Republican Sen. John McCain
PPP surveys both the GOP primary and general elections in Arizona, and let's just say they don't exactly bring good news for John McCain
McCain, who is seeking a sixth term, has never had a great relationship with his party's base, and he posts a terrible 41-50 approval rating with GOP primary voters. So far McCain doesn't have a credible intra-party challenge, but PPP takes a look at a few hypothetical matchups. While McCain's ahead in all of them, his leads are not robust:
• 40-39 vs. Rep. David Schweikert
• 42-40 vs. Rep. Matt Salmon
• 44-31 vs. state Sen. Kelli Ward
• 48-27 vs. 2014 gubernatorial candidate Christine Jones
It's never a good sign for an incumbent to be far from 50 percent against lesser-known primary opponents, especially when a majority of your own party's voters already say they don't like you.
Still, there are a few problems for anti-McCain Republicans. Arizona doesn't have a runoff, so if two or more notable candidates go up against the incumbent, they could split the vote enough to secure him renomination with just a plurality. Ward hasn't committed to anything but she has formed an exploratory committee, and she might not be willing to get out of the way if a stronger contender gets in.
What's more, she's also barely known (she has a 12-15 statewide favorable rating) and she hasn't exactly impressed well-funded conservative groups who'd like to unseat McCain. (Last year, Ward held a hearing focusing on whether non-existent "chemtrails" are poisoning the air, an idea that's only embraced by conspiracy theorists.) Ward simply might not be strong enough to beat even a weak McCain, who is still a formidable campaigner.
In a perfect world for anti-McCain forces, Ward would stay out and Salmon would get in. After spending months showing little interest in taking on the incumbent, Salmon has started to change his tune a bit, recently telling The Hill "I'm not saying that I'm in. I'm not saying that I'm not in." Salmon, who served as the GOP's unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial nominee, already has a healthy 40-12 favorability score with primary voters, but who knows if he'll actually run.
Head below the fold for more.
If Salmon sits it out, don't expect his friend and fellow congressman, David Schweikert, to take his place. Schweikert hasn't officially said no, but he sounds extremely unlikely to pull the trigger. Schweikert recently said that his wife is against a Senate bid, and he "would like to keep her around." Christine Jones also seems more interested in running for the House, which is just as well for her given how poorly she polls here.
So far, no credible Democrats have shown much interest in running in conservative Arizona, but PPP finds that Team Blue would have a good chance to put this Senate seat in play whether or not McCain advances to November.
McCain is even more unpopular with the general electorate than he is with his own party, sporting an ugly 36-51 statewide approval score. PPP tested him against 2012 Senate nominee Richard Carmona, 2014 gubernatorial nominee Fred DuVal, and Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema.
• McCain 40, Carmona 34
• McCain 40, DuVal 36
• McCain 42, Kirkpatrick 36
• McCain 42, Sinema 36
They also tested McCain's potential primary foes against just Carmona:
• Jones 36, Carmona 42
• Salmon 43, Carmona 35
• Schweikert 39, Carmona 39
• Ward 36, Carmona 39
While McCain leads all comers by 4-6 points, he's stuck at around 40 percent. Democrats haven't won a Senate seat in the Grand Canyon State since Dennis DeConcini was re-elected in 1988, but Carmona only lost 49-46 in 2012 while Mitt Romney was carrying Arizona 53-44. A combination of an unpopular incumbent and a better Democratic performance at the top of the ticket could give Democrats the chance to score an upset here. However, as PPP points out, the undecideds in these matchups strongly lean Republican, so the eventual GOP nominee should be able to make up some ground.
Right now, it's far from clear who Democrats will be able to land. Carmona hasn't announced anything publicly one way or another about his 2016 plans. DuVal recently said he wanted to run statewide, but he didn't say what office or what cycle he was thinking about. (Businesswoman Nan Walden, who was not tested in this poll, has also been name-dropped, but she's also been silent about her intentions.)
As for Reps. Kirkpatrick and Sinema, they've been quiet about their Senate aspirations, but their allies say they're waiting on the outcome of a key U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer that could invalidate the state's independent redistricting commission. If the court allows the GOP legislature to redraw the congressional lines, either or both members are likely to wind up in redder seats, and a Senate campaign would look a lot more appealing.
We haven't seen any other recent polling of either the GOP primary or general, so we can't make any definitive conclusions about McCain's strength. If PPP is right, McCain is in real danger of being denied renomination, and Team Red could very well lose this seat in November with or without him. However, McCain proved in his dominant 2010 primary victory that he's more than capable of exploiting his opponent's weakness, and we can never count him out. Arizona is also still a red state, and Democrats have had trouble making inroads here for the last several cycles. But if the right candidates show up, it looks like we're in for an intense contest next year.