The death of U.S. Senator John McCain on Saturday has almost completely overshadowed this year’s U.S. Senate campaign in Arizona, which might determine which party controls the world’s most deliberative parliament.
McCain’s record of national service and bipartisanship may stick with voters as they consider the candidates in the Senate race between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally ahead of the Nov. 6 election. In Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican primaries, both congresswomen handily defeated their opponents. The race between McSally and Sinema is considered as a key pickup opportunity for Democrats seeking to retake control of the House of Representatives and confront President Donald Trump’s agenda.
Amid the national mourning, Arizona’s general election Senate candidates may face more comparisons to McCain than the retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, who, like McCain, was among the Senate’s more prominent critics of Trump. McCain, held as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese from 1967 to 1973, will be remembered as one of the state’s most important figures and leaves a lasting impression around the world.
“This seems to me to have all of the elements of a close race,” said Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics who analyzes Senate races around the country. McCain, the six-term veteran from Arizona and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, died Saturday at his family’s cabin in Cornville after a 13-month battle with brain cancer. He would have turned 82 on Wednesday.
His larger-than-life persona is expected to loom over the race. One political observer said voters may ask themselves which Senate candidate has the potential to follow in McCain’s footsteps.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey will appoint a Republican to succeed McCain, sometime after he is laid to rest. McCain is scheduled to be buried Sunday, following a week of memorials and tributes. There likely will be some measure of controversy no matter whom the governor picks. Ducey has given no indication who he is considering. Given his own business-minded style of governing, the governor may choose a moderate whose Republican credentials may reflect his own business-minded approach to governing. There is no clear political heir to McCain’s independent-minded supporters.
“There will be comparisons between the two candidates, to Senator McCain, and who is more likely to carry on in his maverick fashion moving forward,” Democratic strategist Barry Dill said. “Does that make voters more comfortable looking for the next maverick? The person that can pass over party lines, the person that can be counted on to get things done? Some people will ask themselves, ‘Who is kind of like John McCain the most that I can trust to carry on.’”
McSally brings a pioneering military biography as the first woman to fly in combat in the U.S. Air Force. Sinema’s relatively moderate voting record in Congress may appeal to those who appreciate McCain’s maverick ways. But even trying to compare to McCain, especially so soon after his death, could backfire. For Ken Roth, a real estate developer from Paradise Valley, the choice is clear. “I’m confident that she’ll become one of the best senators we’ve had, along with Barry Goldwater, John McCain and of course, Jon Kyl,” the 74-year-old Republican said at McSally’s victory party.
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