Senator John McCain (R-AZ) passed away Saturday, August 25, just a day after the family announced that he had ended treatment for his aggressive brain cancer. Despite never serving quite as conservatively as he campaigned, his constituency consistently sent him back to the swamp every chance they got since 1983. There’s no denying that his passing forces a change in Arizona politics.
McCain is a class 3 senator whose seat isn’t up for grabs until 2022, but now it’s quite likely that a special election will be held to replace him. Fellow Republican, Jeff Flake, occupies a class 1 seat, which he has chosen not to defend in this election cycle. Flake only served one term in the Senate before announcing his retirement, but he served five as a Representative before that.
Red or Blue?
The question for Arizona is now whether the two currently red seats in the upper chamber that won’t be defended by incumbents will go to the Democrats, or Republicans friendlier toward Trump.
Even though many conservatives in Arizona call them both RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) and complain they aren’t conservative enough, those same voters have sent them to Washington consistently for years. Some say it was their anti-Trump stance that caused both men to fall out of favor with conservative voters.
This could be, as soon to be former Senator Flake jumped on the anti-Trump bandwagon early on, and the backlash was both instant and consistent. Conservatives nationwide – including many Arizonans – chewed him up and haven’t turned him loose yet. Some have said that he only decided to retire because he knew he wouldn’t win reelection. It’s worth a mention that 45.95% of Arizona Republicans chose Trump in the 2016 primary over the next closest competitor, Ted Cruz, who won only 27.61% of the vote.
So who will represent Arizona in the Senate next year? While U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and her immediate competition, Deedra Abboud, hope to flip Flake’s seat blue, Arizona hasn’t had a Democrat in the Senate in over 20 years. Regardless of which Democrat comes out ahead on August 28, it’s far more likely that Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), currently polling well ahead of her opponents Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio, will win both the Republican primary and the general election in November.
Each of the three has vied to appear as conservative and Trump-friendly as possible. The president has spoken favorably of all three GOP hopefuls but hasn’t officially endorsed any of them. McSally is generally believed to be the best chance at keeping Flake’s seat in Republican hands, and that may help her take the primary.
A Chance for Dems
Dr. Kelli Ward, MD and former state senator for Arizona’s fifth district, comes in second. Former Maricopa County sheriff, and President Trump’s first pardon, Joe Arpaio brings up the rear. Neither is free from scandal and – should either of them take the primary – the general could well go to the Democrats. Both are trending behind the Democratic frontrunner, Sinema. While the state has been solidly red for years, Trump only brought home 3.57% more votes than Clinton in 2016.
Should the Democrats field Sinema against either Ward or Arpaio in a special election for McCain’s seat, it could easily go blue even if McSally keeps Flake’s a solid red. Yes, there’s no denying that McCain’s passing forces a change on Arizonans. The only question now is: Will it be a change for the better, or worse?