U.S. Sen. Martha McSally had incurred weeks of unchecked attacks from Democratic groups, and the Arizona Republican’s allies are pleading for help.
Since early September, Advancing Arizona has targeted McSally with a barrage of advertising as part of a $1.4 million television buy from the so-called dark money group that runs through late November. Need to Impeach, a super PAC, is chipping in an additional $134,000 in cable and digital attacks as Democrats in the House of Representatives accelerate an impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
Republican groups have been silent, even though the most recent poll showed her behind Democratic challenger Mark Kelly.
That includes the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party's Senate campaign arm, Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC affiliated with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and outside groups that in years past were reliable GOP partners. Republican insiders close to McSally are warning that the absence of air cover from the party and affiliated groups is putting the seat at risk.
“It’s incompetence,” a Republican operative told the Washington Examiner, requesting anonymity in order to criticize party leaders.
The NRSC is raising record amounts of campaign cash. Senate Leadership Fund, along with One Nation, its affiliated political nonprofit organization, also are flush with cash. But it would be unusual for the NRSC to get involved this soon. The committee usually does not stand up its advertising unit, which by law must operate separately from the group’s leadership, until the election year. The NRSC declined to comment.
Jack Pandol, a spokesman for McConnell's Senate Leadership Fund, declined to offer a timeline for investing in the Arizona Senate race, although it will assuredly jump in.
“We think Martha McSally is one of the most compelling leaders in America today, which is why Arizona was one of our largest investments in 2018, and we expect it will be the same in 2020. That’s what we are building toward every day,” he said.
McSally is a former congresswoman appointed this year as the permanent replacement to the late John McCain. Kelly is a former astronaut married to Gabrielle Giffords, the Democratic ex-congresswoman and gun control advocate. Kelly, who led McSally in the most recent public opinion poll, is raising more money than she is.
With the volume of unanswered advertising against her, some Republicans fret the senator is headed for a repeat of 2018. Kyrsten Sinema narrowly defeated McSally in the midterm elections, becoming the first Democrat in a generation to win an Arizona Senate seat. She did it with help from Democratic groups that overwhelmed their Republican counterparts. Republicans close to McSally are pushing the NRSC and SLF, specifically, to step up and defend McSally against Democratic attacks that have increased since early September.
“The NRSC is doing nothing to help targeted incumbents and it’s eroding our incumbents’ support every day,” the Republican operative said. “They need to get off Twitter and get in the game.”
McSally is not the only Republican incumbent getting pummeled without backup from GOP groups, and some Republican strategists are rebuffing complaints from her allies as misplaced. Others are questioning McSally's team and strategy, saying she has yet to prove she learned from previous mistakes.
“It’s absurd to think a party committee should be spending money on TV more than a year out from Election Day," one GOP strategist said. "Anyone who does clearly lacks professional knowledge on the subject and shouldn’t be anywhere near political campaigns in 2020.”
Democrats are unlikely to take their foot off the gas. Trump could be vulnerable in Arizona, an emerging battleground, although the state has not voted a Democrat for president since 1996.
One group running ads against McSally, Need to Impeach, backed by billionaire Democratic presidential contender Tom Steyer, said its focus on the senator will continue. The effort against her is part of a broader, $3.1 million ad campaign to pressure vulnerable Senate Republicans, including Colorado's Cory Gardner. The group’s ads also are running in Iowa and and Maine.
“Arizona is more of a swing state — now more than ever,” said Kevin Mack, chief strategist for Need to Impeach.