With all the drama surrounding last month’s presidential preference election in Arizona, it can be hard to remember there are other powerful political seats up for grabs in November, but according to the latest political polls and election experts, the Senate race between John McCain and Ann Kirkpatrick is just getting tighter and tighter.
For months, polls have shown Kirkpatrick rising, so much that the two candidates now are in a statistical dead heat. And recently, the Washington Post — which maintains an authoritative list of the most competitive Senate races – moved the Arizona race up a notch, meaning that of the 34 Senate seats to be decided in November, McCain is now considered to be the eighth most likely incumbent to lose.
McCain may be running for a sixth term, but many in his own party really don’t like him – the Republican Party of Maricopa County passed a resolution earlier this year to support “anyone but McCain” in the GOP senate primary August 30. (State Senator Kelli Ward and businessman Alex Meluskey also are running in the GOP primary, but they are widely considered to be long shots.)
Aside from McCain’s apparent image problem, the Washington Post considers Kirkpatrick a formidable challenger for two other reasons: She’s raised a lot of money and she’s relentlessly gone after McCain’s complicated relationship with Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
As New Times wrote earlier this year, Kirkpatrick’s first campaign ad was a scathing mashup of times McCain said he’d support Donald Trump for president should he win the nomination later this summer.
“Donald Trump is dangerous for America,” the ominous voice-over in the video begins. “But no matter what Donald Trump says, John McCain would support him for president.”
The video goes on to list some of Trump’s more offensive comments about women and torture.
“There was a time John McCain would have stood up to Donald Trump. Instead, McCain has decided to kowtow to Trump in the name of being ‘a loyal Republican,’” Kirkpatrick said in a statement about the video.
Since the time of the video’s release, Ted Cruz has emerged as a viable alternative to Trump, and McCain appears to have flip-flopped on his feelings toward the Texas senator.
McCain has called Cruz “a wacko-bird” and “crazy,” but as Politico pointed out last month, McCain said in an interview that he believed Cruz could handle the tough foreign policy challenges of the presidency.
All that said, some are still skeptical that Kirkpatrick can really beat McCain, and others worry about her lack of name recognition. Earle de Berge of Behavior Research Center, the company that conducts the Rocky Mountain Poll, said, for instance, that he believes Kirkpatrick could stand a chance of winning the election if she can “define” herself as a candidate and not just be known as the Democrat running against McCain.
Kirkpatrick’s latest anti-McCain target has been his refusal to release information about a $1 million donation the Saudi Arabian government made to the McCain Institute Fund. Officially, McCain only has honorary ties to the group, but according to Bloomberg News, “his Senate campaign’s fundraiser is listed in its tax returns as the contact person for the foundation.”
So while it’s legal for foreign governments to give money to policy institutes, it is illegal for them to give money to U.S. political campaigns. It’s certainly not clear that this is the case with McCain, but Kirkpatrick and others have made a strong effort to point out that he won’t release any information about the donation.
“Arizonans still deserve to know what John McCain did for $1 million from the Saudi Arabian government,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement today. “And the longer he stays silent, the more McCain proves to the people of this state how much he’s changed after 33 years in Washington.”
**Update 11:35 am: A spokeswoman for McCain issued the following statement about the Senator's relationship to the McCain Institute:
"Senator McCain was greatly honored that Arizona State University established an Institute for International Leadership named for him and his family, in recognition of their generations of service to the country in international affairs.
"Senator McCain holds no position with the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University, or with its supporting organizations, and has no role in the governance or operation of the Institute. He is supportive of the University’s goals and programs for the Institute, and he is proud to participate in Institute activities as his schedule allows."
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