In the weeks since the nominating conventions, a lot has happened. Trump royally blew the immediate post-convention period and re-shuffled his staff. U.S. athletes, for the most part, had a strong showing at the Olympics. And many states have held primary elections for state and federal offices. There are about two more weeks of primaries left. (Except for Louisiana which does not really have a primary election, and a special primary election for one district in New York, the last primaries will be held on September 13. ) This week, we have the Senate primaries in two states that are seen as potential Senate battlegrounds in November: Arizona and Florida.
In Arizona, the Democratic candidate — Representative Ann Kirkpatrick — is running unopposed. The potentially interesting primary is the Republican primary. Senator John McCain is facing three opponents — one of whom has semi-withdrawn, urging voters to support whichever candidate is most likely to defeat McCain.
The Arizona Senate primary is a good example of the challenge facing Republicans in Congress. Senator McCain is a very conservative Senator. However, there are times in his career when, on a particular issue (e.g., campaign finance), his views have differed from the rest of the Republican party. There have also been times when he was willing to actually do his job and work with Democratic Senators to reach a compromise on an issue of importance rather than simply use that issue during the campaign while keeping Congress from actually fixing the problem. These occasional breaks from orthodoxy have both gained McCain admiration from the media and those who value “mavericks,” and gained the ferocious opposition of the Tea Party types that value purity over results. For the Tea Party types, State Senator Kelli Ward represents a chance to have a pure candidate in the general election. Given that Trump is already making the state competitive for Democrats, a win by Ward would probably make the Democrats the favorites to pick up this state. Polling has been all over the place for the primary — some showing McCain with a significant lead, others showing a dead heat.
Even if Senator McCain survives, Kirkpatrick still has a fighting chance in the general. Most show that the race is still close. (There has been almost no polling of a Kirkpatrick-Ward general.) McCain will turn 80 tomorrow and has served thirty years as Senator. While Trump supporters are unlikely to vote for Kirkpatrick, they may just skip over the Senate race.
In Florida, the primaries are almost the reverse of Arizona. Before getting into the guts of the primary, first, a quick look back to 2010. In the run-up to 2010, most leading Democrats in the state assumed that Republican Governor Charlie Crist would be the Republican candidate for Senate and opted to run for something else. However, when polling showed that Republicans favored Marco Rubio for the Senate nomination, Crist decided to run as an independent. By this point in time, it was too late for any of the leading candidates to shift into the Senate race. In the end, Rubio won, in what was a very good year for Republicans nationally, with just 49% of the vote, slightly behind the combined vote for Crist and the Democratic candidate. Representative Kendrick Meek.
Fast forward to 2015, while running for President, Rubio makes multiple comments that he has no interest in returning to the Senate even if he loses. Several Republicans get into the race along with Democratic Representative Patrick Murphy and Democratic Representative Alan Grayson. Polling, however, consistently indicated that Rubio would be a stronger general election candidate than any of the Republicans who had actually filed. The national party convinced Rubio to file at the last second, leading to a reshuffle as most of the top Republican candidates withdrew and returned to running for their old office.
Rubio now looks like he is almost certain to win the Republican primary. Recent polling shows him at or near 50% for the primary with his main opponent polling at near 20%. The Democratic primary is somewhat similar to the choice that Republicans have in Arizona. Representative Grayson is the darling of the progressives. However, many Democrats worry that Grayson is too liberal to appeal to moderates and independents. Given how close Florida always is, they prefer Representative Murphy — who won twice in a Republican-leaning district. The most recent polling shows Representative Murphy in the lead, but there are some older polls (from May and June) showing Representative Grayson either ahead or within the margin of error. In recent general election polls that test both alternatives against Rubio, Murphy does slightly better. However, as in the presidential primary, I do not put much weight on general election polls taken in the middle of a primary because there is a tendency for supporters of one candidate to say in polls that they could not support the other candidate (but such people tend to fall in behind the nominee after the primary).
One other race of note on Tuesday, in Florida’s Twenty-third District, former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is facing a substantial challenge Tim Canova. It goes without saying that a lot of progressive Democrats (and even some moderate Democrats) are unhappy with how Wasserman-Schultz did during her time as DNC, including completely mismanaging the presidential primaries. However, most polling shows Wasserman-Schultz with a significant lead. The best poll for Canova — an internal poll released by the campaign — shows Wasserman-Schultz up by 8%. The only recent independent poll shows the lead at 10%. Whomever wins the primary is likely to win the general as the district is solidly Democratic.
In short, Tuesday’s primary in a swing state and a lean Republican state is likely to tell us something about the state of the two parties. Do Republicans prefer outsiders over experienced politicians? Do Democrats pick candidates who can appeal to swing voters or go with ideological purity? And was the support for Bernie Sanders personal for Bernie or can the Sanders movement get supporters to vote for other candidates in down ballot primaries?