John McCain said several months ago the 2016 campaign would be the fight of his political life because Donald Trump likely would be at the top of the Republican ticket.
|U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a friend to working families, is running to replace John McCain in the Senate.
Trump is now the Republican nominee, but that’s not only the only reason this race is difficult for the longtime Arizona senator. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who has a record of supporting working families, has a something to do with it, too.
“I would have said coming into this year she doesn’t have a prayer,” said Delbert Hawk, the IBEW’s Arizona political director. “But I think this is a case of him getting long in the tooth and people getting a little tired of politicians who are more interested in playing politics and not coming up with any solutions.”
Kirkpatrick, who has represented the state’s 1st Congressional District for six of the last eight years, led McCain 43-41 percent in a Public Policy Polling poll of registered voters released in late June. Other polls show McCain with a slight lead, but an extremely close race.
Arizona hasn’t had a Democratic senator since 1997. McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, has won all five of his previous general elections by at least 20 percentage points, although he did have to fight off a Republican challenge from the far right in the 2010 primary.
Arizona is a right-to-work state that has trended Republican in statewide elections. It has been difficult for unions and their allies to build relationships with legislators. That’s why Hawk and others are enthused about Kirkpatrick. If elected, he’s confident she will give labor and working families a seat at the table, he said.
“She’s there for the working person,” Hawk said. “It’s just time to make a change. She’s accessible. She’s looking to make a difference.”
“I feel a lot better now than I did at the beginning,” added Hawk, who is also president of Phoenix Local 640. “I’m a native Arizonan and I respect Senator McCain, but he’s been around forever. I think his time is up.”
McCain turns 80 on Aug. 29 and has served in Congress since 1982, when he was elected to the House of Representatives. Kirkpatrick hasn’t been in Washington nearly as long, but she’s supported legislation that helps working families. She has a lifetime legislative score of 89 percent from the AFL-CIO, including a perfect 100 percent in 2014. She also opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In her latest campaign ad, Kirkpatrick says there are too many career politicians in Washington and calls for term limits. She doesn’t mention McCain by name, but a picture of him appears in most of the video.
“It’s time to throw out the old and bring in new blood and new ideas,” she said.
“She’s done an incredible job,” Hawk said. “She’s a fighter. She’s out there beating the bushes. She’s going to work harder than he is. I think he’s depending on his war chest to beat her. That may not be enough this time.”
Despite his reputation as a maverick, McCain has done little to support working families. He has a lifetime score from the AFL-CIO of just 16 percent. He has praised unions during a Republican presidential debate in 2007 for “Improving the plight and conditions of laboring Americans” throughout history, but says they too often act like monopolies and proudly notes Arizona has a right-to-work law.
He also spoke out against the Employee Free Trade Act, which would have made it easier for workers to join a union, during his run for president in 2008.
McCain is facing multiple challengers from the tea party in the Aug. 30 primary. He is expected to win, but likely will have to expend some of his financial resources to do so. Kirkpatrick is running unopposed.
About 25 percent of the voters in Kirkpatrick’s sprawling district are Native American and she’s received plaudits for her work with them. She spent part of her childhood living on the White Mountain Apache Nation reservation while her father ran a general store there.
Arizona also had the largest percentage of Hispanic registered voters of any state and the Kirkpatrick campaign is hoping for a high turnout. She is a regular at the Arizona AFL-CIO’s breakfasts and has reached out to unions for help with her campaign, Hawk said.
Robert Anderson, the head of the political action committee for Phoenix Local 266, also praised Kirkpatrick’s commitment to labor and working families. She also appreciates the fact that she’ll need their help to knock off McCain, he said.
Anderson said he’s encouraging IBEW members to go door-to-door and hand out fliers for Kirkpatrick – and if they can’t, donate water and other supplies that will prove useful for those that do so in the oppressive Arizona heat.
“She’s very accessible to me,” Anderson said. “We can contact her at any time. I’ve sent a lot of emails to McCain and never got a response.”
Kirkpatrick might be helped by the Presidential contest being closer than usual in Arizona. The Republican nominee has won the state in 15 of the last 16 elections, with the lone exception being Bill Clinton’s victory in 1996.
But it looks to be very much in play during this election season. Polls show the race an essentially a tossup between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Trump. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson also is expected to get a larger percentage of votes than in most states.
Kirkpatrick has beaten the odds in the past, too. She was considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic House members in 2014, but actually won by a larger margin than she did two years earlier.