This is a complicated story, most involving John McCain, the six-term Republican incumbent. In Arizona Republican circles, McCain is not well-liked. Let me rephrase that: among conservative Republicans in Arizona, McCain is not well-liked. That is evident from the fact that the more conservative Arizona House members have not endorsed him. One such person- Matt Salmon- considered a run and noted that preliminary polls indicated a close race. But, Arizona holds a late primary and only 60 days of campaigning before the general election. He noted that whoever won would come out bloodied and weakened.
And that is the dilemma facing Arizona conservative Republicans. They don’t like McCain, but they realize he is their best chance to keep this seat in the Senate. And McCain has done his part to consolidate power in Arizona GOP circles. In anticipation of another run, McCain’s allies embarked on a concerted campaign to purge the party’s precinct captains in key areas of anti-McCain people. In 2015, the Maricopa County GOP and state GOP censured McCain for his stances on gun control and immigration reform. That obviously prompted McCain to embark on a scorched earth policy of ridding the Party of anti-McCain people in leadership positions. One powerful McCain ally is former Senator John Kyl.
But the problem for the insurgent conservatives is the inability to field a viable primary candidate. This year, they are sort of resigned to Kelli Ward, but it is a hands off endorsement. Using certain actions (they require explanation) McCain is painting Ward as an extremist. The first is the well-documented chemtrail controversy- the belief that the military is spraying chemicals over the population for some sinister purpose. In reality, Ward was responding to constituent concerns when she called for an investigation.
The second factor is her apparent defense of racist comments by LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Again, on the surface one sees extremism, but if read in context, her comments were not a defense of Sterling’s comments, but of free speech. Mark Levin has openly endorsed Kelli Ward in the GOP primary, but whether that motivates anyone to vote for her remains to be seen.
On the Democratic side, there is no controversy or “civil war.” The entire Democratic establishment and outside groups have consolidated around 1st District Congresswoman Anne Kirkpatrick. Before announcing, she had to wait for a Supreme Court decision over redistricting in the state and how it would affect her house seat’s boundaries. Once that decision left the boundaries intact, she made the decision to run.
Realistically, the Democratic bench in Arizona is deeper than most think. What convinced Kirkpatrick to run was the Supreme Court decision and knowledge of the promised “civil war” on the GOP side. Kirkpatrick is counting on a nasty GOP primary to weaken McCain. Also, it is possible that Clinton will attempt a play for Arizona in 2016. Finally is the question of outside group support who have been reluctant to get involved in the past since a Democratic candidate for Senate has not won since 1988.
As for Trump, there is animosity between him and McCain. There is the well noticed comments by Trump about McCain’s status as a POW. But, there have been other things going on. For example, Trump tried to recruit state treasurer Jeff DeWit to challenge McCain in the primary. DeWit left his options open, but deferred to his friend Kelli Ward.
If polling is any indication, Hillary Clinton will make a play for Arizona. Trump leads in the average of polls by 1 point, but Arizona usually votes for GOP presidential candidates by an average of 8 points. That is way too close for comfort.
What does this portend for McCain? First, he has to get by Ward in the primary. Polling is sparse with early polls showing a landslide McCain victory. However the most recent poll shows Ward still far back (13 points), but a vast improvement of late.
Assuming he gets by Ward, polls indicate a mirror of the top of the ticket- a GOP victory, but by the skin of his teeth. Ever since he entered politics, McCain’s closest margin of victory in a general election was 14 points. That was back in 1992 with another Clinton at the top of the ticket. The closer the race, the greater the chance of ticket splitting, or so goes the theory. And if Trump wins the presidential vote, the McCain-Trump animosity may cost John McCain his seat in the Senate. This is probably the most formidable Democratic candidate he has ever faced. And those who vote for Trump will vote against McCain. Stay tuned for the possible end of McCain’s political career.