Here’s what you need to know about Arizona’s Senate candidates: Kyrsten Sinema, Deedra Abboud, Joe Arpaio, Martha McSally and Kelli Ward.
Carly Henry, The Republic |

A Democrat-aligned group whose financiers are unknown is barraging the airwaves with TV ads to try to influence the Republican primary in the U.S. Senate race in hopes of creating what it deems a more favorable match-up in the general election.

Traditionally, the political parties and their allies send messages to their voters and do not try to play in the opposing party’s primary election. 

In this year’s Arizona’s race, Red and Gold has spent nearly $1.7 million attacking the presumed GOP front-runner, U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, since it formed Aug. 1. 

The group is one of more than a dozen outside groups pouring millions of dollars into Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat to sway voters ahead of the fast-approaching Aug. 28 primary. 

The ads center on McSally’s support of a Republican bill that would have allowed insurers to charge older adults more through a so-called “age tax.” The group began its advertising Aug. 3.

Democratic front-runner U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s campaign began airing its own TV ad that invokes an “age tax” not long after. Coordination between these types of political committees and candidate campaigns is illegal. 

RELATED: Outside groups spending big on Arizona’s GOP Senate race

How the ads could impact election

The group’s efforts could leave McSally wounded heading into the Nov. 6 general election, if she wins. Or, they could bolster the prospects of her closest primary rival, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who otherwise would not have the resources to so aggressively strike McSally. 

“They’re trying to sculpture their opponent,” said Kip Cassino, an independent analyst in Tucson who examines political contests around the nation. “By propping up a weaker candidate, who in a normal case would not get that much advertising, they’re … making a contest where there was not one before.”


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McSally’s compelling life story as the first woman Air Force combat pilot is seen as more electable than Ward, who unsuccessfully ran against U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2016 and does have share McSally’s fundraising prowess. While McSally eked by her first congressional win in her swing congressional district, she demonstrated an ability to win in a centrist district. 

Democrats agree that McSally would put up the toughest fight against Sinema, employing an official, Drew Anderson, who works out of the Arizona Democratic Party’s Phoenix office and obsessively centers his attacks on McSally. 

McSally is seen as the Republicans’ best chance at defending the party’s open Senate seat in a general-election match-up against Sinema, a well-funded and formidable rival who could help Democrats regain control of the U.S. Senate.

RELATED: Pro-McSally group spends $923,000 to oppose Kelli Ward this week alone

Ward, a former state legislator from Lake Havasu City, is seen as vulnerable in a potential head-to-head against Sinema because of hard-right positions that some would characterize as too extreme to win over a broader statewide electorate.  

An official with the Ward campaign denied that Democrats would rather face Ward over McSally.

McSally slammed the ads at a campaign event Wednesday.

“They know I’m the only Republican in this race who can win the general election, and so they are trying, obviously, to take me down in the primary in their own little version of election meddling,” McSally said. “I think Republican primary voters do not want out-of-state, radical, left-wing billionaires influencing our Republican primary.”

She said voters would not “take the bait.”


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Political consultants say the Republican Party could all but forfeit the race if Ward were to win the GOP nomination.

In the final stretch of the primary election, the race is said to be tightening although McSally is still considered the front-runner. 

McSally, Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio are competing for the GOP nomination.

On the Democratic side, Sinema, a three-term congresswoman from Phoenix, is running against progressive attorney and activist Deedra Abboud, of Scottsdale. 

MORE: McSally, Sinema refuse to debate rivals in Senate primary races

What we know about Red and Gold

Red and Gold was formed Aug. 1 and little is known about it. The group’s treasurer is listed as Roy Herrera, a Phoenix attorney active in Democratic circles

The timing of Red and Gold’s creation allowed its agents to avoid disclosing its donors at the peak of early voting. The group will not have to reveal its financial backers until Sept. 20, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The group lists the website of on its FEC filings. That website, created in mid-July, gives just two vague sentences about its mission: “Red and Gold stands for liberty, justice, and democracy. We support policies that will move our country forward.”

The organization has used Waterfront Strategies to handle its media purchases, a clue that suggests Red and Gold may be linked to national Democrats with deep pockets.


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Waterfront Strategies has handled $591,000 in services this election cycle for the Senate Majority PAC, which is aligned with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. It has also handled more than $4 million in the same time for Majority Forward, a dark-money organization that isn’t required to disclose its donors. 

Majority Forward, however, shares office space and other resources with Senate Majority PAC, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Rodd McLeod,  spokesman for Red and Gold, said the voters should know McSally’s record on the age-tax provision in the health care bill.

“We are committed to electing Kyrsten Sinema to the Senate and we are committed to making sure that Martha McSally does not make it to the Senate,” he said. “If Kelli Ward were in first place in this primary race right now, we would be running ads against Kelli Ward.” 

The strategy is similar to one national Democrats employed this spring in the West Virginia Republican primary.


In an interview with Yvonne Wingett Sanchez of The Republic, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio talks about fundraising for his U.S. Senate run.
Tom Tingle, Arizona Republic

The group there, dubbed “Duty and Country,” aired ads intended to help an imprisoned coal baron advance to the general election, according to Politico. The strategy did not work.

And there are parallels to ads that Missouri Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign financed in 2012. Those ads were intended to help advance a weaker GOP candidate in the general election, according to Politico.

“It was a real effort for Democrats to try to handpick the weaker candidates in the primary, and that is something you really didn’t much see prior to that,” said Jon Seaton, a Republican consultant who worked for one of the GOP candidates in that three-way race.

“It is clear that they (Democrats) see Martha McSally as a very strong candidate, and see her easily as Republican’s best chance to defeat Kyrsten Sinema. … They’re really hopeful they’ll have the opportunity to run against Kelli Ward instead.”



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