With John McCain Gone, What Happens to His Senate Seat?

On Friday, John McCain’s family announced his decision to discontinue treatment for his brain cancer and the notable U.S. Senator died Saturday afternoon at the age of 81.

McCain’s death is being mourned throughout the country and the world, but very soon the world of politics will turn its attention to the question of who will replace him in the U.S. Senate.

The answer to that question can come from only one source: the current Republican Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey. Ducey is the person charged with the task of appointing people to fill vacancies in Arizona’s US Senate delegation in situations such as this.

So Ducey will appoint McCain’s replacement who will stay in the Senate through the 2020 election, at such time as a special election will be held to serve out the remainder of McCain’s term, which ends after the 2022 election.

So far Ducey has made no comments about the issue, out of respect for the senator and his family as they grieve his death.

Under Arizona state law, he is required to appoint someone of the same party as McCain, which obviously means he will appoint a Republican. Ducey has said he is not interested in the job and will not appoint himself.

Ducey did issue a statement mourning McCain’s death on Saturday. In that statement the governor said “Sen. McCain was one American who will never be forgotten. His dogged patriotism and passion for country made him an inspiration, and a model, for all of us.”

Ducey’s office also issued a press release anticipating questions he would receive about McCain’s seat, saying he will not name a replacement until after McCain’s burial. The senator and war hero will be buried in the cemetery of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Democrats are somewhat disappointed since if McCain had left office before May 30 his Senate seat would have been on the ballot in Arizona this November instead of November of 2020.

This would have meant an election for both of Arizona’s senate seats this year, which could have threatened Republican control of the senate in a year expected to be favorable for Democratic candidates in the Grand Canyon State.

Since speculation is running rampant, The Arizona Republic listed names that have been discussed as potential replacements for Senator McCain:

  • Cindy McCain, 64, the late senator’s wife. She is a philanthropist and business leader and could represent her husband’s legacy while pursuing her own priorities in Washington, such as advocatilng against human trafficking.
  • Kirk Adams, 45, Ducey’s chief of staff and a former state lawmaker. 
  • Barbara Barrett, 67, chair of the Aerospace Corporation and former US ambassador to Finland. She ran for governor of Arizona in 1994.
  • Jon Kyl, 76, who served with McCain in the Senate from 1995 to 2013.

The Republic also mentions real estate development company president Karrin Taylor, former Rep. John Shadegg, state Treasurer Eileen Klein, and former Rep. Matt Salmon.

One possible contender could have been Republican Rep. Martha McSally, but she is running for Jeff Flake‘s senate seat this year, as is another possibility, Dr. Kelli Ward.