Arizona Gov. Ducey’s Dilemma in Choosing McCain’s Successor

With the passing of Sen. John McCain, Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey has a difficult decision to make in naming a replacement to fill the seat until a special election in 2020. He has suggested that he won’t make an announcement about that until the nearly week-long series of services in honor of McCain are completed.

As all of the country is very well aware, there has been no love lost between McCain and Trump. In his final political act, the deceased senator released a statement calling the president’s press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” After denying that John McCain was a war hero during the 2016 campaign, Trump targeted the senator for his vote against the repeal of Obamacare at campaign rallies and reports are that he vetoed a White House statement honoring McCain’s heroism on the occasion of his death.

Following Trump’s lead, much of the Republican base in Arizona has soured on McCain, as is evidenced by the fact that all three Republican candidates running in tomorrow’s primary for the senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake have been doing their best to align themselves with Trump.

The Republican establishment’s favorite, Representative Martha McSally, has linked herself to the president as she tries to fend off far-right challenges from Mr. Arpaio and Kelli Ward, a onetime state senator who won nearly 40 percent of the vote in a 2016 primary against Mr. McCain. To do that, Ms. McSally has avoided any connection to Mr. McCain, a gambit that has infuriated the late senator’s family.

Governor Ducey is also up for re-election this November and is likely to face state Senate Assistant Minority Leader Steve Farley, assuming they both win their primaries tomorrow. In a state that has traditionally been considered solidly red, most prognosticators aren’t ruling out the possibility of a Farley win.

For several cycles now, the state of Arizona has been moving slowly in the direction of becoming a purple state. In the 2008 presidential race, McCain obviously won his home state by about 8.5 points and Romney won it by 9 points in 2012. But the margin for Trump in 2016 was only 4 points. Much as states like Texas and Georgia are becoming more competitive for Democrats due to changing demographics, white people are currently less than 60 percent of the population in Arizona.

In light of that, Ducey is facing a very difficult decision. To satisfy the Republican base, he’ll need to appoint a Trump loyalist to McCain’s senate seat. But that will only further alienate McCain’s supporters in the state, who are most likely the same Republicans that are already trending away from the party ever since Donald Trump took it over.

None of this will have an immediate effect on the make-up of the senate. Regardless of who Ducey choses it will be a Republican and the party will maintain it’s slight majority of 51-49. But Ducey’s dilemma is the same one we see in statewide races like the one where Stacey Abrams has a shot at the governorship in Georgia and Beto O’Rourke is giving Ted Cruz a run for his money in Texas.

It’s true that demographics aren’t destiny. But the more the Republican Party aligns itself with a white supremacist message, the more that states trending towards “majority minority” will be put in play for great Democratic candidates.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .