McCain Warning Signs

May 5, 2015 — Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), who is seeking re-election to a sixth term next year, is showing political weakness according to a new Public Policy Polling survey (May 1-3; 600 registered Arizona voters; 300 self-identified Arizona Republican voters).

According to the results, McCain’s job approval is in upside-down territory not only from the Grand Canyon State electorate at-large but from an isolated Republican cell sample, as well. PPP projects that the senator records only a 36:51 percent approval ratio before the general electorate. More troubling, he scores 41:50 percent favorable to unfavorable among Republicans.

Sen. McCain has long been a controversial figure with Republican Party base voters, and there is an active effort attempting to deny him re-nomination. So far, candidate recruitment has failed because only state Sen. Kelli Ward (R), who is not viewed as a substantial challenger, is willingly stepping forward to register a campaign committee.

Earlier it was thought that either Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ-5) or Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ-6) would challenge the senator, but this scenario is now unlikely. Schweikert has virtually ruled himself out, while Salmon still leaves the door slightly ajar but makes no concrete moves to establish a Senate campaign.

Even so, the PPP survey finds McCain in a severely weak position against both congressmen. Paired with Salmon, the senator holds a tepid 44-42 percent advantage. If Schweikert were his only opponent, McCain’s standing is even worse, barely leading, 40-39 percent. Should state Sen. Ward become his chief opponent, she would trail the long-term incumbent, 31-44 percent.

When asked whether the Republican polling respondents would “like the Republican candidate for Senate next year to be John McCain or someone more conservative than him”, a sample cell majority, 51 percent, said “someone more conservative”. Only 37 percent said Sen. McCain would be their choice.

Where McCain could face more serious electoral trouble may be in the general election, however. If a Republican primary fight weakens him, the Democrats do have credible candidates waiting in the wings. PPP tested representatives Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ-9), former surgeon general and senatorial nominee Richard Carmona and ex-gubernatorial nominee Fred DuVal.

Here, McCain leads all prospective Democratic candidates, but by uncomfortable margins. Against Carmona, the senator posts only a 40-34 percent lead. If DuVal were to oppose him, McCain registers a weak 40-36 percent margin. He does slightly better against Rep. Kirkpatrick, topping her 42-36 percent, and fares identically opposite Rep. Sinema.

The fact that McCain is nowhere near 50 percent against any of the Democrats, and maintains only isolated small leads well before the fur flies in a potential Republican primary contest, is a bad sign. Should these types of numbers continue to be discovered, it would be safe to add Arizona to the list of competitive Senate states.

In most presidential races, Arizona voters are kind to the Republican nominee. Should such a political atmosphere again develop in 2016, Sen. McCain will likely benefit because of a more favorable turnout model.

While the PPP numbers don’t mean a great deal as a stand-alone poll, the results are credible enough to either cause or underscore electoral concern. These, and other similar findings could also attract more attention to the primary situation and begin to breathe new life into potential challengers.

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