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McCain's Fall Race Is No Slam-Dunk

Image: McCain's Fall Race Is No Slam-Dunk

Sen. John McCain (AP)

Tuesday, 06 Sep 2016 10:09 PM Current | Bio | Archive

One week after John McCain won renomination to a sixth Senate term with ease, politicians as well as pundits throughout Arizona agree that their state's best-known politician faces the most serious general election fight of his career this fall.

"Conventional wisdom says candidates should run to the middle after the primaries," wrote Arizona Republic political columnist Robert Robb. "McCain has a credible general election opponent for a change, in Democratic congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. National Democrats may pour some big bucks in the race."

Although McCain has faced spirited primaries in 2010 and this year, a serious general election is virtually unknown to the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman and 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Going back to his first Senate race in 1986 (in which he rolled up a margin of 3-to-2 over Democrat Richard Kimball, who benefited from having the same name as the character in the popular TV series "The Fugitive"), McCain has always faced relatively obscure Democrats and coasted to re-election.

This is not the case with three-term Rep. Kirkpatrick. A recent CNN poll showed McCain leading her by a margin of 52-to-39 percent among likely voters statewide. A just-completed Huffington Post poll showed the race to be a dead heat, with McCain and Kirkpatrick tied at 43 percent each.

The Arizona Republic's Robb pointed out that McCain "probably doesn't have the luxury of focusing exclusively on swing voters in the middle. The primary result indicated he still has some repair work to do with populist conservatives, particularly in the rural areas."

He was referring to the fact that McCain, in defeating immigration hard-liner and physician Kelli Ward, won by a margin of 51.9-to-39.2 percent. This was a much smaller margin than that in his 2010 primary, in which McCain also beat an immigration hard-liner by 56.1-to-32 percent.

"If McCain is done in," the Arizona Republic's Robb told me, "it will be because of populist conservative desertion particularly over immigration and [GOP presidential nominee Donald] Trump [to whom McCain has only given a perfunctory endorsement]."

In the fall race, Kirkpatrick, 66, supports the comprehensive immigration package that includes mastering English and paying back taxes as requirements for those in the United States illegally to become citizens.

A few old political hands recalled how McCain's predecessor and hero, Barry Goldwater, was nearly defeated in his own "last hurrah" in 1980. In seeking his fifth and final term in the Senate, Goldwater (who was 71 at the time) faced Democrat Bill Schultz, a wealthy real estate developer who spent $2 million ($1.7 million of his own money) to the incumbent's $863,000.

Schultz, wrote Goldwater biographer Lee Edwards, "kept pounding away on three points: Goldwater was not working full time in the Senate; he was out of touch with the people of Arizona; and the United States was paying a disproportionately large amount of the free world's defense costs."

In November of 1980, the Goldwater name and the coattails of GOP presidential nominee Ronald Reagan (who rolled up 61 percent of the vote in Arizona) were enough to save the senator by a slim margin of 49-to-48 percent.

Could McCain, 80, face the same kind of cliff-hanger as Goldwater in 2016?

"I don't see it," former State Republican Chairman Bob Fanning told me, "Look, Bill Schultz was a prominent businessman and got to be very well-known by spending heavily from his own fortune. [Kirkpatrick] is not well known and John always comes back home. Arizonans know of his service for us. I say he wins again."

Republic columnist Robb agreed. In his words, "Goldwater mailed his campaign in. McCain is running aggressively, talking nothing for granted. Schultz was much more conservative than Kirkpatrick, a true centrist.

"Arizona is considerably more ‘red' than it was in 1980. In fact, Democrats were the plurality party in 1980. Republicans didn't surpass them in registration until 1986. Also, Arizona already had a Democratic senator and governor in 1980. The last time a Democrat won a statewide race in Arizona was 2008."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.


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One week after John McCain won renomination to a sixth Senate term with ease, politicians as well as pundits throughout Arizona agree that their state's best-known politician faces the most serious general election fight of his career this fall.
john mccain, fall, election, battle
Tuesday, 06 Sep 2016 10:09 PM
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