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Sen. John McCain Leading in Arizona Primary

Image: Sen. John McCain Leading in Arizona Primary

Sen. John McCain (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

By    |   Friday, 05 Aug 2016 08:46 AM

Distrusted by the Republican right and with his own party's presidential nominee refusing to endorse him, Sen. John McCain nevertheless appears to be coasting toward renomination in the Arizona primary Tuesday.

According to a just-completed NMB Research Poll, McCain, 80, leads challenger Dr. Kelli Ward by a margin of 47-22 percent among likely primary voters. Two months ago, a Public Policy Polling survey showed the five-term senator leading Ward, an osteopath and state senator, by 39-26 percent.

McCain got an additional boost late Thursday night, when GOP vice presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence made it clear he supported the Arizona lawmaker. Earlier in the day, Pence set off national alarm bells on his campaign plane when he refused to directly say he supported either McCain or fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, also facing a primary opponent.

"Of course I support John McCain and Kelly Ayotte and all of our Republican incumbents," Pence later explained to WKTR-TV in Lexington, Ky.

Pence's clarification came two days after running mate Donald Trump pointedly refused to endorse McCain, Ayotte, and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

For his part, McCain supports the Republican nominee for president and "is adamantly opposed to the continuation of the failed policies of President Barack Obama that would occur under Hillary Clinton and have led to a world more volatile and less safe than any time since World War II," McCain spokeswoman Lorna Romero told me.

Dubbed "Arizona's Lady Trump," by Salon Magazine, insurgent Republican Ward has sought to stroke anger against McCain as what she calls "the ultimate establishment insider."

Like Trump, she takes a hard-line stand against illegal immigration, slamming McCain for his role as one of the Gang of Eight in the Senate backing the comprehensive immigration package that included a "path to citizenship" for illegal immigrants — albeit one that would have taken them thirteen years.

"I want to mix the mortar to fix the border," Ward told Salon, underscoring her commitment to building the wall along the Mexican border championed by Trump and contained in the national GOP platform.

Never retreating from his support of what he calls "a robust immigration system to welcome the best and the brightest of the world," McCain spokeswoman Romero said, he is "proud of his efforts to secure the border and reform our broken immigration system."

Among the border security measures he has championed, she told me, "are the placement of 1,200 new Border Patrol Agents and 250 new Customs and Border Protection officers; two Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to monitor activity along the border; and two forward operating bases close to the border."

After four years in the House and thirty in the Senate, McCain is certainly a target for Ward's charge of being an "establishment insider." Certainly, the "insider" label was key to the defeat of the last two Republican senators who were taken out in their own party's nomination process: Richard Lugar of Indiana in 2012 and the late Robert F. Bennett of Utah in 2010.

But Lugar and Bennett both fueled the "insider" charge by being seen more in Washington than in their respective states. In contrast, McCain is a very visible fixture in Arizona. This year alone, he has held 40 town meetings and participated in more than 90 press events.

Like his predecessor and hero Barry Goldwater in his later years, McCain causes frequent irritation and occasional anger among fellow Arizona Republicans with maverick positions and statements. Some examples include his support of the comprehensive immigration package and his championship of the campaign finance regulations that have caused both parties consternation for more than a decade.

But, like Goldwater, McCain is, for the most part, often forgiven for his apostasies by the party faithful.

When McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts in 2001, several Arizona Republicans were furious with him. Former State GOP Chairman Bob Fannin said he was "very disappointed" in McCain and even told me he might not raise any more money for the senator's future campaigns.

Fannin did no such thing and strongly supported McCain in 2004 and 2010.

"And I was recently in a road trip with John [McCain] and his team," Fannin said, "I predict he'll win again — and pretty easily."

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Distrusted by the Republican right and with his own party's presidential nominee refusing to endorse him, Sen. John McCain nevertheless appears to be coasting toward renomination in the Arizona primary Tuesday.
john mccain, republican, arizona, lead, campaign
Friday, 05 Aug 2016 08:46 AM
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