Published in The Moderate Voice September 7, 2016
Last Tuesday, voters went to the polls in two states – Arizona and Florida, to select nominees for a number of high profile Congressional races. The results yielded few surprises but set the stage for November sprints that are certainly worth watching.
Two of the most high profile Republican Senators faced battles for re-nomination and both handily prevailed. But although Marco Rubio and John McCain proved their staying power with fellow Republicans, the answer is anything but clear as to whether voters will renew their contract for another six years.
Rubio decided at the 48th hour – literally, that he wanted to continue to serve in the Senate. After a year on the Presidential trail, he yielded to entreaties from his colleagues to help them hold their precious majority by standing for re-election. It was enough to clear the field of all of those who were running to succeed him, with the exception of Carlos Beruff. At the end of the day, Beruff did little to impede Rubio’s dent with GOP primary voters as Rubio captured more than 2/3 of the vote.
Democrats meanwhile had a fractious primary between two sitting Congressmen at opposite ends of the state but ultimately, St. Lucie area Congressman pat Murphy beat Alan Grayson. Murphy has a different set of problems and it stems from self-inflicted bad publicity. In June, he was tarred by reports of resume embelishment. More recently, Rubio and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson rebuked him after Murphy and the father of a wounded veteran charged that Rubio’s office took months to respond to his plea for help.
Rubio had a twin set of problems for November. One is the fact that while running for President, Rubio was not shy about expressing his distaste for the Senate. Murphy may have gained more ammunition when he refused to extract a pledge to commit to serving all six years of his next term. Look for that to become fresh fodder for news footage.
The other is dynamics. Florida is changing. Rubio will likely be able to rely on South Florida’s Cuban-American community but minority turnout will likely be up in overwhelming numbers to vote against Donald Trump. If Hillary wins the state by five points, Rubio might just barely be holding on and at this point, that is anything but guaranteed.
Conversely, leaving the Senate has been anything but on McCain’s mind. But many voters have been upset that he has moderate over the past six years. Still, the only person to challenge McCain was a State Senator named Kelli Ward. Many branded her as a fringe candidate, a charge she did little to dispel by saying McCain, 80, might not live to serve a full six year term and for knocking the incumbent for “dedicating some playground equipment.” In actuality, Mccain was attending a memorial for a 26-year-old Arizonan who was urdered in Syria at the hands of an Islamic extremist. Still, Ward tapped into the anti-McCain discontent among conservatives by riding talk radio support to 39%, holding the veteran Senator to 52%.
McCain now faces Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick who has held a sprawling swing district in three of the past four elections (she was defeated in a more R version of AZ-1 in 2010). A recent poll showed her statewide name recognition to be just 36%, which means she has plenty of room to grow with voters. McCain is trying to assist her in that regard, albeit not in the way Kirkpatrick would prefer.
No one will dispute that McCain’s star has dimmed since his hey day when he’d routinely rack up re-election wins of near 70%. McCain also cites his near universal name recognition from his years of service but in reality, many Arizonans have flooded the state who have never voted for him or who might have pulled the lever for him when he faced token opposition. More ominously, Hispanic voters make up a substantial percentage of the electorate and their registration to vote against Trump has been sky high.
Meanwhile, one person who covers Arizona politics notes that McCain is studying the tactics of another Republican Presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, who very nearly lost his final race for re-election from the “Beehive” State in 1980 at age 71.
McCain has had to walk a fine line on Trump, his public nemesis but ironically, his prospects may hinge on how many Republicans who support Trump pull the lever for him. Conversely, McCain may hve to persuade GOP voters who have lost the desire to vote for President to at least come out to support down-ticket Rs.
As the 2012 election -which Jeff Flake won by just 3% showed, it’s not that hard for a D to come close in a Presidential Year.
At the very least, McCain’s statement earlier in the Spring that “no doubt that this may be the race of my life” should Trump be the nominee, looks to be turning into reality. Yet even without Trump the 2012 election -which Republican Jeff Flake won by just 3% showed, it’s not that hard for someone with a D next to their name to come close in a Presidential year.
Thus, the only suspense is whether MCCain can ride his past residue of goodwill to one last hurrah. Polling has been mixed which means that this question will likely be unanwered until Election Day.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/22007612@N05/24999391554″>Marco Rubio</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>