GOP asks for Trump’s help in contentious Arizona Senate primary

GOP asks for Trump’s help in contentious Arizona Senate primary

  10 Aug 2018


Martha McSallly is pictured. | AP Photo

During a recent phone call, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner asked the president to endorse GOP Rep. Martha McSally, widely viewed as the establishment favorite in the Aug. 28 primary. | Matt York/AP Photo

The NRSC wants the president to endorse GOP Rep. Martha McSally over Kelli Ward and former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

National Republicans are asking President Donald Trump to intervene in the Arizona Senate primary amid rising fears that the GOP will nominate an unelectable candidate and cede the seat to Democrats in November.

During a recent phone call, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) asked the president to endorse GOP Rep. Martha McSally, widely viewed as the establishment favorite in the Aug. 28 primary, according to two senior Republicans familiar with the conversation.

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Trump, according to one of the Republicans, was non-committal and did not say yes or no to the request.

McSally is facing former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, both of whom are running as conservative insurgents. Polls have consistently shown McSally leading in the primary, but Republicans fear that if Ward or Arpaio win the nomination it would effectively hand a victory to the expected Democratic nominee, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.

Neither the White House nor the NRSC would comment.

GOP leaders are firmly behind McSally, who is viewed as a crucial piece of keeping their majority given that the state is one of the Democrats’ few pick-up opportunities. If Democrats win two of the three races in Arizona, Tennessee and Nevada and protect all their incumbents, Chuck Schumer would be majority leader.

In an interview in May, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made clear that McSally would run strongest against Sinema, though he said he was unsure if the party would need to intervene on her behalf in the primary.

“It’s pretty obvious which of our candidates have a best chance of winning,” he said.

If Arpaio or Ward wins the primary, it would also put GOP senators in the difficult position of choosing whether to endorse those candidates. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), for example, said Arizona is one of the few places she might campaign this fall for Republicans because she won’t campaign against colleagues.

“I will go campaign in states where there are open seats, like Arizona,” she said in an interview last week. Asked about Ward and Arpaio, she replied: “Let me rephrase that. I would campaign for Martha McSally.”

While Republicans are eager for Trump to intervene, the president may be disinclined to do so. He has previously lavished praise on Ward, and he pardoned Arpaio of criminal contempt, who shares his hardline immigration views. Both candidates are closely aligning themselves with the president, though Arpaio is trailing badly and the White House is uncomfortable with Ward promoting a photo of her alongside the president as an implied endorsement, according to the Arizona Republic.

McSally is the frontrunner in the primary, yet she faces obstacles. A pro-Ward super PAC, Kelli PAC, has been airing ads calling McSally “one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress.”

Ward’s super PAC has been financed by Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer, himself a Trump ally who has given the group $800,000. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) beat Ward in the 2016 primary by 11 percentage points.

At the same time, Democrats are attempting to meddle in the Republican primary and sink McSally. Red and Gold, a newly-formed Democratic group, has begun airing commercials assailing McSally for putting “Washington over Arizona.”

To some degree, the Democratic effort is similar to the one the party waged earlier this year in the West Virginia Senate GOP primary. During the final weeks of that contest, a Democratic group bombarded the airwaves with hard-hitting spots going after GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins, who Democratic officials viewed as the most serious threat to beating Sen. Joe Manchin. Jenkins lost and Manchin is now leading the state’s GOP Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

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