Politics

In Arizona, McCain Plays Up Experience that Opponent Uses Against Him

Arizona senator among the Republicans avoiding Cleveland this week

United States Senator John McCain reads the headlines announcing Trump's Republican National Convention victory as the party's nominee as he rides the train to the Grand Canyon out of Williams, Arizona Wednesday morning. (Daniel A. Anderson)

BELLEMONT, Ariz. — As goes Arizona, so goes the nation?  

If Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, succeeds in carrying the state in November, she's likely on her way to a rout, and the same would be true down-ballot, where John McCain is facing the Senate race of his life.  

But Tuesday, the five-term senator was right at home.  

"The people of Arizona know me. And they know me well. And so I think they’re going to judge me not so much on who the head of the ticket is or who isn’t, or who the Democrat is," McCain told reporters. "I have 100 percent name ID."  

McCain said he expected Arizona, where he estimated that about a third of voters are independent, would remain in the GOP column in the fall, even with Donald Trump on track to become the Republican presidential nominee on Thursday.  

[ Special Coverage: 2016 Republican National Convention ]   

"I think that we still have strong influence with independents," McCain said. "We have a tradition of doing best with independents, but in an election year like this, I would take nothing for granted."  

Speaking at a local chamber of commerce luncheon in Flagstaff during what was clearly a more political event, McCain outlined his basic message: that his seniority allows him to deliver for Arizonans.  

He referenced everything from airport improvements and work at Camp Navajo to a fish hatchery at Lake Havasu. But of course, McCain spent much of his time on national security issues.  

"I say with a degree of immodesty I know of no one who understands the national security challenges that we face better than I do. I believe that I have been not only successful helping this nation defend itself, but as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, I can do a lot more," McCain said.  

Intern Taylor Rosenow of Scottsdale, Arizona goes door to door Tuesday for the McCain campaign in the small town of Williams, Arizona. The town is on historic route 66. (Photograph by Daniel A. Anderson) John Sidney McCain III (born August 29, 1936) is the senior United States Senator from Arizona. (Daniel A. Anderson)
Intern Taylor Rosenow of Scottsdale, Arizona goes door to door Tuesday for the McCain campaign in the small town of Williams, Arizona. The town is on historic route 66. (Photograph by Daniel A. Anderson)
John Sidney McCain III (born August 29, 1936) is the senior United States Senator from Arizona. (Daniel A. Anderson)

McCain highlighted the efforts by defense-hawk lawmakers to keep the Pentagon from killing off the A-10 warthog, as well as praising the Apache helicopter.  

The Arizona Republican's first stop for the day was helping to launch a military advocacy council on a National Guard base in Northern Arizona, far from the sight of the ongoing Republican National Convention.  

McCain said he had not seen the speeches from Monday night back in Cleveland.  

"I was traveling down in Prescott and spent the whole day going to different events," said the senator, who was pushed for his thoughts of the tone of the immigration rhetoric on the main stage.  

"I saw polling data that 73 percent of Republicans believe that we should [have] a path to citizenship, but [we] also should have a secure border," he said, adding that he could not comment on the specific events going on at the convention.  

[ McCain's Role in Party, Senate Gets New Test This Week ]  

Julie Pastrick, the president of the local Chamber of Commerce in the Flagstaff area, said during a panel discussion Tuesday that McCain has "just done an unbelievable job of bringing to our state the resources needed," when it comes to defense issues.  

Before an audience like this, being chairman of the Armed Services Committee is a boon. McCain could easily bring together business and military leadership for a meeting highlighting the launch of the council, one of several in Arizona.  

McCain has begun the work on the fiscal 2017 defense policy bill conference agreement, where House Republicans have been less bullish on overhaul, but he thinks that the big four leaders of the Armed Services Committees will be able to get their work done, again.  

"For 53 years, we have come together and had a bill that has been signed by the president. I believe that we can do it again. But, the president sent over a very strong message of disagreement," McCain said.  

John Moore, mayor of Williams, Arizona, meets McCain campaign interns during their canvasing Tuesday. (Daniel A. Anderson)
John Moore, mayor of Williams, Arizona, meets McCain campaign interns during their canvasing Tuesday. (Daniel A. Anderson)

As for a deal that President Barack Obama will actually sign? McCain's not so sure.  

"Their absolute resistance to reform — it's amazing," McCain said of the administration. "You've got now an aircraft carrier with a $600 million cost overrun."  

But of course, in a year of outsiders, McCain has not been able to avoid attacks on his experience as he seeks a sixth term.  

Democratic challenger Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick has endorsed congressional term limits.  

"The only way to change Washington is to change the system and fight for a solution Arizonans also tell me it’s time for: term limits. Those two words horrify the career politicians in Washington, but I don’t know what they’re so afraid of," she wrote in an op-ed in The Arizona Republic last week.  

[ Kirkpatrick Endorses Term Limits in New Ad ]  

And Kirkpatrick launched an ad Monday highlighting her support for those limits on congressional service, which prompted a charge of hypocrisy from the McCain re-election effort.  

"It is laughable that a liberal incumbent member of Congress running her sixth political campaign in the last decade would begin her Senate campaign calling for term limits," said McCain campaign spokeswoman Lorna Romero.   

United States Senator John McCain rallies his interns on a campaign bus in Flagstaff Tuesday on a break from a door to door get out the vote effort by the campaign to reelect McCain. His wife, Cindy is at his side. (Daniel A. Anderson) John Sidney McCain III (born August 29, 1936) is the senior United States Senator from Arizona. (Photograph by Daniel A. Anderson)
United States Senator John McCain rallies his interns on a campaign bus in Flagstaff Tuesday on a break from a door to door get out the vote effort by the campaign to reelect McCain. His wife, Cindy is at his side. (Daniel A. Anderson)

As a practical matter, skipping the Cleveland convention makes sense for McCain, who has represented Arizona in the Senate since 1987.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said it's not unusual for senators to steer clear of conventions in the middle of an election campaign, saying that convention attendees are already voting Republican.  

Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is back home meeting with constituents and holding a series of events that tout legislative successes, an agenda that started Monday with the ribbon cutting for a recovery center for those affected by opioid crisis in the Granite State.  

The Senate's clearing of that opioid measure just before departing for the August recess came as a boon to several GOP lawmakers who were seeking something to tout heading home — when not facing questions about the presumptive nominee.  

Contact Lesniewski at NielsLesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.

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