Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) is projected to win reelection to the Senate, defeating Republican Blake Masters in one of the preeminent battleground contests on the midterm map this year and putting Democrats one step closer to securing their majority.

Kelly, who is completing the final two years of the late Sen. John McCain’s (R) term, held a steady lead over Masters, a protege of PayPal founder Peter Thiel, since the early August primary, though his lead slimmed in the final weeks. 

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.)

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) was projected to win his Senate race against Republican Blake Masters in one of the biggest battleground contests this election cycle. (Greg Nash)

His ultimate victory is a key hold for Democrats as they await the results of Senate races in Nevada, which is undergoing a similarly drawn-out counting process, and Georgia, which has gone to a Dec. 6 runoff. It also marks a defeat of one of the most closely watched candidates elevated by former President Trump.

Kelly, a retired astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), was buoyed throughout by a juggernaut of a fundraising operation. According to his Federal Election Commission filing on Oct. 19, the final financial snapshot of his campaign, Kelly raised more than $80 million for the run, a number that allowed him to flood the airwaves throughout the three-plus month stretch between the primary and Tuesday’s election.

By contrast, Masters only raised $8 million, with more than half of that total being raised by July 13 to help him win the primary over businessman Jim Lamon and state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, forcing him to rely on outside money to help boost him in the final months of the campaign. 

Masters struggled to bring in donations throughout the campaign, raising only $8 million. By contrast, Kelly raised over $80 million. (Associated Press)

After receiving $15 million in outside money from Peter Thiel to help guide him through the primary, a battle between Thiel and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) emerged over who was going to help Masters financially in the final stretch of the campaign. After Thiel proposed that each spend $5 million to help the GOP nominee, talks broke down and the Senate Leadership Fund decided not to engage further. 

Signaling troubles, the Senate Leadership Fund canceled nearly $10 million in ads in late September, leaving other GOP groups to pick up the slack. Among those was the Club For Growth, which spent an additional $5.5 million on Oct. 28 to boost Masters.

Notably, Masters not only lost to Kelly, but was unable to keep pace in the polls with Republican Kari Lake, who became the driving force behind the GOP ticket in the state over the final months. Trump, who endorsed both candidates, referenced Lake when talking to Masters over the phone days after he took part in a debate with Kelly and did not give a satisfactory answer on election fraud in the eyes of Trump.

Former President Trump, who endorsed Masters, criticized him in a phone conversation with the candidate after he was unimpressed by Masters’ answer on election fraud during his debate with Kelly. (Associated Press)

“I heard you did great on the debate but [had] a bad election answer. … You got a lot of support. You gotta stay with those people,” Trump told Masters on the call before referencing Lake as an example. 

“Look at Kari. Kari’s winning with very little money. If they say, ‘How is your family?’ She says, ‘The election was rigged and stolen,’” the former president told Masters. “You’ll lose if you go soft. You’re gonna lose that base.”

Democrats in Arizona can now turn their attention to reprising their 2020 presidential success in 2024 in what has turned into one of the top swing states in the country.