Reps. Martha McSally and David Schweikert are getting a boost from a group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Karl Rove, powerful Republican allies who have seen their influence tested in the Trump era.
One Nation, a Virginia-based non-profit “social welfare” organization, has begun running commercials across the state featuring the embattled Republicans. The ads, which reportedly cost $500,000, praise both McSally and Schweikert for their work on border security.
McSally is locked in a competitive GOP primary race for Arizona’s open Senate race. Several Democrats are competing for the right to face Schweikert in November.
Paperwork with the Tucson ad purchases for One Nation indicated contact information that is also used for American Crossroads, another “dark money” group co-founded by Rove, former President George W. Bush’s political strategist.
A spokesman for One Nation declined to discuss the ads Wednesday, noting they don’t start until Thursday.
While Schweikert’s Scottsdale-based district is seen as more competitive this year than usual, McSally would seem the primary beneficiary of the ad.
It will no doubt help raise her middling profile across the state. But it also reinforces perceptions that she is cut from the same establishment GOP cloth as the man she hopes to replace, Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican forced into retirement as President Donald Trump has tightened his control over the party.
McSally is battling former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former state Sen. Kelli Ward for the Republican nomination in Arizona’s Aug. 28 Senate primary. Both have long cast themselves as Trump loyalists.
McSally’s campaign had no immediate comment Wednesday about the ad blitz.
She has more aggressively embraced Trump’s agenda since deciding to run for the Senate. In 2016, she kept Trump at arm’s length, but has refashioned her tone and priorities, a U-turn that hardliners like Ward have said is a sign that McSally is only conservative as it suits her career needs.
“Karl Rove and the Never Trump establishment know they have to prop up Martha McSally because her support is stalling with primary voters,” said Zachery Henry, a spokesman for Ward’s campaign. “McSally’s record of personal attacks on President Trump, opposing the border wall, and her dozens of votes for amnesty and reckless Washington spending doesn’t appeal to Arizonans.”
Chad Willems, Arpaio’s campaign manager, said the “D.C. crowd” is trying to help McSally fool voters.
“We’re not surprised by this. Martha McSally has had to flip-flop on the issues conservatives care about in a not-so-veiled attempt to remake her image,” he said. “Obviously that’s not working, so along comes the D.C. crowd in an effort to bail her out. Arizona conservatives won’t fall for it.”
Henry noted Ward has been talking up the border on her own.
Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center in Washington, said One Nation stretches the limits of permissible political activity for a non-profit.
Social welfare organizations are generally permitted to spend less than half their funds on political activities, but nearly all of One Nation’s ads run outside the time frame when such commercials are clearly considered political activity, Fischer said. The Arizona ads, for example, fall outside the 30-day window for the state’s Aug. 28 primary.
“One Nation appears to exist entirely to secretly influence elections,” Fischer said. “They’re acting in violation of the letter and the spirit of non-profit law.”
One Nation and a related PAC called the Senate Leadership Fund are headed by Steven Law, a Rove associate and McConnell’s former chief of staff. In December, McConnell made clear he supported McSally’s Senate ambitions even before she officially declared herself a candidate.
“I and my allies will make every effort to make sure we have a nominee on the November ballot who can appeal to a general election audience,” McConnell told the Washington Examiner in an interview days after the GOP lost a Senate election in Alabama with scandal-tainted candidate Roy Moore.
But McConnell’s popularity among Republicans has tanked, especially since he failed last summer to push through legislation that would have gutted the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement.
McConnell has repeatedly run afoul of Trump, whose popularity is stellar with Republicans but toxic with Democrats and independents.
Trump’s political potency has received several boosts lately.
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., was forced into a runoff in a sign that many GOP voters had not forgiven her for calling on Trump to quit the 2016 race after the infamous “Access Hollywood” videotape surfaced a month before the election.
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., lost his primary contest after Trump ripped him in a tweet before the polls closed. It’s unclear how much Trump’s hostility factored into Sanford’s political demise, but his loss will likely reverberate to November as Republicans risk crossing Trump at their peril.
Republic reporter Yvonne Wingett Sanchez contributed to this article.
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