Primary Preview: Nasty Arizona Showdown, Trump Test in Florida Loom in Tuesday’s Matchups
Another Trump endorsement will be tested in Florida and the death of Arizona’s senior statesman hangs over a vicious primary in the Grand Canyon state.
Just over two months out from November’s crucial midterm elections, the primary season is finally beginning to wind down, as voters head to the polls in Florida and Arizona on Tuesday.
In Arizona, a nasty three-way primary to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), has pitted Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) against former state senator Dr. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio.
McSally is the favored candidate of Washington Republicans and the likeliest to win the contest. In the final days of the primary, Arpaio, who received a pardon from President Trump, has largely faded, while Ward has spent her time on a bus tour with Mike Cernovich while ghoulishly trying to get more attention using the death of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
A closing message from her Twitter account on Monday read “Political correctness is like a cancer!” after her campaign suggested that McCain’s announcement about discontinuing treatment for brain cancer was timed to draw attention from her campaign. Ward has anchored herself to the president closer than the truth allows, doctoring a presidential tweet in a mailer sent out to Arizona Republican voters to make it appear as if Trump had endorsed her.
Should McSally win, she will face off against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), previously a Green Party activist who has become a more moderate Democratic member of the House of Representatives in her time serving there. The Arizona Senate race is viewed as a prime pick-up opportunity for the Democratic party in an otherwise daunting Senate map, filled with states represented by incumbent Democrats that Trump won handily. Sinema has comfortably led in some early polling of the prospective head-to-head matchup.
Although Trump has declined to endorse any of the three, he did give a shout-out to McSally during a speech before signing the John McCain National Defense Reauthorization Act. “There’s another member of Congress here today who is not only an Air Force veteran, but the first woman ever to fly a fighter jet in combat in U.S. history and I have gotten to know her very well and she is terrific,” Trump said.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is also expected to win his primary but could face a competitive contest in the general election. On the Democratic side, professor David Garcia is favored to win his primary against state Sen. Steve Farley and Kelly Fryer, a nonprofit CEO.
Garcia is running on a progressive platform including Medicare for All and a focus on improving education in the state. There has been limited polling of a potential head-to-head here, but Ducey could be in for a challenge especially given the massive unrest among teachers over cuts to school funding, which prompted an enormous strike earlier this year.
While Trump has stayed out of the Arizona Senate contest, he has been very active with endorsements in the state that functions as his second home.
Trump favors Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) in Florida’s gubernatorial contest over state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam. DeSantis, a Trump supporter who sought to end special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, appeared to initially get a big boost in polling from Trump’s backing, but recent surveys show a tighter contest. Still, DeSantis, like other recent gubernatorial candidates who have been supported by Trump, is slightly favored to win.
On the Democratic side, Gwen Graham, a former member of Congress and the daughter of former governor and senator Bob Graham, has led in most public polling. She’ll face off against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who has received the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and billionaire donor Tom Steyer. The other two candidates still in the mix are former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and real estate billionaire Jeff Greene.
Prospective matchups between Graham and DeSantis show a close race.
Down ballot, Democrats are eyeing a number of possible seats that they hope to flip on their quest to potentially retaking a majority in the House of Representatives. One such race is in Florida’s 16th Congressional District, where Trump won by 10 points but incumbent Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) is viewed as vulnerable following a damaging story about purchasing a yacht on the same day that Republicans passed their tax reform measure.
In Florida’s 27th Congressional District, Republicans are in decidedly more trouble. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) decided to retire in the district Hillary Clinton won by 20 points and left a wide field of Republicans and Democrats jockeying in her wake. Among the Republicans is Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, who said she was abducted by aliens as a child.
The prospect of a Democratic pickup is not as bright in two other districts Clinton won in 2016, where incumbent Republicans are decidedly strong. That includes the 25th Congressional District, where Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) won by 25 points in 2016 despite a narrow Clinton win. There was an even wider Clinton margin in Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s (R-FL) 26th Congressional District, but he too has successfully attempted to toe the line between criticism of the president and some of his Republican colleagues while trying not to alienate too many Trump voters.