In the past few days, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) made another public statement about his political plans for 2016, underscoring that he is leaning toward running for another term. The Arizona senator, who you will also remember as the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, will be 80 years old at the time of the next election and would be running for his sixth consecutive term in office. But it already appears that potentially he will have to overcome a double challenge two years from now in order to continue his career in elective politics.
Already, Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ-6), who was easily re-elected to his Scottsdale-anchored congressional district two weeks ago after defeating then-Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ-3) in the post-redistricting 2012 Republican primary (after the Arizona Redistricting Commission plan drastically changed the latter’s district boundaries), is considering mounting a Republican primary challenge to McCain.
Schweikert, as a House freshman in 2013, quickly angered the GOP leadership and found himself as one of three members to be removed from a plum committee assignment. The Arizonan had been a member of the Financial Services Committee, but was summarily removed. So he is no stranger to controversy. Schweikert said he will begin serious consideration of potential future political moves, including a race for Senate, after the holidays.
In 2010, McCain was challenged for renomination by former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ-6), defeating him 56-32 percent. In 2016, Schweikert, who knocked off Quayle 51-49 percent and is a former Maricopa County elected official, would prove to be a much stiffer test for the often polemic senator. Any strong conservative challenger would enjoy a national base from which to draw financial support and ground troops. McCain is widely disliked by the staunch conservatives, many of whom would likely become heavily involved in any serious effort to deny him renomination.
According to a poll taken in early 2014 (The Polling Company; April ’14; 600 Arizona Republican primary voters), the Arizona GOP base looks favorably upon a Senate alternative to McCain. When asked if the respondents would support re-electing Sen. McCain in 2016 or someone new, more than 64 percent voiced support for a different candidate while just 29 percent expressed a willingness to re-nominate McCain.
The Polling Company’s April survey also tested McCain against prominent Republicans in the state, and, at the time, he lost to them all. Paired with Gov. Jan Brewer, McCain trailed 29-48 percent. The senator could only score 30 percent against Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ-5), who also notched 48 percent in a hypothetical GOP primary. And, Rep. Schweikert, too, polled better than McCain, posting a 40-34 percent edge over the long-time incumbent.
But, the Democrats have several options of their own, hence McCain’s second potential challenge. Names that continue to reverberate are former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D), who held Sen. Jeff Flake (R) to a 49-46 percent win in 2012. Sought after by Democratic leaders for a future run because he did so well, Dr. Carmona did nothing electorally this year, but he could certainly change course for 2016.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) is always mentioned in a candidate context, but it is unclear whether she physically could run a statewide political campaign while still recovering from the tragic shooting that felled her in early 2011.
The Democrats also control four of the state’s nine congressional seats and will likely have one newly defeated member once the final tabulation showing that challenger Martha McSally’s (R) win over Rep. Ron Barber (D) is certified.
Aside from Barber as a potential statewide candidate, representatives Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ-9) would attract serious attention. Particularly if McCain receives a stiff primary challenge, a weakened incumbent becomes more vulnerable in a general election thus making the Democratic nomination worth pursuing. This is particularly so if it appears the party becomes the clear favorite to hold the White House as the national nomination campaigns progress.
In a year where Republicans must defend 24 of 34 Senate seats, Sen. McCain must be considered vulnerable for re-election and should be placed in the early competitive category.