GOP Senate candidate links Fed's gender and racial diversity to US economic woes

Mr Blake Masters, a venture capitalist endorsed by former president Donald Trump, has been particularly outspoken. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Mr Blake Masters, the Republican nominee challenging Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, suggested in a sarcastic Twitter post late on Sunday (Aug 28) that the country's economic struggles were connected to increased gender and racial diversity in Federal Reserve leadership.

"Finally a compelling explanation for why our economy is doing so well," Mr Masters wrote in response to an Associated Press report that found there were, according to the news agency, "more female, Black and gay officials contributing to the central bank's interest-rate decisions than at any time in its 109-year history".

While Mr Masters was swiftly condemned by some as dismissing the value of diversity, his opinion aligned with some of his fellow Republicans, who also criticised the focus on diversity at a time of high inflation.

Such viewpoints are not new on the right: A number of Republican candidates and elected officials have disparaged efforts to promote diversity and combat bigotry.

In primary contests, Republican voters have rewarded some nominees who espouse racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic views.

Mr Masters, a venture capitalist endorsed by former president Donald Trump, has been particularly outspoken.

Among other things, he has promoted what experts in extremism describe as a sanitised version of the racist "great replacement" conspiracy theory - claiming that Democrats are trying to bring more immigrants into the country in order to dilute the political power of native-born citizens - and characterised the United States' gun violence problem as "people in Chicago, St Louis shooting each other - very often, you know, Black people, frankly".

Mr Masters' campaign team did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. His campaign manager said last month, in response to criticism of the candidate's immigration views, that voters were "tired of being sorted into colour boxes and prefer substance to identity pandering" - echoing how many on the right seek to paint efforts that combat racism, sexism and other forms of bias as "identity politics" and "wokeness".

Republican voters seemed unmoved by a string of revelations about Mr Masters' views before his Aug 2 primary, including youthful writings that his opponent, Mr Jim Lamon, had criticised as antisemitic. Mr Masters handily defeated Mr Lamon.

But whether Mr Masters can appeal to voters beyond his right-wing base in the midterm election in November seems to be weighing on party leaders.

Senate Republicans' political action committee cancelled US$8 million (S$11 million) of television, radio and digital advertising in Arizona last week, signalling increasing pessimism about Mr Masters' ability to win a race that Republicans once saw as a relatively easy pickup en route to retaking a Senate majority.

Mr Masters has stripped hardline abortion policies from his website - an implicit recognition of the backlash that Republicans are facing over the overturning of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that the US Constitution conferred the right to have an abortion. He also released an advertisement in which he sought to cast his abortion platform as "common sense".

The website changes, reported by NBC News last Thursday, removed language in which Mr Masters described himself as "100 per cent pro-life" and called for a constitutional amendment that would give foetuses the same legal rights as an infant or adult.

The anti-abortion movement is pursuing such measures, known as foetal personhood laws, as a way to criminalise abortion as murder and to eliminate the exceptions included in many current abortion bans.

But a growing volume of data shows the political perils of that policy.

Republican candidates have underperformed in special elections held since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June, and voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed state legislators to ban or severely restrict abortion.

More Republicans have shifted away from hardline abortion positions in recent weeks.

Mr Masters' advertisement, which focused on rare third-trimester abortions and said Senator Kelly supported an "extreme" policy, was in line with a longtime anti-abortion strategy of anchoring public messaging on abortions later in pregnancy - even though more than 90 per cent of abortions take place at or before 13 weeks of gestation, and the state laws that have taken effect since June generally ban the procedure early in pregnancy, or at any point.

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