Trump haunts McCain's reelection fight

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainFormer astronaut running for Senate in Arizona returns money from paid speech in UAE Fox's Roberts: Trump 'glared at me like I've never seen him glare at me before' Lou Dobbs: Political criticism of McCain 'not an exhumation of his body' MORE is going to battle with Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report MORE-aligned forces in his home state.

The Arizona Republican is in a fight for his political life as he seeks a sixth term in the Senate, taking fire from both sides over the GOP presidential nominee.


McCain is a known quantity in Arizona—where a sitting senator hasn’t lost since the 1950s—but conservatives and Democrats are hoping the rise of Trump will give voters the necessary push to buck the state’s soft spot for incumbents. 

The Arizona senator’s first test will come Tuesday—a day after his 80th birthday—when he faces off with former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who is trying to unseat McCain in what she’s described as a “David and Goliath” primary matchup. 

Ward is taking a dual-pronged approach to her uphill battle to unseat McCain, arguing he’s an out-of-touch Washington insider while aligning herself with Trump—who McCain tepidly supports. 

“I enthusiastically endorse Donald Trump. I haven’t even heard John McCain even say he endorses Donald Trump by name,” she told the conservative World Net Daily radio station. “I’ve heard him say he’s fine with him as the nominee.” 

She’s also taken aim at McCain’s age—calling him a “dinosaur” and noting she graduated from high school the same year McCain joined the Senate—trying to frame the election as a generational battle. 

"John McCain is falling down on the job, he's gotten weak and he's gotten old,” she said in a headline grabbing interview with MSNBC’s “MTP Daily with Chuck Todd." I want to give him the best birthday present ever, the gift of retirement.”

McCain has been a chief antagonist of the state’s conservative base for years, but Ward is facing more than $2 million in negative spending from outside groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Polling on the race has been scarce, but McCain is expected to prevail in Tuesday’s showdown. 

A CNN/ORC Poll released Wednesday showed the Armed Services Committee chairman leading Ward 55-29 percent, though Ward and her campaign have discounted polling, arguing it can’t accurately measure new voters. 

But McCain’s Trump troubles are expected to haunt the Arizona Republican through November, as Democrats try to nationalize the race by linking him to his party’s controversial frontrunner.

Though he earned Trump's endorsement, McCain frequently dodges questions about his own party’s standard bearer while in Washington and out on the campaign trail, claiming he’s laser focused on his race. 

"I support the nominee of the party. If I change my mind, I'll let you know," McCain said in Arizona earlier this month. The remarks were quickly included in a TV ad by his likely Democratic opponent Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickPush for ‘Medicare for all’ worries centrist Dems GOP compares Ocasio-Cortez to Trump Hispanic Caucus sets red lines on DHS spending bill MORE (D-Ariz.). 

Democrats argue McCain’s refusal to break ties with Trump—even after he suggested the GOP senator wasn’t a war hero because he was captured in Vietnam—highlights that he’s lost his independent streak after decades in Washington. 

"John McCain has endorsed Donald Trump more than 50 times, despite the nominee's dangerous and divisive attacks," said D.B. Mitchell, a spokesman for Kirkpatrick's campaign. "[It's] another clear example to Arizonans that McCain's 'straight talk' days are gone, and he now cares more about saving his political career than doing what's right." 

Outside groups, including and People for the American Way, and national Democrats have also seized on the message, while Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSuicide is not just a veteran problem — it is an American problem The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game Bernie campaign 2.0 - he's in it to win it, this time around MORE (D-Nev.) said McCain is “running like a scared dog.” 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) also released an ad this week highlighting McCain’s support for Trump, asking if GOP senators “don’t stand up to Trump, how are they going to stand up for us?”

Democrats need to win back five Senate seats—or four if they retain the White House—to win back the upper chamber. 

Though the heart of the battle is centered on a handful of purple states previously won by President Obama, with Trump struggling in national polls, Democrats are expanding their map to include red states like Arizona. 

Kirkpatrick, who has survived tough House races, is pledging to give McCain his first real challenge in decades. 

"Ann's giving John McCain the toughest race of his political career because McCain proves over and over that he's changed after 33 years in Washington by abandoning principles," Mitchell added. 

Though the general election doesn't officially kick off until Wednesday the two campaigns and their allies have been trading fire for months, over Trump and policy fights like the Iran nuclear deal.

Kirkpatrick also out raised him in the pre-primary FEC period, bringing in more than $1 million compared to more than $550,000 for McCain. But the Arizona Republican has a larger war chest, with more than $5 million in the bank. 

Allies of McCain brush off suggestions that Trump could bring down the veteran senator, noting he's weathered tough elections before, and has near 100-percent name ID.

"He’s got his own brand. The Trump effect is certainly lessened with someone like McCain," said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar Trump keeps tight grip on GOP MORE (R-Ariz.). "McCain is in a good place and he’s working really hard.

"Call it Arizona pride or whatever," he added. "Nobody lumps McCain in with Trump’s demeanor or his politics."

House races to watch

Arizona-1: The district vacated by Kirkpatrick to run for Senate is considered a toss-up heading into November. Democrats are slated to nominate Tom O'Halleran, a former Arizona state legislator who previously identified as a Republican. The Republican primary is far messier between five candidates. Some Republicans worry that Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, a frequent Fox News guest, wouldn't be a viable general election candidate in one of the most competitive House districts. Arizona House Speaker David Gowan suspended his campaign earlier this month and endorsed businessman Gary Kiehne, imploring his supporters not to support Babeu.

Arizona-4: Three-term Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarTrump: I told Republicans to vote for 'transparency' in releasing Mueller report House votes for Mueller report to be made public The 23 Republicans who voted against the anti-hate resolution MORE (R-Ariz.), a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, is trying to fend off a primary challenge from pastor Ray Strauss. He's faced a barrage of negative ads in recent weeks from the Right Way Super PAC, which bills itself as "helping elect constructive conservatives." Gosar is trying to avoid a result like his fellow Freedom Caucus colleague Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who lost his primary earlier this month. Gosar's campaign has secured endorsements in recent weeks from Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary The Memo: Trump can't let go of McCain grudge Michael Bennet is close to deciding on possible presidential bid MORE (R-Texas) and the PAC affiliated with the Club for Growth.