It’s weird that they thought Mitch McConnell, of all people, needed to be notified of this when it’s been obvious for months in public polling that McSally’s at dire risk of losing. Here’s every poll of her race against Mark Kelly so far this year. The top line is the polling average, followed by the most recent polls.
Two of the last four polls taken have Kelly up by double digits. His lead has grown over time. He’s a local celebrity in Arizona twice over, both as an astronaut and as the husband of Gabby Giffords, and he’s outraised McSally repeatedly. In the last quarter he hauled in $11 million compared to her $6.2 million and as of the end of March had nearly double the amount of cash on hand that she had.
With the possible exception of Cory Gardner’s seat in Colorado, there’s no race more likely to go blue this fall than this one. Increasingly it seems like the only reason the GOP will spend money on it is because Trump desperately needs to hold Arizona in his own race against Biden to stay north of 270 electoral votes. The likeliest path for Biden to win according to one Democratic analyst is taking Michigan and Pennsylvania, where he’s leading in both states right now, and Arizona. Republicans need to do what they can to keep turnout up there. A noncompetitive Senate race won’t help.
Anyway, McConnell has been put on notice:
Trump’s campaign team was meeting with the president at the White House to discuss the state of play in a handful of battleground states. Toward the end of the meeting, Trump pulled McConnell, who was at the White House to meet with him on another matter, into the Roosevelt Room. The discussion turned to Arizona, where recent polling has shown Trump and McSally trailing.
Trump himself said he was concerned about McSally, according to three people familiar with the discussion. His political advisers told McConnell about recent survey numbers in Arizona and stressed she was losing to Democrat and former astronaut Mark Kelly.
McConnell appeared to stand by the senator, noting that it’s only May and the election is still a ways off, people familiar with the meeting said.
I’m not sure what that last part about him “standing by” McSally means. Was Trump proposing that … they dump her, in favor of someone else? Looks from here like the ballot deadline for candidates was April 6. McSally has only one opponent in the primary and it’s not someone prominent enough to give Kelly more of a scare in the general election than she would as an incumbent senator. Unless Trump is proposing that McSally suddenly resign and let, say, Gov. Doug Ducey appoint himself to the seat, I don’t know what he could be suggesting. Even if Ducey did that, I assume he still wouldn’t be eligible to run this fall since he missed the ballot deadline.
So they’re stuck with McSally, for better or worse. Probably worse:
I did a focus group of disaffected Trump voters in AZ last week. Some were done with Trump, others on the fence. But, man, did they dislike McSally. It’s not just Trump dragging her down. Seems like she’s alienated voters in her own right. https://t.co/keJT3oDGiU
— Sarah Longwell (@SarahLongwell25) May 20, 2020
I’ve never understood why McSally struggles so much in Arizona. Maybe she just had bad luck, coming along at a moment when the state was trending purple and cursed with facing a strong opponent in Kyrsten Sinema in 2018 and another strong one this year in Kelly. She seems to have had trouble finding a political identity, pulled in one direction by Trumpism and in the other by Arizona’s lingering fondness for Trump enemy John McCain. McSally reportedly annoyed the McCain family by not showing sufficient respect for him when he passed away in 2018; she was seen as the establishment choice in the primary that year and evidently didn’t want to piss off Trump’s fans by hugging the McCains too tightly. Cindy McCain supposedly gave her blessing later when Ducey appointed McSally to John McCain’s seat but she’s said discouraging things about the race since then.
Meghan McCain gave her a little kick just a few hours ago:
So McSally’s a victim of bad luck in that sense too. In any other reddish state she’d pay no penalty for siding with Trump over John McCain (or any other Republican). In Arizona, that’s trickier. It’s hard for any Senate incumbent to forge their own independent “brand” too in an era when Trump dominates all aspects of electoral politics, especially a newbie senator who hasn’t had time to distinguish herself. In the end she may have maneuvered her way into a sour spot where she’s too deferential to Trump to make independents and McCain fans happy but not Trumpy enough to get MAGA fans excited about her.
And there’s a third stroke of bad luck. She’s running for reelection amid a pandemic and a president from her party has received poor marks for how he’s handled it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Trump is to blame if McSally loses this fall but he’s not helping right now.
Exit question: Maybe Karl Rove can turn this around for the GOP?