, chastening Kelly for voting "like a rubber stamp" for Biden's policies. Masters, despite his anti-establishment overtures, favors a muscular government—one with an extensive reach into all manner of individual freedom. That tendency toward coercion puts him more in line with the illiberal left than he would care to admit.

Masters wants to repeal Section 230 and regulate Big Tech entities as common carriers in the name of protecting free speech, despite the many ways consumers stand to lose under such a scheme. He'd like to interfere in other private spheres, from bathrooms to corporations, if they cater to transgender people or push environmental, social, and governance policies.

While a handful of Masters' policies might have a kernel of goodness to the liberty-inclined, they quickly fall apart. Masters says it isn't the military's job to "export democracy" abroad. Still, he favors a strong military to "get tough on China" and supports military action to defend "our allies like Israel." He wants to "support school choice in all its forms" but also wants to "end the scourge of wokeness in schools" to "stop the indoctrination." Though he concedes that it's "great" if "the world's best and brightest want to come here and assimilate here," he outlines no plan to expand legal immigration. Instead, he wants to finish building Trump's border wall, which could bring property rights violations and would certainly rack up a hefty price tag.

What's more, Masters' campaign website has undergone some noteworthy scrubbing. His team removed a section arguing that if the 2020 presidential election had been "free and fair," then "Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today." Another now-deleted sentence originally claimed that Democrats "dream of mass amnesty" for illegal immigrants "because they want to import a new electorate." A section describing Masters' support for a "federal personhood law" and ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy also disappeared, replaced by vaguer language. These tweaks don't bode well for Masters' commitment to principled policy making.

Until last week, liberty-minded Arizonans had an option in Libertarian Party candidate Marc Victor, who garnered double-digit support in one poll. "Live and let live," Victor said at an October 6 debate with Kelly and Masters. "That's my position on every issue." He has since endorsed Masters despite the latter's September declaration that "libertarianism doesn't work."

Victor's exit leaves Arizonans with Kelly, an undramatic establishment Democrat who reliably supports expanding the size and scope of the federal government despite the resulting ills, and Masters, an outsider and culture warrior who looks all too willing to harness government power to punish the ideas and entities he disfavors. Unfortunately, many Arizonan voters simply say they support their guy because he isn't the other guy.