Arizona Primary Sets Up Fight for McCain’s Senate Seat

NASA astronaut Mark Kelly and wife and former congresswoman Gabby Giffords at an event in Tucson, Arizona, in 2016. (Gage Skidmore via Wikipedia)

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — Arizona Senator Martha McSally trounced primary opponent Daniel McCarthy on Tuesday, setting up a November showdown between a former astronaut and America’s first female combat pilot.

With 21% of precincts reporting and a 78% to 22% lead at 9:30 p.m., McSally claimed victory in a statement on her campaign website. She will face former space shuttle commander and retired Navy pilot Mark Kelly in the general election in a state that many consider a likely gain for Democrats.

“Over the last three years, Republican leadership and policies unleashed record economic growth, rebuilt our military, and finally began to hold China accountable for years of ripping off American workers,” McSally said.

Kelly’s first vote would be to put New York Senator Chuck Schumer in charge of the Senate, ushering in an era of higher taxes, government health care and letting China take advantage of the U.S., she said.

“The more voters learn about this radical agenda over the next 90 days, the more they will continue to reject it,” McSally said.

Her opponent, a wealthy real estate investor and co-creator of the popular Makeup Eraser, an environmentally friendly makeup cloth sold at Sephora, had not yet issued a statement by 9:30 p.m.

Kelly, who is married to retired U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, ran unopposed in Tuesday’s primary.

The Senate primary is a special election to fill the remaining two years of Senator John McCain’s seat. McCain died in 2018, and Governor Doug Ducey appointed McSally to the seat until this year’s election.

Jerry Valenzuela, 44, is a pest control technician in Tucson. He pulled a Democratic ballot on Tuesday, mainly to seek change, not to support a particular candidate, he said after casting his vote for Kelly in person.

“It’s hard to say whether Republicans or Democrats are right, because they both have their fair share of good thoughts, but I’m just tired of all the lying,” said Valenzuela. “We need leaders who are going to keep their word and not get swayed by either party.”

Valenzuela isn’t sure if Democrats will do much better than Republicans in the White House or Senate, but he thinks a blue wave is coming in November. He sat out the 2016 election because he didn’t like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. He doesn’t like former Vice-President Joe Biden much.

“I wasn’t going to vote for either, but then if I don’t vote, it’s another four years of Trump. I don’t want that,” he said.

Valenzuela is fed up with both parties.

“People are tired of everybody playing games and holding each other hostage,” Valenzuela said. “I’m not saying just Republicans. Democrats do the same thing. ‘We aren’t going to pass this bill until you give us this.’”

He wants leaders who keep the focus on regular people “who are making America great,” not on donors.

“I just don’t know if we have anybody,” he said.

Charlyn Newman, 70, also pulled a Democratic ballot Tuesday, mainly because of local races. She isn’t sure who she will vote for in the November Senate election.

“To me, it doesn’t make a lot of difference, because any changes that come are probably going to depend on the president,” she said. “I don’t see Congress as being tremendously helpful. To be honest, they spend so much time trying to one-up each other that it’s boring, so I don’t really pay a lot of attention.”

Republican voters approached for comment on Tuesday declined to be interviewed.

Tuesday’s Senate primary is the latest twist in Arizona’s Senate representation.

Ducey appointed McSally to succeed Senator Jon Kyl, who was appointed after McCain died. Kyl then stepped down, clearing the way for McSally after she lost a 2018 race for Arizona’s other Senate seat to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

The winner of the November special election will serve the remainder of McCain’s term, which ends in 2022. Polls in recent weeks have shown Kelly leading McSally by varying percentages. If he wins, it would be the first time in more than 60 years Arizona had two Democratic senators.

A July 14 poll by the Phoenix polling firm OH Predictive Insights showed 52% of likely voters planned to support the former astronaut while 43% back McSally. A May poll had Kelly leading by 12 percentage points, OH said.

The July poll showed just 4 in 5 Republicans support the incumbent, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, while 12% support Kelly, who was a registered Republican until shortly after Giffords was shot. Kelly meanwhile has the support of 90% of Democrats, the monthly poll showed.

Arizona’s 3.9 million registered voters are split fairly evenly among Republicans (35%), Democrats (32%) and independents (32%), according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

“The formula for a Republican winning statewide office in Arizona involves locking up the GOP vote and garnering just enough independents,” said OH’s Chief of Research. “Senator McSally appears to be having a difficult time doing either.”

Kelly was leading in that poll by a 2-to-1 margin in the blue island of Pima County, where roughly 1 million people live, and was leading by 12% in Maricopa County, a conservative stronghold home to 4.5 million of the state’s 7.3 million people.

Controversial former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was making a strong showing in his Republican primary Tuesday. Arpaio was trailing Jerry Sheridan — his former chief deputy — by just 516 votes out of more than 331,000 counted.

Turnout in Maricopa County was at 42%, according to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. Statewide turnout was at 27%, the secretary of state’s office reported.

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