John McCain Skipping National GOP Convention "to Campaign" in Arizona

For the first time in his decades-long political career, U.S. Senator John McCain says he’ll skip the National Republican Convention in Cleveland this July because he needs “to campaign for re-election,” CNN reports.

McCain is in the middle of a tough election battle against Ann Kirkpatrick, the Democrat trying to unseat him from the U.S. Senate. For months, Kirkpatrick has been slowly gaining momentum, and the latest polls show them in a dead heat.

It’s possible that his decision to skip the convention is a sign that he’s nervous about Kirkpatrick’s growing popularity, though Lorna Romero, a spokeswoman for McCain, declined to comment on this, saying only: "John McCain will be working and campaigning throughout Arizona during the convention. He has always taken every election seriously, this year is no different.”

But it’s also possible that McCain is just the latest mainstream Republican candidate to distance himself from what is gearing up to be a contentious convention in Cleveland.

Earlier this month, former presidential candidate Jeb Bush announced he would not attend the Cleveland Republican Convention, and according to CNN, other politicians might skip it as well, including Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and North Carolina Senator Richard Burr – all of whom face tough re-election battles at home.

South Carolina Congressman and Freedom Caucus co-founder Mick Mulvaney also plans to stay home come July, The Hill reports.
Whether to attend the convention “underscores the dilemma confronting Republicans in being tied too closely to the top of the ticket,” CNN writes, adding that political experts quietly are telling those who face tight elections in November to stay home and avoid a potentially divisive and messy convention.

McCain has been in the news a lot this election season for his remarks about Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. He recently said he has “many concerns about Mr. Trump’s uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues,” and he has previously called Cruz a “wacko bird” and questioned whether his Canadian birth disqualified him from being president.

Since McCain’s longtime friend, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, dropped out of the GOP presidential race, McCain has resisted endorsing another candidate. And as much as he clearly loathes Trump and Cruz, he’s promised multiple times to support whomever the party elects at the convention – he’ll just have to express it remotely, apparently.

**Update 4/19/16 4:06 pm: DB Mitchell, a spokesman for Kirkpatrick's campaign, issued the following statement about McCain's decision to skip the convention:

"Ann Kirkpatrick has John McCain in the toughest reelection fight of his career, and all McCain really did today was reiterate that he would still support a ‘dangerous’ Donald Trump or ‘wacko bird’ Ted Cruz for president...Arizona voters see right through McCain now after 33 years in Washington, and hiding from the convention for the first time in three decades won’t change that.”

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser