A pair of Arizona Tea Party Congressmen are reportedly drawing up plans to challenge Arizona Senator John McCain in the 2016 Republican Senate primary. Matt Salmon (AZ-05) and Dave Schweikert (AZ-06) are rumored to be discussing plans to take on McCain. Making matters worse for McCain, the two Tea Party Congressmen have apparently agreed that only one of them should enter the fray, eliminating the risk of splitting the anti-McCain vote.
McCain will turn 80 years old by Election Day 2016, but so far, he has made every indication that he plans to run for his sixth term as U.S. Senator. He was first elected to the Senate in 1986.
McCain’s problem, however, is that while he is a reliably conservative Senator on most issues, he is not far right enough to please the Tea Party extremists in his state. The Arizona Republican Party censured McCain in 2014 for being insufficiently conservative. Activists were especially upset by his willingness to consider some type of immigration reform. Any compromise on immigration is viewed as political heresy by the purist wing of the Arizona Republican Party.
Although McCain fended off a primary challenge from J.D. Hayworth in 2010, analysts expect that Salmon or Schweikert would be more difficult opponents for the Senator to defeat. Salmon, in particular, has already amassed the start of a significant campaign war chest, suggesting that he could be a capable fundraiser for a high-profile Senate race. With the rightward drift of the modern GOP, a politician like John McCain, can not afford to breathe easy.
McCain has long been targeted by Republican purists as being a RINO (“Republican In Name Only”). Now, it appears that the potential candidates gearing up to purge him from Congress, are serious about their efforts. Salmon and Schweikert are not mere partisan gadflies contemplating a futile vanity campaign against McCain. They are members of the U.S. House who can mobilize both Tea Party supporters and establishment Republicans to rally to their cause.
Should Salmon or Schweikert choose to run, they would pose a threat to John McCain’s ability to secure the Republican nomination. If either of the Tea Party Congressman were able to oust McCain, the race would also present a window of opportunity for the Democrats to wrestle the Senate seat away from the GOP. With the RINO hunters poised to take out McCain, Democrats need to be prepared to put a strong Senate candidate forward. If they do, they are in a position to exploit Republican infighting, which could turn McCain’s red Senate seat blue in 2016.