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Arizona GOP Primary Gets First Major Contender
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Arizona GOP Primary Gets First Major Contender

Plus: The McCormick/Mastriano cold war in Pennsylvania.

Mark Lamb speaks in 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Happy Monday! A quick bookkeeping note on the unkind words about the St. Louis Cardinals you may have encountered in The Morning Dispatch today: The current MLB season is about 9 percent complete, and Andrew is looking forward to the first Cardinals-Cubs series of the season early next month.

Up to Speed

  • Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson plans to formally announce his presidential campaign in Bentonville on April 26. Hutchinson, who also previously served in Congress and as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration under George W. Bush, has positioned himself as the race’s most direct critic of former President Donald Trump, telling Fox Business last week that “I for one do not believe that Donald Trump can win a general election.”
  • Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Friday that he will not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2024. Pompeo had spent recent months going through the pre-campaign candidate dance, making appearances in early primary states and releasing a political memoir earlier this spring. In his statement, he kept the door open for a possible future run: “There remain many more opportunities for which the timing might be more fitting as presidential leadership becomes even more necessary.”
  • Virginia’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin is also tamping down speculation about a possible run. “Listen, I didn’t write a book, and I’m not in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina,” Youngkin said at an event last week. “I am wholly focused on the Commonwealth of Virginia, and I’m looking forward to these elections.”
  • Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her aides are rebuffing calls for her to resign as she continues to battle shingles. Her roughly two-month hospital stay has stalled a number of Senate Judiciary confirmations, prompting the 89-year-old Democrat to ask for a temporary replacement on the panel until she recovers. Last week, Politico reported that “three people who have visited with the senator in recent weeks or been briefed on her status say her diagnosis appears to have taken a heavy toll on her,” and that “multiple Democrats close to her, as well as top-ranking congressional aides, are growing increasingly concerned that she may never come back to Washington at all.”
  • Scandal-embroiled GOP Rep. George Santos’ campaign “refunded more contributions than it took in during the first three months of the year,” the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, topping off an unusual fundraising quarter for a congressman who has already filed paperwork to run for reelection in 2024. The New York Post reported over the weekend that the congressman is gearing up to announce his reelection bid this week.
  • Responding to unrest in downtown Chicago Friday and Saturday night, when hundreds of teens flooded the streets to smash windshields, steal cars, and injure passersby, Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson said the city needs a “comprehensive approach” to public safety. “In no way do I condone the destructive activity we saw in the Loop and lakefront this weekend,” Johnson said in a Sunday evening statement. “It is unacceptable and has no place in our city. However, it is not constructive to demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities.” At least three teens suffered gunshot wounds, according to local media reports.
  • New Federal Election Commision reports show that Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley significantly overstated what her campaign had initially characterized as an $11 million six-week fundraising haul since announcing her campaign in mid-February. “The campaign appears to have double-counted money it moved among various committees,” the Washington Post reports. “The filings, covering the first three months of the year, show that three committees affiliated with Haley collectively brought in about $8.3 million.”

The American Sheriff Enters the Arizona Senate Primary

The Arizona Senate race, which promises to be one of next year’s most interesting contests, just got its first significant Republican contender. Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb announced his bid for independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s seat last Monday.

“We need leaders in this country that aren’t too politically correct to protect us,” Lamb said in a tightly produced launch video. “I’ll stand up to the woke left and the weak politicians in Washington, secure our border, and support our law enforcement.”

A sheriff seeking higher office isn’t unusual in Arizona, where border security and crime have both leapt to the fore as core Republican issues in recent years. The 2018 Arizona Senate race—the one that sent Sinema to the Senate in the first place—featured another populist lawman in the Republican primary: former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who ultimately placed third.

But Arpaio’s populism was dark and conspiratorial—he built his national profile as part of the Obama-era birther movement, and as sheriff he was frequently accused of police overreach, while his unconstitutional “immigration round-ups” ultimately earned him a criminal conviction for contempt of court.

Lamb, by contrast, carries himself more like a brand-conscious evangelist, bringing a gigawatt smile and Cory Bookerish quantities of enthusiasm and apparent sincerity to his sermons about how determination and conservative values can save America. He’s self-published a book (American Sheriff: Traditional Values in a Modern World), been featured on a true-crime TV show (A&E’s Live PD Wanted) and become a fixture as a pro-law-enforcement voice on Fox News and Newsmax. As Pinal sheriff, he made national news in 2020 when he announced he would not enforce Gov. Doug Ducey’s pandemic stay-at-home order.  

