According to the political site Roll Call, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) plans to challenge Senator John McCain in 2016. By entering the race, Kirkpatrick gives the Democrats a strong candidate, who could potentially spell trouble for McCain’s re-election chances. Kirkpatrick is just one of five Democrats in Congress who represents a district that gave Mitt Romney more votes than Barack Obama in 2012. Given her success on red-leaning turf, the Congresswoman is regarded as one of the strongest statewide candidates Democrats could land in Arizona.
In an otherwise bleak election year for Democrats, Congresswoman Kirkpatrick scored an improbably decisive victory over Republican challenger Andy Tobin in November 2014. She won by a 52.6-47.4 margin in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, which includes a large portion of North Central and Eastern Arizona, including the city of Flagstaff. The district also has a large Native American population that helped propel Kirkpatrick to her decisive win, in the red-leaning swing district.
Kirkpatrick’s entry into the Senate contest improves Democrat’s odds of retaking control of the Senate. On the flip side, the move will make retaining Democratic control of Arizona’s 1st Congressional District more difficult, particularly if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in June that Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission is unconstitutional.
Incumbent Republican Senator John McCain would likely be favored in a head to head race with Kirkpatrick. A May 5, 2015 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey testing McCain against a number of Democratic candidates had him leading Kirkpatrick by a 42-36 margin. However, that survey also found that Senator McCain was in serious jeopardy of losing to a more conservative Republican opponent in the GOP primary. If McCain were to lose the Republican primary, the race would immediately become a toss up and a top tier pick-up opportunity for the Democrats.
A competitive Senate race could produce a reverse coattail effect as well. While a presidential campaign benefits down-ballot Democratic candidates, Kirkpatrick’s ability to generate high turnout among Native American voters, also could benefit the Democratic presidential candidate. With Hillary Clinton already polling well in Arizona, the combination of Clinton for President and Kirkpatrick for Senate gives Arizona a strong chance to go blue in 2016.
Senator John McCain will have to dance a political tightrope to survive a primary challenge from his right, without alienating the centrist voters he needs in order to win a general election contest against a strong opponent like Ann Kirkpatrick. Given Kirkpatrick’s ability to survive in tough political environments, Senator McCain better not underestimate her in a presidential year, when she will have the wind at her back.