A Gravis Marketing poll conducted on August 15th and released August 21st, found Senator John McCain trailing his Republican tea party challenger Kelli Ward by a 45 to 36 percent margin. Ward, who represents Arizona state senate district 5 in the Northwest part of the state, is a far right politician.
Ward has drawn media attention in the past for convening a public hearing on “chemtrails” and for taking extreme positions on gun rights, immigration, and opposition to government involvement in health care. She is also the lone Arizona Senator to have voted against adequately funding the Department of Child Safety in 2014.
Ward’s extreme positions have not disqualified her in the eyes of Republican voters, however. For the tea party faithful, Ward’s amplified anti-federal government rhetoric and her willingness to entertain conspiracy theories, is a welcome contrast to McCain’s center right policies. Many Arizona Republicans despise Senator McCain as a RINO (Republican In Name Only).
The McCain campaign dismissed the poll citing Gravis’ track record of overestimating support for insurgent tea party candidates. While it is not unusual for campaign’s to try to spin away bad poll numbers, team McCain may have a valid criticism.
Gravis Marketing did miss pretty badly on the Texas and Kentucky GOP Senate primaries in 2014. In both cases, Gravis found incumbents (John Cornyn and Mitch McConnell) with significantly smaller leads than their eventual margins of victory. Unlike the Arizona poll however, neither the Texas nor Kentucky poll had the challenger actually leading an incumbent senator.
Democrats will be watching the Arizona Republican Senate primary with interest, because while Ward may be more popular than John McCain with right-wing voters, she is almost certainly more likely to lose to a Democrat in a general election.
The Gravis Marketing poll bears out the disparity in strength between the two candidates. The poll showed that while McCain held a 13-point lead over Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, Ward’s lead was just 5 percentage points. A Ward primary victory would immediately turn the Arizona Senate race from a lean Republican race to a toss up, increasing the likelihood that the Democrats retake control of the U.S. Senate.