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Panelist: Arizona will be disappointing for Republicans

The Lead political panel discusses the Arizona primary.

Posted: Aug 29, 2018 2:09 PM
Updated: Aug 29, 2018 2:41 PM

After Tuesday night's primaries, Republicans feel good for two reasons: They have the best possible nominee in the Arizona Senate race and are running against the most liberal Democrat in the Florida governor's race.

Arizona

Arizona Republicans did the national GOP a favor by nominating Martha McSally for the Senate seat left open by the retiring Jeff Flake. Her solid win over Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio -- neither of whom had a prayer of winning in the fall -- gives the Republicans a solid chance to hold a seat Democrats are counting on to take control of the US Senate.

President Donald Trump showed tactical awareness by leaving the Arizona senate race alone (despite an early tweet of good tidings for Ward), and McSally benefited from Ward and Arpaio squabbling over who loved Trump more. Trump had good things to say about McSally late in the race and would certainly enjoy working with her more than he does Flake, who has feuded with the President since Trump took office.

The race took an ugly turn in its closing days, in the wake of Sen. John McCain's passing. Ward embarrassingly suggested the McCain family timed an announcement of his decision to end treatment for brain cancer to hurt her candidacy, and then tweeted that "political correctness is like a cancer." Ward joins Roy Moore and other Steve Bannon-backed candidates in the dumpster that is the former Trump strategist's plan to take over the US Senate. Bannon collected more nutty candidates than a squirrel prepping for winter and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, buried them during the primary season.

McSally played it just right, touting her pro-Trump agenda voting record (almost 98% support) without beclowning herself with outrageous statements and conspiracy theories the way Ward did. Arpaio, who received a pardon from Trump last year, handled the McCain/Trump situation fairly when he said that McCain was a "patriot" but that Trump was his "hero." That's a reasonably stated position, which further showed voters just how classless Ward really is.

The general election race between McSally and Kyrsten Sinema (D) is a must-win for Democrats who need to flip both Arizona and Nevada to have a chance of winning Senate control. McSally seemed to feel her nomination coming as the primary closed, releasing an ad contrasting her military service as a fighter pilot after 9/11 with a picture of Sinema wearing a pink tutu while protesting US military action against Osama bin Laden. Arizona voters respect the military, and McSally will portray Sinema as a liberal who is weak on national security.

Florida

Trump, again, showed the power of his endorsement in the GOP primary for Florida governor. Congressman Ron DeSantis enjoyed Trump's support and easily defeated Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to become the nominee for governor. Trump's record in GOP primaries is clear -- he moves votes. Putnam toiled for years after leaving Congress in 2010 to lay the groundwork for this gubernatorial run and saw his best laid plans upended by an endorsement from Trump, the undisputed GOP kingmaker in this primary season.

The gubernatorial race in the fall features Republican DeSantis versus surprise Democratic nominee Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, who emerged from a crowded primary. Gillum was a Bernie Sanders-endorsed progressive who relied on young liberals and African-American voters to win.

We have a true Trump vs. Sanders proxy war in November in the Florida governor's race, with many Republicans breathing a sigh of relief that the more moderate (and female) Gwen Graham did not prevail in the Democratic primary. For all the talk of a blue wave in 2018, DeSantis earned roughly 400,000 more primary votes than Gillum as Republicans turned out more raw votes than did the Democrats.

Florida is also home to a critical US Senate race, with Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson facing outgoing Gov. Rick Scott (R). This race is a money sponge for Democrats, who are pouring resources into an underperforming incumbent and will feel compelled to do so throughout. Republicans are bullish on Scott's chances and believe a win here locks Democrats out of the possibility of controlling the Senate. Every dollar Democrats throw at Nelson's campaign is one they'd much rather have in a state like Arizona, where they are on offense.

One thing is for sure: it would have been wise to buy a television or radio station in Florida in the recent past.

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