Updated, August 25: The office of Senator John McCain released the following statement today:
"Senator John Sidney McCain III died at 4:28 pm on August 25, 2018. With the Senator when he passed were his wife Cindy and their family. At his death, he had served the United States of America faithfully for sixty years.”
Our original story begins here:
Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett’s much-ridiculed contention that Governor Doug Ducey plans to appoint Cindy McCain to replace her ailing husband in the U.S. Senate suddenly seems tantalizingly prescient.
On Friday morning, Senator John McCain’s family issued a statement saying that the 81-year-old, six-term senator has chosen “to discontinue medical treatment” for the rare, deadly form of brain cancer that doctors diagnosed him with more than a year ago.
The statement, tweeted out by Cindy McCain, reads in part that, “John has surpassed expectations for his survival,” but that, “the progress of the disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict.”
Coming as it does just a few days shy of the primary election on Tuesday, August 28, the news recalls one of the first promises Bennett made, not long after he announced his intention earlier this year to challenge Ducey for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
I promise I will not appoint Cindy McCain to US Senate as Gov of AZ. #bennettforgov— Ken Bennett (@BennettArizona) May 31, 2018
Dated May 31, that pledge is still pinned to the top of Bennett’s Twitter account: “I promise I will not appoint Cindy McCain to US Senate as Gov of AZ.”
Commentators gave Bennett plenty of guff for it, with many labeling it a desperate sop to the right of the party, which has never much cottoned to the so-called “maverick,” largely for McCain’s flip-flopping on immigration, border security, and other issues.
But Bennett refused to back down, pointing to speculation that Ducey had cut a deal with the McCains to allow Cindy to fill out the next two years of her husband’s term, till 2020, when a replacement would be picked in that year’s general election. (McCain’s term ends in 2022, you see.)
At the beginning of July, Bennett explained his position to Channel 12 News' Brahm Resnik: “I believe that our U.S. Senate seats are not family heirlooms that should be passed from one family member to another.”
Ducey publicly has scoffed at the suggestion that Cindy is on his short list. During an in-person discussion with the Arizona Republic’s editorial board, Bennett repeated the allegation. And Ducey replied with a non-denial denial, calling Bennett’s handling of the topic “disgraceful,” and saying that Bennett was only raising the issue, “because it has political advantage to him.”
Not enough advantage to overcome the Ducey-for-re-election steamroller. Though an attempt by Ducey’s allies to kick Bennett off the ballot didn’t work, Bennett has so far failed to secure funding through Clean Elections.
In fact, when I caught up with Bennett’s campaign manager, Christine Bauserman, Friday afternoon, she informed me that she was at the Maricopa County Superior Court, filing a challenge to allow Bennett to continue to accept the $5 contributions necessary to trigger a flood of public funds into his coffers. (Bennett needs a total of 4,000 such $5 donations to earn $839,704, which he would have only a few days to spend.)
Regarding McCain’s announcement, Bauserman said that Bennett’s “deepest thoughts and prayers are with the family.”
As for McCain’s possible replacement, “Ducey should answer the question of who he is considering,” Bauserman told me.
Does Bennett still think Cindy is Ducey's choice? “The governor’s never denied it,” she said.
Arizona Republicans to the right of McCain despise the thought that Cindy McCain might take over the title. They largely regard John McCain as a RiNO, a Republican in Name Only. But Cindy has expressed opinions to the left of John on abortion and gay marriage.
She’s against overturning Roe v. Wade, for instance, and has opposed a ban on gay marriage in California.
Neither Ducey’s office nor an aide to Cindy McCain responded to my requests for comment, but some Arizona GOP insiders, speaking on condition of anonymity, tell me that Cindy wants to be appointed to fill John’s shoes.
And what would have been unpopular in a GOP primary could prove popular in a general election, particularly since many Democrats admire John McCain for butting heads with President Trump.
Whether Cindy McCain should be appointed is a whole other matter. She carries with her some historical baggage.
As Phoenix New Times has documented, the beer fortune she inherited from her late father, Jim Hensley, has its roots in Hensley’s bootlegging past.
Nor has she ever totally lived down a 1994 scandal where it was revealed that she had stolen opioids to feed her addiction from a nonprofit she once led, the American Voluntary Medical Team, which closed in the aftermath of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration into the matter.
Ultimately, Cindy McCain was allowed to enter a diversion program and avoid criminal charges in a deal with federal prosecutors. But as the Washington Post observed in a 2008 rehash of the tale, her explanations of her action from that time have not always added up.
But as one politico in town told me, this is all in the past and may not matter to a public sympathetic to her after the loss of her husband. Further, Cindy McCain’s appointment could garner the sort of national media Ducey and his minions crave.
Meanwhile, other Republican names have been floated – such as Arizona Treasurer Eileen Klein, Ducey’s chief of staff and former state House speaker Kirk Adams, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
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“Right now, it seems that Ducey’s people are really focused on picking a woman,” one railbird explained, adding that Cindy McCain may choose not to stand for election in 2020, allowing Ducey to run instead.
Appointing Cindy McCain would also play well with the satraps of the mainstream media, who adore McCain and would see a certain symmetry in his widow replacing him in D.C.
More importantly, it would likely give Ducey a bump going into a heated battle with a Democratic opponent.
If this logic holds, Arizonans may have to get used to at least two more years of “Senator McCain.”