Reposted from Daily Kos Elections by Jeff Singer
Republican Sen. John McCain will face a credible Democratic foe next year
• AZ-Sen: Tuesday morning brought some exciting news for Arizona Democrats, as Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick announced she'd run against veteran GOP Sen. John McCain, who is seeking a sixth term in the Senate. It's a welcome but unexpected development: Kirkpatrick, who holds a vast, GOP-leaning seat in the state's northeast, had long been on the DSCC's wish list but had never spoken publicly about her interest in taking on McCain. Her entry instantly makes this race competitive, as a recent PPP poll showed McCain with a horrific 36-51 statewide approval rating and just a 42-36 lead on Kirkpatrick.
Those are very weak numbers for an incumbent, particularly in a red state like Arizona, but McCain actually faces a double-barreled threat. Hardcore conservatives have long despised McCain for his many apostasies—he's always preferred hobnobbing with the Sunday talk show set rather than party with the tea partiers—and he's already earned a primary challenge from state Sen. Kelli Ward. That same PPP poll found McCain up just 44-31 on the unknown Ward among Republican voters, another terribly weak result.
Ward's not a strong candidate, though (she's a "chemtrail" conspiracy theorist who's been spurned by anti-establishment groups like the Club for Growth), and McCain handily dispatched a similarly unimpressive primary opponent back in 2010. But Ward could keep McCain occupied, draining his coffers and dragging him to the right, as Kirkpatrick travels the state and raises money. And if a better option emerges in the GOP primary for the purity brigades, it's possible McCain might not even earn his party's nomination.
Democrats, though, can only hope for so much, and they're already quite fortunate that they've landed someone like Kirkpatrick, who has experience winning on difficult turf. However, her candidacy comes at a price. Kirkpatrick's 1st Congressional District went for Mitt Romney by a 50-48 margin, making it one of just five red seats held by a Democrat anywhere in the country, and odds are it will now return to the Republicans.
That's not just because it's a tough district for a Democrat to win: A case pending before the Supreme Court could invalidate Arizona's entire congressional map if the justices decide that the state's independent redistricting commission runs afoul of the constitution. If that happens, the GOP-dominated legislature would get to redraw the lines, and they'd make Kirkpatrick's district even more inhospitable for Democrats.
So the Senate race actually offers Kirkpatrick something of an escape hatch. A statewide win won't be easy, but when you combine McCain's unpopularity, the possibility that he gets dinged up in his primary, and the fact that Democrats nationwide should benefit from increased presidential turnout, that gives Kirkpatrick a real chance. (In 2012, Team Blue fell just 3 points short in Arizona's Senate race.) What's more, it improves Democratic odds of retaking the Senate, where the party needs a minimum of four seats to return to the majority.
There's also the outside chance that if Hillary Clinton tries expanding the presidential playing field, she could look to Arizona as a "reach" state. Kirkpatrick and Senate Democrats would love to see that, but whether or not that happens, we've got a real race on our hands. And for once, my friends, there's no way even the most sycophantic Beltway blowhard can spin this as good news for John McCain.