He’s also been shaped by deep personal tragedy. Last December, Lamb’s son Cooper, along with his fiancé Caroline and their infant daughter, were killed in a collision with a suspected intoxicated driver. At the time, Lamb told reporters that “we don’t feel any anger or resentment” toward the driver, noting that Cooper and Caroline had both previously struggled with addiction too.

“I know what deadly drugs and the criminals peddling them are doing to families and communities,” Lamb said in his launch video. “I know what it did to my family.”

In recent years, Arizona’s Republican Party has been racked by deep divisions between its longstanding moderate wing and a new brand of brash MAGA insurgents. These tensions spilled into the open last cycle, with sharp-elbowed GOP chair Kelli Ward openly meddling in primaries in favor of Trump-favored candidates and gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake jeering at “McCain Republicans” at a rally days before the election. The humiliating result: Arizona Republicans lost every major race, from U.S. Senate to governor to attorney general to secretary of state. (Republican Kimberly Yee was reelected state treasurer.)

This time around, the party’s new leadership is hoping to keep the infighting to a dull roar. In a meeting last week with a group of Senate hopefuls that included Lamb, new state party chair Jeff DeWit reportedly implored the possible future rivals not to let the primary melt down into a mud fight.

That’s fine by Lamb, who built close relationships last cycle with two of those possible future hopefuls: Kari Lake—who did not attend the meeting—and former Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters. (Masters, who has posted on social media about his friendship with Lamb, attended the visitation for Cooper Lamb after his death.)

“There’s some dynamics that exist within the Republican Party here,” Lamb told The Dispatch on Sunday, “and I hope to transcend those by just focusing on being a good statesman, focusing on what I hope to do for the people of Arizona, focusing on my race that I am running, and letting them just see that I have a passion for serving the people of Arizona.”      

He also suggested his campaign would play for a big-tent approach.

“I’ve been doing law enforcement for almost two decades, and never once when somebody calls and asks for help do you ask ‘em which party they belong to,” Lamb said. “As a sheriff, I have represented Republicans, Democrats, and independents, and I look forward to representing Republicans, Democrats, and independents as a senator as well.”

In the early going, Lamb has already staked out some strident policy positions: He has called to use military force to wipe out Mexican drug cartels “like we did to ISIS.” But he’s also backed away in recent months from one major MAGA shibboleth: the supposedly stolen 2020 election. “I got involved with some of the groups that were actively out saying they had evidence,” Lamb told Phoenix’s Fox affiliate earlier this month. “To this day, I’ve never been provided any evidence of significant material fraud.”

Despite Lamb’s entrance, there’s little indication that other likely contenders are in any hurry to jump into the race themselves. Masters and Lake, fresh from their last statewide campaigns, are already well known among Republicans in the state, so they’d need less time to spin their campaigns back up. Karrin Taylor Robson, whom Lake defeated in last year’s gubernatorial primary, is also considering a run, but a source familiar with her thinking tells The Dispatch she “isn’t feeling a ton of urgency to make a decision anytime soon.”

If Lake were to run, she’d enter the race as the favorite. A JL Partners poll conducted last week found her at 38 percent support among likely primary voters, followed by Robson at 10 percent, Lamb at 8 percent, and Masters at 7 percent. Those poll results were shared online by Caroline Wren, a GOP fundraiser who now advises Lake.

Pennsylvania’s Shadow Senate Primary Heats Up

Now that three-term Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has officially announced his intent to run for reelection this cycle, the pressure is on for prospective Republican Senate candidates to start making their pitches to voters. 

For now, the Republican primary field remains wide open. But a shadow primary of sorts has begun between former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick and state Sen. Doug Mastriano, both of whom ran unsuccessfully for statewide office last cycle and have publicly signaled interest in running for Casey’s seat in 2024.

McCormick—who narrowly lost last year’s Republican Senate primary to Trump-endorsed television personality Mehmet Oz—has taken a slightly more proactive approach to a potential Senate bid. The former Bridgewater Associates CEO launched a new political action committee and published a new book, and he’s spent recent weeks meeting with Republican officials in D.C. and on the ground in Pennsylvania.

That strategy already seems to be paying dividends. The Senate Leadership Fund, the Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC, has already made clear it intends to spend heavily in Pennsylvania to clear the primary field for McCormick. And in interviews, a growing number of Republican county chairs, activists, and members of Congress tell The Dispatch they see McCormick as a consensus pick for the party after Republicans’ shellacking last cycle, when Oz lost the Senate race by 5 points and Mastriano lost the gubernatorial race by 15.

