Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Race of the Day- Arizona U.S. Senate

97 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Leans Republican

The August 30th Republican primary in Arizona will be a major factor in determining who will ultimately win the general election for this Senate seat, and may very well decide control of the Senate itself.

Currently, it looks like Republican Senator John McCain will probably capture enough votes to win re-nomination and then would be at least a modest favorite to win a 6th term in the Grand Canyon State. McCain will turn 80, the day before the primary, but must feel as if he has longevity on his side as evidenced by his still feisty 104 year old mother. He has definitely been a survivor, from his years spent in the United States Navy, which included several years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam, where the son and grandson of Admirals endured torture and solitary confinement, to a long career in elected office, dating back to the early 1980s.

The Senator went from having his name tarnished as part of the Keating Five scandal to a loud voice for political and campaign reform, which gained him national prominence, and immense popularity in Arizona. Despite a reputation as a "maverick" and much suspicion from conservative activists, McCain parlayed his biography and foreign policy experience to the GOP Presidential nomination in 2008, the second time he sought the office. He ran under a campaign theme of "Country First", but was unable to overcome a strong desire for change and lost solidly to Barack Obama.

Instead of retiring though, McCain chose to run for reelection in 2010, after surprising many by emerging as a quite harsh critic of the Obama Presidency on Capitol Hill. McCain's time as the national GOP standard bearer and his anti-Obama activities did much to sour him in the esteem of Democrats, the party which less than a decade earlier made entreaties for him to join their cause. At the same time, McCain continued to have issues with many in the burgeoning Tea Party movement, especially on the issue of illegal immigration, a potent one in border state Arizona. A bombastic former Congressman challenged McCain in the Republican primary from the right, and many expected a strong battle, but the incumbent ran a smart campaign and maintained loyalty from enough Arizona Republicans to win big at the end. The general election, against a second tier Democrat was more of a foregone conclusion.

After this win, many thought McCain would ultimately step aside in 2016, but he announced last year he would indeed run again and immediately started launching an active campaign, in preparation for both a primary and general election. The most prominent McCain critics in the Arizona GOP decided not to challenge him, but he is facing a three way primary this month and some limited polling has showed he might be vulnerable. McCain's main competitor is former Sate Senator Kelli Ward. A fourth primary participant recently dropped out of the race, so that it would be easier to consolidate against McCain, but with no runoffs in Arizona, even a three way primary might be enough to allow McCain to escape with a plurality of the vote and advance to the general election. I think that is the most likely outcome at this point, but nothing can be ruled out during this unpredictable campaign season.

Democrats are united behind the candidacy of Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. Hailing from the more sparsely populated northern part of the state, she was first elected to Congress in 2008, before losing in the GOP wave of 2010. Running in a more heavily Democrat district in 2012, she regained a spot in Congress narrowly and survived another competitive race in 2014. With the looming possibility of her district lines changing again to become more Republican, she launched a statewide campaign for Senate. Most likely, Democrats are hoping that McCain is to fall in the primary to Ward, when they would then have a much better shot of picking up a seat in a competitive race. Nonetheless, Kirkpatrick and Democrats are trying to use national Democrat animus against McCain against him, and polls show a competitive race between them in November, although McCain has a slight edge.

Before we know who will definitely be facing off in November though, the primary is still to come and has the potential to produce a result that would be quite unsettling for mainstream Republicans, if McCain were to lose to Ward. The Presidential candidacy of Donald Trump is very much a part of the equation. Over a year ago, Trump made headlines when he dismissed the 2008 Presidential loss of McCain and stated that he was not a war hero and that he only likes war heroes that are not captured. The outcry was immense, but Trump confounded the experts by not suffering politically for the remarks, mostly by the way he always manages to change the subject to another controversy, but he has steadfastly refused to apologize in any way to McCain. After Trump ultimately went on to become the presumptive nominee, McCain said he would support Trump, but it was clear to anyone that McCain hated to have to say that. Obviously, the specter of the 2016 GOP primary in Arizona, a state that Trump won fairly easily, has played a big part of his decision making, although he would skip the GOP convention.

I can certainly understand why McCain feels he had to do what he did, but I have to say that I wish the man, who has made such a point of his own integrity over the years, and who genuinely was a hero for resisting the pressure to betray his country while in a Vietnamese prison, would show the courage to resist the pressure of politics today. John McCain knows Donald Trump should never be President, but is stuck in this horribly awkward position. After all the controversy this past week, involving Trump's attacks against the Khan parents, who spoke at the recent Democrat National Convention, McCain did take the step of issuing a strong and eloquent statement, in which he denounced Trump's position on them by name, but did not say he would no longer support Trump. The statement obviously bothered the Republican Presidential candidate though, as today, he has gone out of his way to make clear that he does not support McCain in the primary, and that McCain has been "horrible for the veterans." Trump has long spoken as if McCain were in charge of the VA himself, looking past the fact that the Senator has been a strong critic of the Obama Administration's problems with the VA.

As expected, Kelli Ward has latched on to Trump's attacks on McCain and she is claiming it is a virtual endorsement of her campaign. She has also gone out of her way to criticize the Khans and is clearly tying herself as closely as possible to the "Trump movement" in Arizona. If she were to somehow pull off a primary upset, I think it would then prove to be very hard for her to defeat Kirkpatrick. There are a lot of Hispanic voters in Arizona, as well as Mormons, and upscale Republicans, who are very anti-Trump.

Six years ago, McCain benefited in his primary from the endorsement of Sarah Palin, which blunted some of the Tea Party attacks against him. McCain plucked the then Alaska Governor out of relative political obscurity to make her his running-mate in 2008, in a move that I think McCain has to at some level greatly regret, on behalf of Palin and her family themselves, in addition to the party and the country. He definitely got that pick wrong, but he is still a hero and a great Senator, and I hope he wins his final race. It is unlikely that Palin, an early endorser of Trump, is going to do anything at this point to support McCain, as she has grown immensely harsh on anyone in the Republican Party who is not fully behind Trump. I just wonder if she will ultimately endorse Ward and stab in the back the man to whom she owes all the notoriety and fame she has gained since 2008. I will not at all be surprsied.

One way or another, I think Arizona is looking at a competitive general election for the U.S. Senate seat, after what is probably going to be a very competitive Republican primary. I tend to think that McCain will win both battles, and might even once again surprise some by the margin of a primary win, and then go on to consolidate Republicans against an opponent he can paint as a liberal, but after the Presidential primaries of this year, and the absolute disease-hold Trump holds on many in the GOP at this time, I cannot rule out the possibility that McCain will be tossed aside. Right-wingers and Trump acolytes (not necessarily the same people), would rejoice at that result, but nobody would be happier for a chance to win an unexpected Senate seat than Ann Kirkpatrick and her fellow Democrats.

McCain campaign link:


Senate races predicted thus far: 0 D, 3 R (2 Safe, 1 Leans)
Overall predicted thus far: 36 D, 33 R


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