Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Arizona U.S. Senate- Race of the Day

97 Days Until Election Day

Arizona U.S. Senate

Status: Republican Open
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

Republicans have high hopes of flipping some Senate seats this cycle, but the one that might be most vulnerable to being lost to them itself is likely in Arizona. If the Democrats can pick up this seat, and hold their ground elsewhere, they have a majority within reach.

It must be repeated that no Democrat has been elected to the Senate in Arizona since 1988. You can tack on a dozen years to that 30 to find the last time a non-incumbent member of the party was elected to the Senate from the state. Democrats have been hopeful before but seem to always fall short in these federal contests. Increasing polarization on issues like illegal immigration over the past 10 years has made the state perhaps even more Republican.

All things considered, this will be the best opportunity that Democrats have had to elect one of their own to the Senate. Republican Jeff Flake decided to retire after just one term. With a staunchly conservative voting record, Flake was never popular among Democrats in the state and his principled and vocal opposition to much of the Presidency of Donald Trump has made him persona non grata with the White House and with many of Trump's supporters. Even the fact that Flake has supported the Administration on some key policy matters (more so than Arizona's Senior Senator John McCain) was not enough to keep the activist wing from turning on Flake.

The Senator certainly had intended to seek reelection, but polling data showed that his numbers had dipped very low. Without a base among conservatives and without a modicum of support from the left, such as John McCain might have had, he was facing a tough battle. There was talk that the State Treasurer, an early supporter of Trump might challenge Flake, but that did not develop. However, former State Senator Kelli Ward, a Tea Party backed physician began a campaign. Two years earlier, she challenged McCain and came within thirteen points of defeating the longtime incumbent.

With the potential of Ward challenging Flake, with the full backing of Donald Trump, the junior Senator decided he could not win, at least not without running the kind of campaign he would have wanted to run. Stepping aside would also allow for another Republican to stop a Ward nomination, which would have had the effect of serious putting the seat at risk to the Democrats. Flake made a dramatic announcement on the Senate floor last October that he would be retiring at the end of his term. Many Democrats praised him for his eloquence and his principle, but also castigated him from running away from a fight. Trump allies said they were happy to see him go, but Flake has made it clear he will not steer clear from taking on the Trump Administration and with his leaving Washington, many expect that he will take on the perhaps Herculean task of opposing Trump in the 2020 Republican Presidential primaries.

The quick opening of the seat was probably met with mixed emotions by the Ward campaign. They may have felt even worse when former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio became a candidate. For years, the man, long known as the "toughest Sheriff in America"  due to his national following as a staunch fighter of illegal immigration and other matters, had teased a statewide run, but never went through with it. At the age of 85 though, he announced his candidacy. In 2016, Arpaio was tossed from office in a large margin by a Democrat. At the time, he was facing federal charges for contempt from the Obama Justice Department related to the detaining of illegal immigrants. In 2017, the former Sheriff became a convicted felon. Few expected him to actually become a prison inmate due to his advanced age, but before he could be sentenced, he was pardoned (basically at an Arizona political rally) by the new President. Trump often had cited Arpaio on the campaign trail for his tough reputation and the early support he offered to the candidate. People from across political spectrums questioned the reasoning and rationale for this pardon. For Trump, it seemed to be purely an act of politics.

Nonetheless, Trump has not endorsed Arpaio in this race, nor Ward, perhaps because some advisors or allies in Congress, including Senator Mitch McConnell very much want another Republican to win the primary for electability reasons, if nothing else. Martha McSally, had received some national attention in the 1990s, when she became the first ever female combat pilot to fly into enemy territory. In 2014, she won  a seat in Congress, on her second try, from the Tuscon area. Republicans immediately talked of her as a rising star in the party. In 2016, facing a competitive reelection, McSally pointedly refused to endorse Donald Trump and called the unearthed Access Hollywood comments "unacceptable."

