McCain’s Big Challenge

John McCainOver the course of his 30-year career in the Senate, John McCain has gone from a war hero to a political icon.  While he’s now 80 years old, and has an impressive track record under his belt, McCain’s career is now threatened by his party’s presidential nominee.  This upcoming reelection campaign, McCain’s fifth, is forcing him to battle on multiple fronts.  While he’s won the primary against a Trump-funded arch-conservative, he now needs to face a general election against a well-funded Democrat, Ann Kirkpatrick, who has used McCain’s support of Trump to court the Latino vote.  

McCain has insisted he won’t alter his campaign strategy: while he steadfastly supports Trump, McCain nonetheless has reserved the right to criticize anything “objectionable” that Trump says.  Yet due to the personal and political antipathy between these two men, some have suggested McCain will dump Trump after securing the nomination, even though McCain denies this.  While he needed Trump voters, he also needs anti-Trump independents to win the general election.  Yet McCain’s challenges extend further than his relationship with the billionaire businessman-turned-presidential-nominee; he’s running as a well-established figure with experience in Washington, yet in this modern political era that might be a bad thing.  McCain’s main opponent in the primaries, Kelli Ward, derided McCain for being a “champion of compromise”.  

McCain is running as a staunch hawk, and wants an international force of 100,000 troops to fight Daesh in Syria at a time that Americans have grown tired of war in the Middle East.  Trump is at the top of the ticket during all of this, sometimes lashing out at McCain and other times embracing him, but always hogging the attention.  Earlier this week, the first question the senator faced at a presentation in Scottsdale was related to Trump, namely if Trump’s name would damage GOP candidates further down the ballot.  In response, McCain stated that he had the most severe disagreement with Trump after he attacked the parents of US Army Captain Humayun Khan, then quickly diverted the conversation to Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and making a joke about corrupt Illinois politicians.  

Over the next nine weeks, McCain needs to gain the support of conservatives who opposed him in the primary, as well as trying to appeal to independents and more moderate Democrats.  In an historically Republican state, prospects remain good for McCain, although the race is expected to be much closer than previous elections.  This might be due to Trump being the current face of the GOP; Trump’s comments about Mexicans alienated many Hispanic voters, and Arizona has a large Hispanic population.  While McCain and Trump don’t see eye to eye on a lot of issues, he needs to worry about a pivot that could alienate conservative voters.  How this election plays out remains to be seen, but it could very well mark a new era in Arizona politics.

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