Oct 17, 2022 - Economy

J.D. Vance and Blake Masters dodging the Romney label in 2022

Photo illustration of a briefcase with Republican candidate for U.S. Senate J.D. Vance and Blake Masters

J.D. Vance (left) and Blake Masters (right). Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Drew Angerer and Mario Tama via Getty Images

Venture capitalists Blake Masters and J.D. Vance are Republicans running for the U.S. Senate, but many voters in Arizona and Ohio may be unaware of their business backgrounds.

Why it matters: This is a departure from conventional campaign strategies for political novices who have spent most of their careers in the private sector. If successful, it could represent a new normal.

What to know: Neither Masters nor Vance have hid from their venture capital pasts, as each of their campaign websites include résumé snippets. But the candidates also haven't talked much about those pasts in public appearances.

  • Nor have they regularly been forced to do so by their opponents, unlike what Mitt Romney faced in 2012 from both Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama.

In Arizona: During a televised debate last week, there was no mention by either Blake Masters nor his Democratic opponent (incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly) about Masters' brief time as an entrepreneur nor his eight subsequent years with Thiel Capital.

  • Jeremy Duda, an Axios Phoenix reporter, tells me that was par for this campaign's course.

In Ohio: Vance's opponent, Rep. Tim Ryan, has tried harder than has Kelly to make venture capital an issue, including via a "San Francisco vulture capitalist" ad that he was asked about during a debate last week.

  • But Ryan couldn't stick the landing, insisting that Vance had "invested into China" without being able to name the company to which he was referring.
  • That's likely because Vance never backed a China-based company via his venture capital funds, per a review of the records.
  • Instead, Ryan apparently was referring to two companies on Vance's financial disclosure forms that source some equipment and/or products from China, both tied to Revolution's Rise of the Rest Seed Fund (which Vance joined in 2017 and left two years later to launch his own firm).
  • But that's a bit like saying an investment in Ford Motor Co. is "investing in China," because Ford sources some EV battery packs from Chinese suppliers. Moreover, one of the two investments was made by Revolution co-founder Steve Case before Vance even joined the firm, but got rolled into the fund as a contributed asset. The other is a Salt Lake City-based apparel maker that has around 22% of its products made in Shanghai and Tianjin factories (the investment was made shortly before Vance left Revolution).
  • Most importantly, the entire investment exchange lasted just a few minutes — watch here beginning at 15:00 — and was hardly one of the debate's defining moments (no matter who voters thought prevailed).

Neither Masters nor Vance returned Axios' request for comment on this story.

The bottom line: Venture capital won't be on the ballot next month, even though two venture capitalists will be.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Mitt Romney faced Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama in 2012, not 2016.

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