Will the ‘Three Amigos’ survive 2016 elections?

The Senate’s “Three Amigos” are headed for a challenging 2016.

The familiar trio of Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) are plunging into election battles, with McCain and Ayotte facing competitive reelection races and Graham making a run for the White House.

{mosads}While Graham is guaranteed a Senate seat even if his presidential bid falls short, McCain and Ayotte could be fighting for their political lives, with their success or failure helping to determine which party controls the Senate. 

“These are high-profile public officials that care a lot about our national security, and it’s not a surprise they would be involved in some high-profile races as well,” said GOP strategist Ron Bonjean.

McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is facing challenges on two fronts.

Conservative groups have made him a top target in the 2016 cycle and are trying to recruit Rep. Matt Salmon (Ariz.) to challenge him in the Republican primary.

While the 78-year-old McCain “has done a reasonably good job” of keeping Republicans in the Arizona delegation at bay, he remains “vulnerable in a primary,” according to Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak.

And even if McCain triumphs over a primary challenger, the former presidential nominee could face a stiff test from Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.) in the general election.

Graham, who McCain jokingly calls his “illegitimate son,” is facing a different task in 2016, as he mounts a bid for the White House that many consider a long shot.

The South Carolina lawmaker, who was reelected to the Senate in 2014, is hoping his hawkish foreign policy views will help him break out from the crowded GOP presidential field.

If he succeeds, Graham’s presence in the campaign could end up benefiting Ayotte, whose state of New Hampshire is home to the first presidential primary.

Ayotte’s race is critical to Senate control, with Democrats needing a net gain of five seats to wrest back the chamber from Republicans.

While Senate Democrats have the advantage of only defending 10 incumbent seats next year, compared with 24 for Republicans, they need victories in blue-leaning states like New Hampshire in order to have a shot at victory.

That means that Ayotte and her possible Democratic challenger, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, could be getting lots of attention from the national parties once 2016 rolls around.

“Neither candidate is going to be short of cash, or surrogates coming into state to campaign for them,” said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center.

Hassan hasn’t said whether she will to run for Senate in 2016 or if she will seek to return to New Hampshire governor’s mansion, instead.

If Hassan passes on the Senate race, “there’s nobody in the state who can beat” Ayotte, according to Smith.

Ayotte is the newest member of the “Three Amigos,” having filled the void that was left when Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) retired from Congress in 2012.

McCain, Graham and Lieberman were closely aligned on national security issues, and appeared together so frequently on Capitol Hill that the nickname stuck.

Ayotte, who was elected to the Senate in 2010, quickly drifted into the same orbit as McCain and Graham, who are fellow members of the Armed Services Committee. Before long, the trio was appearing together at Capitol Hill events or on the Senate floor to champion defense and foreign policy issues.

At one point in the summer of 2012, McCain, Graham and Ayotte even went on a road trip, holding events in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire to drum up opposition to military budget cuts under sequestration.

While their alliance has made them a force in policymaking debates on Capitol Hill, it remains to be seen whether that clout will translate into success on the campaign trail.

“They’re all going to be busy,” said Mackowiak. “All three are going to get pulled in different directions, so they’ll have fewer opportunities to team up and work together.”

Bonjean said they “are all going to be doing their own thing.”

McCain and Ayotte in particular must “buckle down” and spend a considerable amount of time back home to assure voters that their concerns are being heard.

Still, there could be “times where all three come together when it’s necessary and talk about national security, and that will likely translate into points with primary voters,” he added.

McCain, for his part, laughed off the idea that the band could be broken up.

“I’m sure that we’ll support each other,” he said.

Tags Ann Kirkpatrick John McCain Kelly Ayotte Lindsey Graham Matt Salmon

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