Mastriano’s double-digit general election loss in particular haunts Pennsylvania Republicans to this day. “You can’t excuse it away. It was a bad loss, and one that was unnecessary,” said Harrisburg-based Republican strategist Charlie Gerow, a 2022 gubernatorial candidate who lost to Mastriano in the primary and later campaigned for him in the general election. 

Republicans like Gerow say they see McCormick as someone with sufficient fundraising prowess and mainstream appeal to give Casey—a well-funded incumbent who won his last reelection race by 13 points—a run for his money.

Meanwhile, Mastriano says he’s “praying” about a prospective Senate run next cycle. His flirtation with challenging Casey has unnerved a growing cohort of local Republican officials who view the state senator’s die-hard Trumpism, “no exceptions” approach to abortion restrictions, and dalliance with 2020 election denialism as a recipe for electoral defeat in 2024.

“The question is: What’s Mastriano going to do differently next time?” said Jackie Kulback, who chairs both the Cambria County GOP and the Pennsylvania GOP’s southwest caucus. “Mastriano has gone so far to the right, I just don’t see how he can walk much back.”It’s unclear where Mastriano’s grassroots primary support stands nearly a year after he won Pennsylvania’s nine-way gubernatorial primary with roughly 44 percent of the vote. (Second-place finisher Lou Barletta finished with just 20 percent.) But as they wait for both prospective candidates to make up their minds about 2024, McCormick’s biggest supporters on the ground suggest that deep down, even Mastriano sees the writing on the wall.

“I don’t think he is of the mind to ruin our opportunity to win the United States Senate,” Rob Gleason, a state committeeman who chaired the Pennsylvania GOP for eleven years, said in an interview last month. “He can’t raise money and nobody’s gonna give him any money. He realizes that.”

Another potential GOP Senate candidate to watch is former U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, who The Dispatch has learned has been calling donors and party leaders around the Keystone State in recent weeks. According to someone who has heard from him, Rothfus is taking the temperature of those who withheld their support or donations during the 2022 primary and might be looking for a consensus conservative to take on Casey.

Eyes on the Trail

  • O’Brien on the move: Robert C. O’Brien, the fourth (and final) national security adviser under former President Donald Trump, is moving from Southern California to Park City, Utah. That’s sure to raise eyebrows among some Republicans, who might wonder if O’Brien, a Mormon who briefly considered a 2024 White House bid, is interested in future campaigns for governor or Senate. But O’Brien, who recently returned from a two-week trip to Taiwan, appears focused on his consulting firm, American Global Strategies, and on counseling Republicans on foreign policy, especially the threat to U.S. global preeminence from a rising China. He regularly discusses the matter with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, who leads a special House select committee on the Chinese Communist Party, plus House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas, among others. As for Trump: “I’m not sure my endorsement matters but I told the president after the last election that I hoped he would get another opportunity,” O’Brien told The Dispatch.
  • DeSantis Super PAC unleashes: A super PAC backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ expected 2024 White House bid hit the airwaves Monday with its first national television advertising buy. The glitzy one-minute spot from Never Back Down, “Anthem,” which was first shared with The Dispatch, offers a positive review of DeSantis’ governing record in Florida amid heavy attacks from Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. On that front, Never Back Down responded to the former president’s nonstop haymakers with an attack ad that aired Sunday morning during Fox News Sunday, Fox News’ weekly public affairs program. That news was first reported by Axios.
  • DeSantis to D.C.: Nine congressional Republicans are co-hosting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for a meet and greet in Washington, D.C., Tuesday evening, per a copy of the invitation obtained by The Dispatch and now in wide circulation. Some of these Republicans are rather prominent. But as we learned in the past few days, not all nine of DeSantis’ co-hosts for this event near Capitol Hill have decided to endorse his presumed 2024 presidential bid, including Reps. Randy Feenstra of Iowa, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, and Darin LaHood of Illinois. Three other co-hosts, Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado; Bob Good of Virginia; Laurel Lee of Florida; and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who is known to be partial to DeSantis, did not respond to our requests for comment. Co-hosts, Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Chip Roy of Texas, previously endorsed DeSantis.

Notable and Quotable

“You want China not to invade Taiwan? Here is something we can do: The NRA can open its branch next time in Taiwan. And you want to stop [Chinese President] Xi Jinping from invading Taiwan, put a gun in every Taiwanese household, have them defend themselves, let’s see what Xi Jinping does then. That is what it means to be an actual American.”

—GOP presidential candidate and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy addressing an Indianapolis National Rifle Association event, Friday, April 14

Associate Editor Michael Warren contributed to this edition.

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.