With not one but two members of the Gang of Eight on the ballot tonight, Trump fans will be out in force to send a message to the Senate about the perils of backing amnesty if you’re a Republican, right?
Well, no. The man whom Donald Trump once dubbed “Marco ‘Amnesty’ Rubio” led challenger Carlos Beruff in the last poll taken in Florida by a breezy 39 points. Beruff, a mega-rich political outsider like the Donald himself, has spent months trying to rally Trumpers to his side, running ads that play up Rubio’s policy disagreements with Trump and reminding Florida Republicans that, unlike some people, “Carlos Beruff supports Donald Trump 100%.” Hasn’t worked to make him competitive, though, probably because Rubio was smart enough — or craven enough, depending on your point of view — to have switched months ago from fierce Trump critic to reluctant Trump ally, going so far as to say he’d be willing to campaign with Trump in Florida. Trump in turn has endorsed Rubio for reelection because, in the end, being nice to Donald Trump is more important to him than whether or not Rubio tried to foist an awful amnesty bill on America. Beruff has consequently been left out in the cold, leaving Rubio set to romp. Which, whatever you think of him on immigration, is good on balance for the GOP. Rubio may be the only Republican in Florida who can win his seat this year. If we end up with President Hillary in 2017, that extra vote in the Senate will come in handy on Supreme Court nominations.
To the extent that there’s any suspense this evening, it’s John McCain’s primary in Arizona. Yesterday Breitbart published a Gravis poll of Arizona showing that race a toss-up, with McCain leading challenger Kelli Ward, 37/33. (Yeah, I know, a Breitbart poll also had Paul Ryan at 43 percent earlier this summer in a primary he went on to win by 70 points, but that was with a different pollster.) A CNN poll conducted a week before that had Maverick running away with the primary, though, at 55/29. Interestingly, an earlier Gravis poll conducted in mid-August had Ward by nine, 45/36, meaning that their latest poll for Breitbart is seeing a collapse in her numbers even though the race remains close. My hunch is that McCain wins easily, fueled by the fact that Ward has taken lately to reminding voters that he’s really, really, really old, having turned 80 just yesterday. If her internal polling showed a tight race, you’ve got to believe she’d be playing better cards than that. Like Beruff, Ward has also hugged Trump in her messaging during the campaign — and, unlike Beruff, she has the benefit of Trump having never formally endorsed the incumbent. If she goes down in flames tonight too, the evidence that Trumpism is a nationalist movement that’s aiming to remake the GOP in the great man’s image rather than a cult of personality that’s loyal only to the man himself will be awfully thin. If Trumpers can’t get rid of two notorious amnesty shills in their primaries while the party is in the grip of Trumpmania, what kind of electoral muscle do they really have? More to the point, why didn’t they try harder to organize and get rid of Rubio and McCain? Nothing would have terrorized the GOP establishment more than watching populist nationalist voters knocking off the Chamber of Commerce’s favorite sons.
Oh well. The polls close statewide in Florida at 8 p.m. ET and in Arizona at 9. I’ll be following live results at Decision Desk HQ. There’s one other marquee race worth noting, namely, Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s reelection bid in FL-23. Debbie’s the least popular “insider” in the Democratic Party right now, having long ago alienated the Obama White House and having more recently alienated Bernie Sanders’s populist fans with the DNC’s favoritism towards Hillary. A lot of Dems would be very happy to see her bounced tonight in the House primary. It’s unlikely to happen, though: She led challenger Tim Canova by 10 points in the most recent poll of her district. Seems a safe bet that her race will be be tighter than either Rubio’s or McCain’s will, though, so keep your eye on that one if you’re looking for drama.
Update: So much for Carlos Beruff. The AP calls Florida’s Senate primary for Marco Rubio six minutes after the polls close. As I write this, Rubio leads 72/18 early. Democrat Patrick Murphy looks like he’s on way to squashing progressive toad Alan Grayson in the other primary, so Rubio/Murphy will indeed be the match-up this fall.
Update: Beruff goes out firing:
Wow: Trump-boosting Carlos Beruff comes out swinging at Rubio in concession. But offers tepid endorsement anyways pic.twitter.com/6o84u2ME2w
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) August 31, 2016
Update: Debbie Downer avoids becoming Debbie Dunzo: Wasserman Schultz has won her primary, says CNN.
Update: It’s after 11:30 on the east coast and Arizona’s results have barely begun trickling in, but the early votes give McCain a 24-point lead over Kelli Ward. He should win comfortably.