McCain Teetering

By Jim Ellis

May 20, 2016 — A new Public Policy Polling survey (May 13-15; 896 registered Arizona voters, 443 likely Republican primary voters) provides further evidence that the Arizona Senate race will attract a great deal of attention in the fall campaign. If this data is accurate, then the Aug. 30 Republican primary will be noteworthy, too.

According to the results, five-term Sen. John McCain (R) holds only a 42-36 percent lead over Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) in the general election pairing. Though the ballot test presents an ominous sign for McCain, this data is actually better for him than an April Behavior Research Center study. That poll found he and Rep. Kirkpatrick tied at 42 percent.

But this PPP survey, for the first time, shows McCain becoming potentially vulnerable in the Republican primary. The senator has four Republican primary challengers, including former state Sen. Kelli Ward.

According to the primary ballot test question, McCain would only lead the GOP field with 39 percent, followed by Ward who registers 26 percent support. Adding all of the minor candidates together totals an additional nine percentage points, with 27 percent undecided. If McCain and Ward are isolated in a one-on-one contest, the two are actually tied with 41 percent apiece.

Ward, who resigned her state legislative position earlier this year to concentrate on her Senate challenge to McCain, does not have a reputation of an effective legislator. As a committee chairman, she convened a hearing to determine whether airplanes were deliberately spraying poisonous chemicals, something that the media jumped on at the time, and McCain is attempting to now use to his benefit.

In the end, the senator will win re-nomination, but how damaged will he be headed into a two-month sprint against Kirkpatrick once the nomination battle concludes on Aug. 30?

Commonplace in PPP polls are candidates routinely having unfavorable approval ratios. Here, all of the principle candidates, including the presidential contenders, have upside-down ratings. Therefore, the uniform negative skew means these particular ratings are probably of little value.

Under this backdrop, Sen. McCain’s job approval is 34:52 percent positive to negative. President Obama scores an upside-down 43:49 percent, presidential candidates Donald Trump (36:56 percent), Hillary Clinton (31:60 percent), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (40:49 percent) also score poorly. Rep. Kirkpatrick records a 28:30 percent ratio.

The Arizona presidential ballot test finds Trump leading Clinton 40-38 percent with Libertarian Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, recording six percent support. If Trump and Clinton are isolated on the ballot, the Republican’s edge grows to 45-41 percent.

While the 42-36 percent McCain lead over Kirkpatrick is clearly a weak showing for the senator, it’s not disastrous especially when previous polls showed the race even closer. Kirkpatrick is hitting on Arizona rural issues, and attempting to position herself as a reasoned voice and effective legislator. Simultaneously, she thanks the senator for his long service to the country, but says it is time for a new voice in Washington. In November, this could prove to be just the right tone to strike.

All signs suggest that the Arizona general election will turn competitive. While many national Democratic leaders tout Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) as their sleeper race candidate, the actual under-the-radar challenge could well be in the Grand Canyon State.

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