Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., gets on an elevator after being on the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 4, 2015.
Photo by Susan Walsh/AP

Discouraging polls force John McCain to scramble in Arizona

Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) re-election campaign unveiled an attack ad this week, targeting state Sen. Kelli Ward (R), the incumbent’s primary challenger, for her interest in chemtrail conspiracy theories. The web ad mocks “Chemtrail Kelli” and her “bad judgment,” which is “dangerous for Arizona.”
Now, as it turns out, McCain is throwing some stones from a glass house. TPM reported yesterday that the Republican senator “forwarded to the Environmental Protection Agency a letter from a constituent concerned about chemtrails, and asked the EPA to respond,” as if the odd theories have merit.
But even putting this aside, let’s not overlook the broader question: John McCain is worried enough about his primary rival to release an attack ad? According to a poll released yesterday by Public Policy Polling, the incumbent senator has reason to be concerned.
PPP’s new Arizona poll finds that John McCain has a negative approval rating with Republican primary voters, and is at pretty serious risk of losing nomination for another term. Only 35% of GOP voters approve of the job McCain is doing to 50% who disapprove. […]
McCain is polling at only 39% in the Republican primary field. He’s benefiting from having multiple opponents. Kelli Ward is at 26%, Alex Meluskey at 4%, Scott McBean at 3%, and Clair Van Steenwyk at 2%. 27% are undecided…. When you narrow the field down to just a choice between McCain and Ward, it’s a tie at 41%. Ward is polling this competitively at this point despite having only 41% name recognition.
It’s only one poll, and we’d need more data before drawing firm conclusions, but if PPP is correct, these are the kind of numbers that suggest McCain’s career is in real jeopardy.
Complicating matters, in a hypothetical general-election match-up against Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D), the same poll showed McCain ahead, but not by much: 42% to 36%. This may help explain why Team McCain launched its first anti-Kirkpatrick attack ad of the year yesterday.
When making lists of vulnerable Senate incumbents in 2016, most tend to leave McCain out of the mix, largely because of his lengthy track record of electoral success. But taken at face value, the Republican senator is clearly facing real headwinds, and there’s no reason to assume McCain will prevail just because he has in the past.
Arizona’s primary is Aug. 30. Watch this space.
Postscript: The last time McCain ran into some primary trouble, in 2010, the senator brought Sarah Palin to Arizona to campaign for him. Any chance we’ll see the former half-term governor and failed vice presidential candidate standing alongside McCain this summer? I rather doubt it.