Rating Change: McCain More Vulnerable in Arizona

Donald Trump isn’t helping longtime senator’s bid for sixth term

Arizona Sen. John McCain said he could be in the "race of my life," with Donald Trump topping the Republican ticket this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Arizona Sen. John McCain said he could be in the "race of my life," with Donald Trump topping the Republican ticket this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 7, 2016 at 4:19pm

Sen. John McCain didn’t have a lot of trouble winning his recent primary, but the Arizona Republican doesn’t have any time to relax with a competitive general election on the horizon.

“If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life,” the 2008 GOP presidential nominee told supporters at a May fundraiser.

It was a rare moment when a politician provided good political analysis. According to the RealClearPolitics average, Trump has a narrow, 3-point advantage over Hillary Clinton in a state Democrats haven’t carried since President Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996.

[Roll Call’s 2016 Election Guide: Senate]

Party strategists on both sides of the aisle still don’t believe Hillary Clinton will win the The Grand Canyon State’s 11 electoral votes, even though a recent poll for The Arizona Republic showed her with a 35 percent to 34 percent edge over Trump.

But Trump’s ongoing struggles in GOP-leaning states, such as Arizona, is making life more difficult for down-ballot Republicans, such as McCain, due to Trump’s ability to both suppress GOP voters and galvanize Democratic constituencies. We’re changing The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call race rating from Republican Favored to Leans Republican. But the change is more of a function of Trump’s volatility than McCain’s weakness.

Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick isn’t regarded as the strongest challenger and Democratic outside groups have yet to focus their time and money on the race, but she is a credible candidate who could win if the election cycle turns into a catastrophe for Republicans. McCain, who was first elected to the Senate in 1986, is a longtime incumbent but he has avoided many of the political pitfalls that plagued some of his colleagues.

Even though the race could be close, defeating McCain won’t be easy. The senator will have a financial advantage and Arizona is familiar territory to GOP strategists in Washington, including National Republican Senatorial Committee political director Sarah Morgan. She has over 15 years of experience in Arizona politics including managing Republican Jeff Flake’s successful 2012 campaign for the state’s other Senate seat and helping managing GOP Sen. Jon Kyl’s 2006 re-election race.

[Rating Change in Ohio Senate Race]

Even though the Arizona, Missouri, and Ohio races now have the same rating, they are not necessarily equal and not heading in the same direction. GOP Sen. Rob Portman is looking stronger in Ohio while McCain and Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt are more vulnerable compared to their standing at the beginning of the cycle.

The bottom line is that if the Senate landscape shifts enough to where Arizona and Missouri are considered tossups, Democrats have already won the majority and are just adding to their margin. But we’re not there yet.