WASHINGTON ― Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) got one step closer to maintaining his Senate seat on Tuesday, cruising to victory in his primary race against conservative challenger Kelli Ward.
The win gives McCain some needed momentum as he heads into a tough battle against Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.).
McCain held a sizable lead over Ward in the final days of the primary ― 55 percent to 29 percent, according to a CNN poll. Still, his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, had cast a shadow over the race by initially refusing to endorse McCain before finally supporting him.
Ward, a former state senator, was more conservative than McCain on immigration reform. She prided herself on her “outsider” status and used McCain’s 30 years in Washington to paint him as an “establishment” politician.
McCain’s victory comes one day after his 80th birthday, and won’t be celebrated for long. The real fight starts now.
Kirkpatrick outraised McCain in the latest reporting period over the summer ― $1 million to $550,000.
She is also attacking one of McCain’s signature characterizations: straight talk. In an interview with Politico published Monday, Kirkpatrick slammed McCain for his continued support of Trump despite the nominee’s “racist, sexist” remarks.
“The fact that he continues to support Donald Trump in spite of the fact that Trump insulted him, in spite of the fact that Trump insulted a Gold Star family, shows that he’s changed,” Kirkpatrick said.
It remains to be seen if McCain will shift his messaging at all for the general. He says he won’t revoke his support of Trump, but his relationship with the GOP nominee has continued to be far from cordial. Over a year ago, Trump unleashed a firestorm of criticism when he said he doesn’t consider McCain a war hero.
“I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said of the roughly five and a half years McCain spent in a North Vietnamese prison.
McCain’s silence on Trump hasn’t helped him with some Arizona voters. A handful of veterans ― let by Navy vet Nate Tehrani of Arizona ― flew across the country to Capitol Hill to deliver a petition with 100,000 signatures calling on Republicans to withdraw their endorsements of Trump.
The vets went into McCain’s Senate office to leave the petition with his staff earlier this month, urging the senator to get back to being a “maverick” ― something he touted heavily when running for the presidency himself in 2008.
If McCain remains quiet on Trump’s constantly shifting policy positions, Kirkpatrick likely will use that to her advantage.
Polls show McCain is leading Kirkpatrick by roughly 6.5 points.