Masters and Vance campaigns not defined by their business background

Photo illustration of a briefcase with Republican Senate candidate JD Vance and Blake Masters

JD 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 JD Vance are Republicans running for the U.S. Senate, but many voters in Arizona and Ohio may not be aware of their corporate background.

Why it matters: This is different from conventional campaign strategies for political newcomers 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 hidden from their venture capital past, as each of their campaign websites features resume excerpts. But the candidates have not talked much about that past in public appearances either.

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

In Arizona: In a televised debate last week, neither Blake Masters nor his Democratic opponent (incumbent Senator Mark Kelly) mentioned Masters’ short time as an entrepreneur, nor his subsequent eight years at Thiel Capital.

  • Jeremy Duda, an Axios Phoenix reporter, tells me that was part of this campaign.

In Ohio: Vance’s opponent, Representative Tim Ryan, has tried harder than Kelly to make venture capital a problem, including through an ad about “San Francisco vulture capitalist” that he was asked about during a debate last week.

  • But Ryan couldn’t keep up with the landing, claiming that Vance had “invested in China” without being able to name the company he was referring to.
  • That’s probably because Vance has never backed a China-based company through its venture capital funds, according to a review of the data.
  • Instead, Ryan apparently referred to two companies on Vance’s financial disclosure forms that source certain equipment and/or products from China, both affiliated with Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund (of which Vance joined in 2017 and left two years later to establish his own firm. ).
  • But that’s a bit like saying an investment in Ford Motor Co. “investing in China” is because Ford buys some EV battery packs from Chinese suppliers. In addition, one of the two investments was made by Revolution co-founder Steve Case before Vance even joined the company, but was rolled into the fund as a contributed asset. The other is a Salt Lake City clothing maker who has about 22% of its products made in factories in Shanghai and Tianjin (the investment was made shortly before Vance left Revolution).
  • Most importantly, the whole investment exchange only took a few minutes – look here from 15:00 — and was hardly one of the defining moments of the debate (regardless of which voters thought they had the upper hand).

Neither Masters nor Vance responded to Axios’ request for comment on this story.

It comes down to: Venture capital will not be in the mood next month, even though there are two venture capitalists.

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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