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Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake

The Arizona GOP is expected to vote to censure Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe best way to handle veterans, active-duty military that participated in Capitol riot Cindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake MORE (R), and former Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Arizona county's Republican committee debates censuring Cindy McCain MORE (R) after both supported President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE in the 2020 presidential election.  

The party first disclosed its “Censure McCain” resolution last Sunday after it was mistakenly reported that the Maricopa County Republican Party voted to censure her. The county-level party only discussed censuring McCain but did vote to censure Flake. 

The effort to censure the two big names in Arizona GOP politics is the latest in a long-standing rift between the grassroots wing of the Arizona GOP and other Republicans. John McCain himself was censured by the state party in 2014 for what the state party saw as an insufficiently conservative voting record.

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It comes as Arizona is becoming a more purple state. Biden won the state in the 2020 election by a slim margin, becoming the first Democrat to win Arizona in a presidential election since 1996, when former President Clinton carried the state and businessman Ross Perot ran a strong third-party campaign. 

The state also now has two Democratic senators after Sen. Mark KellyMark KellyCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Arizona county's Republican committee debates censuring Cindy McCain MORE (D) defeated Republican Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed MORE, who had been appointed to the Senate, in November. It's the first time Democrats held both seats since the 1950s. 

Partly as a result, some see the censures as a waste of time and possibly self-defeating.

Barrett Marson, who worked for Defend Arizona — a political action committee that fundraised for McSally — called the censures a “massive distraction to what the state party ought to be focused on.” 

“The state party has really much more pressing issues to deal with, like, how do we win back the [Senate] seats? And how do we turn the state back into a reliably GOP column or a reliably Republican state?” Marson said. Flake and Cindy McCain both publicly supported Biden in the last presidential race, and McCain now serves on Biden’s transition advisory board.

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This has earned them the enmity of President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE’s most vocal supporters in the Arizona GOP. Trump has had a famously combative relationship with the McCain family. In 2015, Trump mocked John McCain’s standing as a prisoner of war.

When McCain represented Arizona in the Senate, the state was a reliably Republican bastion. In the 2010 midterms, two years after McCain was defeated by former President Obama in the presidential race, he shifted to the right under pressure from a grassroots conservative challenge.

But political veterans in Arizona say he also knew how to appeal to centrists in the state, and how to build a winning general election campaign. And they question whether the leaders of the state party know how to do this given the recent losses.

“He was a strong conservative, who also found that he could appeal to moderates, independents, some Democrats. And even though Arizona is an incredibly … libertarian-leaning, Republican state, we have a large, independent base that are neither registered as Republicans or Democrats,” Marson said. “And, you know, John McCain figured out a way to every six years to win over a large amount of all of those groups.”

Mike Noble, an Arizona pollster, says data from the 2020 election suggests running far to the right does not work in Arizona.

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“It wasn't good, like electorally, Trumpism, essentially, here in Arizona. And so if they change, and get back to winning, but if not, you can expect Arizona to keep being a battleground state and keep being competitive” Noble said. 

Cindy McCain told the Arizona Republic that she wasn’t surprised by the censure efforts, but ripped Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward for her attacks on her family and accused her of contributing to GOP losses over the last two election cycles.

“As Chairman of the AZGOP she managed to turn Arizona blue in November for the first time since 1996,” she told the newspaper. “Maybe she should be reminded that my husband never lost an Arizona election since his first win in 1982; he and Gov. [Doug] Ducey are the last two Republicans to win statewide races in Arizona.” 

Flake said on Twitter that he wasn’t worried about being censured either.

“If condoning the president’s behavior is required to stay in the Party’s good graces, I’m just fine being on the outs,” he said.