Heading into 2018, McSally was also taped speaking to supporters about how difficult Donald Trump might make it for her to be reelected in her marginal district, but with the Senate seat opened up, she jumped in, to the pleasure of the McCain/Flake establishment wing of the party. However, McSally has seen the political tea leaves and has dramatically changed her rhetoric about Donald Trump to extent where she sounds very much like a fan. Not wanting to take a chance of having to win against divided pro-Trump opposition, she has joined the pro-Trump movement in her state and has led in the polling. The primary is on August 28th (I might have misstated it yesterday in discussing the Governor race in Arizona), and early voting is now underway.

Looking at the Democrat side of the equation, the all but certain nominee is Kyrsten Sinema, whom like McSally is a non-married, childless, female member of the U.S. House. She is facing somewhat nominal opposition from attorney and Muslim-American activist Deedra Abboud, but Sinema is viewed as an easy bet for nomination. In her early 40s, Sinema grew up under difficult family and financial circumstances. Raised a Mormon, she is now one of the few openly Agnostic Members of Congress and is also the only person to ever serve in Congress to call themselves bisexual. In her youth, she was affiliated with the Green Party and supporter of many left-wing causes. As a Member of Congress, also from a marginal district in the Phoenix area, her record has been somewhat more moderate. She expressed a desire to work with Donald Trump on common ground but is seeking statewide office as an avowed opponent.

With Republicans so divided and with Democrats energized to oppose the Trump Administration, early polls have been pretty favorable to Sinema. She has been leading all the Republicans, although McSally comes the closest behind. Nobody will be rooting for McSally to lose her primary more than Sinema, as it would make her chances of being elected to the Senate exponentially higher.

To be clear, Arpaio would have no chance of beating her, but he is not really campaigning too hard for the nomination and despite his near universal name recognition, is a distant third in Republican polls. Ironically enough, his presence on the ballot may serve the purpose of taking votes away from Ward, and allowing McSally to win that way, and thus save the seat overall for Republicans. Ward is aware of this and her campaign has been trying to get Arpaio out of the race. They have basically said that he is so old that he will die if elected to the Senate. The doctor/candidate said the same thing about John McCain in 2016, (before his brain cancer diagnosis.) After Senator McCain announced his illness,  and before Flake announced his Senate retirement, Ward cravenly called on him to resign and offered herself as his replacement. She is a divisive candidate that many voters in the state just cannot stomach and if she is nominated, Sinema also has to be considered a favorite, even if not a lock to win the election.

The most recent polling data has Ward making up ground on McSally and with plenty of undecided voters left to make up the difference. The profile of those voters though seem to indicate they are most likely the least pro-Trump remnants of Arizona Republicans, who perhaps are dismayed at all how all three candidates are trying to tie themselves to the current President. Many of them may ultimately decide the least offensive option will be McSally. For her part, Ward is openly saying she may not be willing to back McSally if she loses the primary to her, and continues to compare her negatively to John McCain and Jeff Flake.

If McSally wins the August primary, perhaps with an assist from Arpaio playing spoiler, she will probably start off still behind Sinema in the polls. There will be a chance though for the Republican to try to once again reposition herself for a general election. If she breaks too much with Trump again though, she will be seen as a complete flip-flopper. In spite of everything, McSally is still a strong statewide candidate with a compelling biography and Sinema is still perhaps too far to the left for the state with an image of being a bit "out there."

Close races in Arizona have broken late to Republicans in past recent political history and that is what I think is at least a possibility this year. All this depends though on McSally surviving the primary and the pro-Trump crowd in Arizona being willing to consider her acceptable. Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence should pray that someone doesn't Tweet something risky about this race some early morning before the primary.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 0 D, 1 R (1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:
23 D (23 holdovers), 43 R (42 holdovers, 1 Tossup)


At 12:50 PM, Anonymous NYCmike said...

"Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence should pray that someone doesn't Tweet something risky about this race some early morning before the primary."


At 4:27 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

GOP Hold.


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