Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Can McCain Win The Republican Senatorial Primary In Arizona Next Year?


The DSCC isn't counting on Arizona in the 2016 battle to regain the Senate majority for the Democrats. John McCain, age 78 and first elected to Congress in 1982, is running again and a new poll from PPP shows him beating any of the potential Democratic nominees. The Republicans could, however, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. McCain might be defeated in an ideologically driven primary from the extreme right. Right-wing extremists David Schweikert and Matt Salmon are both within striking distance. McCain only leads Schweikert 40-39 and Matt Salmon 42-40-- and each has a lot of potential growth in name recognition.

McCain's job approval among Republican primary voters is just 41%. Fully half of Republican voters disapprove of how he's doing his job and only 37% of these GOP voters say they want to see him renominated. 51% say they want someone "more conservative" to replace McCain.
[A]mong those who identify themselves as 'very conservative,' just 21% approve of the job McCain is doing to 71% who disapprove. 83% of voters within that group say they would be more inclined to vote for an alternative on McCain's right next year compared to only 11% who actually say they would vote for McCain.

McCain will have an immense war chest that may scare off his stronger potential challengers- but it's clear that the distrust he faces from conservatives makes him at least hypothetically vulnerable to a foe on the right.

If he survives to the general McCain has leads of 4 to 6 points against the Democrats we tested again him-- he's up 40/36 on Fred DuVal, 40/34 on Richard Carmona, and 42/36 on both Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema. Those numbers may be misleadingly close though-- the undecideds in each of those match ups are strongly Republican leaning and voted for Mitt Romney by more than 20 points in 2012. They're mostly the conservatives unhappy with McCain and usually at the end of the day those people will vote Republican before they will leave it blank and certainly before they vote Democratic, even if they don't care for McCain. The 17-19% of the Democratic vote McCain attracts in a general election makes him difficult to defeat if he gets that far.

If McCain does lose renomination or eventually decides not to run again all bets are off though. We tested Richard Carmona, as the 2012 nominee, in hypothetical contests against all the Republicans we looked at against McCain in the primary. Salmon, at 43/35, is the only one who leads Carmona. Carmona and Schweikert are tied at 39, and Carmona leads both Ward (39/36) and Jones (42/36) by modest margins.

In a lot of ways this is reminiscent of the 2012 Senate race in Indiana. Richard Lugar-- like McCain-- had enough popularity across party lines that he was going to be pretty safe if he got into a general election. But when conservatives rooted him out of office in the primary and Democrats had a solid candidate lined up, the Democrats picked up a surprising victory. It's unclear who will challenge McCain in the primary and what Democrat might sign up for the general but at this early stage the conditions appear somewhat Indiana-like.
Meanwhile, the only Republican who has been willing to arouse McCain's ire by getting into the race is state Senator Kelli Ward, a fringe nut from Lake Havasu, who has formed an exploratory committee. She doesn't offer McCain as much of a challenge as Schweikert or Salmon, though, and isn't likely to beat him, polling 31% to his 44% in the PPP survey.

This week, Rand Paul and other libertarian-oriented Republicans kept up the war of words against McCain who has worked hard to denigrate and marginalize Paul and his followers, branding him "a wacko bird." The Washington Post reported that Paul asked a Michigan audience Monday if they "remember there was some old guy, I can’t remember his name, who called us wacko birds. How wacky is it to be somebody who actually believes in the Constitution and all of the Bill of Rights? ... I won’t tell you who it is, but it’s a senator from Arizona." He's been referring to McCain (and Lindsey Graham) as the "lapdogs" of Obama's aggressive foreign policy.

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