GOP Incumbent Struggles for Traction in Arizona Senate Race

Arizona’s Senate primary on Tuesday is widely expected to set up a general election battle between incumbent Republican Senator Martha McSally and former space shuttle commander Mark Kelly. (Courthouse News photo / Brad Poole)

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — With social distancing and extra cleaning in place to protect against the spread of Covid-19, Arizona voters went to the polls Tuesday in a primary that could help swing the U.S. Senate into the Democrats’ fold.

Although incumbent Senator Martha McSally, a Republican and retired Air Force combat pilot, has a primary challenger in real estate investor and beauty product entrepreneur Daniel McCarthy, his self-funded campaign has faced an uphill climb against McSally’s support.

Democrat Mark Kelly, a retired space shuttle commander and Navy pilot who also seeks McSally’s seat, is running unopposed.

Cynthia Bittick, 62, came to vote in person Tuesday on the west edge of Tucson, where she has lived for four years. Before that the Democrat lived for 30 years in Phoenix. She voted for Kelly and plans to do so again in November.

Bittick is drawn to him in part because he is married to former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, a popular politician who retired after a 2011 assassination attempt in which a psychotic gunman shot 18 people, leaving six dead. A blue wave is coming, Biddick said.

“I have really high hopes that we are going to fix or U-turn a lot of the damage we’ve seen in the past few years,” she said.

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

“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.”

Efforts to speak to Republican voters were unsuccessful Tuesday morning.

Governor Doug Ducey appointed McSally to succeed Senator Jon Kyle, who was appointed after the death of longtime Senator John McCain. Kyl stepped down from his appointment, 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.

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 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.

Polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday

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