Oct 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Peter Thiel offers to double down on Arizona Senate race

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel. Photo: Marco Bello/Getty Images

Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel has told the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund he is willing to make a multimillion-dollar investment in the Arizona race on the condition the super PAC finds matching funds, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: With less than a month until the midterms, a late cash injection of this scale could prove decisive in one of 2022's key Senate battlegrounds. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) team has said they are open to the idea but haven't yet raised the funds.

The big picture: The assumption in GOP political circles was that Thiel and SLF had abandoned Republican nominee Blake Masters, who has consistently trailed Democrat Mark Kelly in polling.

  • Both sides were motivated by a recent CBS News poll showing Kelly's lead has narrowed to three points, and the potential re-engagement reflects calculations that Masters may be in close enough range for money like this to close the gap 
  • Kelly has enjoyed a massive fundraising advantage, raking in $52 million through the end of June — compared to about $5 million by the Masters campaign. Neither candidate has released their Q3 fundraising figures.

Details: Under the proposed arrangement, Thiel and SLF would together spend at least $10 million to boost Masters — with Thiel responsible for half of the final figure that the two sides agree on, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

  • Thiel spent $15 million to support Masters in the GOP primary, but hasn't donated additional money to his Saving Arizona PAC since then. Earlier Wednesday, the PAC went up with a $2 million TV ad buy attacking Kelly, which was not funded by Thiel, according to a person familiar with the spot.
  • The National Republican Senatorial Committee also announced last week it would make a "seven-figure investment" in the Arizona race.
  • SLF spokesman Jack Pandol declined to comment.

The backdrop: SLF canceled $9.6 million in television ads reserved for the Arizona race last month, as Axios first reported, confident that other outside conservative groups would make up the difference.

  • The move was preceded by a pair of phone calls in which McConnell (R-Ky.) and SLF president Steven Law urged Thiel to re-engage on behalf of Masters, fearing the candidate's dismal fundraising and low favorability ratings would cost Republicans a key pickup opportunity, according to the Washington Post.
  • Thiel rejected a proposal at the time to split the cost of funding Masters through the general election, citing his investments early in the cycle and concerned that the financing would be used as a Democratic talking point, the Post reported.

Between the lines: Thiel signaled at a recent Masters fundraising event that he was done spending on behalf of Ohio Senate nominee J.D. Vance, believing the Republican nominee is on track to win, according to CNBC.

  • Vance, like Masters, is a former venture capital executive whose campaign Thiel has largely funded.
  • The Ohio race against Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan is rated "lean Republican" by the Cook Political Report, while Arizona is rating "lean Democratic."
  • The proposal by Thiel and SLF to double down on Arizona comes days after Masters and Kelly squared off in the race's first and perhaps only debate, where Masters made waves by calling on the Democrat to resign over his approach to the border crisis.
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