U.S. Senate Race

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Arizona’s U.S. Senate race for 2016 has heated up. Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick has announced she is going to run against republican incumbent John McCain. Arizona State University pollster Bruce Merrill will discuss the race’s latest developments.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon", we'll discuss Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick's decision to run for John McCain's US Senate seat. Also tonight, a look at professional development for teachers, and we'll see how science fiction can inspire education and technology. Those stories next, on "Arizona Horizon".

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon", I'm Ted Simons. Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick announced yesterday that she's running for John McCain's U.S. Senate seat. Joining us now to talk about next year's Senate race is ASU pollster and political scientist, Bruce Merrill. Good to see you again.

Bruce Merrill: Good to see you, Ted, as always.

Ted Simons: Thanks for being here. Were you surprised by this announcement?

Bruce Merrill: Not particularly. The Democrats are looking for somebody that's credible to run against the senator. They were putting some pressure on Kyrsten Sinema and on Ann to possibly run. There was some interesting behind-the-scenes stuff going on, I think, between the two of them in terms of who was going get out in front of this and maybe have a slight advantage. My first reaction is that it's good for Arizona; particularly Ann. Ann is a very bright, capable, experienced politician. She and Gosar have worked together to do some things nonpartisan in northern Arizona. And so I think she's a credible candidate and I think it'll be an interesting election.

Ted Simons: Did she jump in first before Kyrsten Sinema had a chance?

Bruce Merrill: I think so. Everybody's waiting on the decision from the court about redistricting, and depending on how that comes out, although as you had pointed out to me, we don't know much about the timing even if it comes out in favor of the legislature, which most people seem to think that it will. But it will certainly cause some of the existing Congress people to really look at their districts very carefully and say "Is this a place I can be safe or do I need to think about another race?"

Ted Simons: In her announcement, Representative Kirkpatrick said the economy was going to be a key issue in this race. Do you think it will be?

Bruce Merrill: It will be. You know, you've got Doug Ducey and what he's doing with the state in terms of jobs and the economy. And whether it's right or wrong, when you run for the United States Senate it's largely about foreign affairs, and that's the big advantage that John McCain is going to have. He's the chairman now of the Armed Services Committee, which is one of the most powerful committees in Washington. We have a number of air bases and military establishments here where he can do a lot. I think that'll be his theme - it'll be more military and foreign affairs.

Ted Simons: Where do you think she would show the best? Urban? Rural? Maybe existing CD-1 areas?

Bruce Merrill: Well, you know, she has her district where she's fairly well-known, even though those races have been very contested. But her problem is going to be that she's got to become well-known statewide now. She only is known in about a tenth of the state very well. You might have noticed that it was announced, I think yesterday, that she's got $250,000 in the bank for her campaign. McCain's got $3.5 million, and McCain can raise $20-30 million if he needs it. That's going to be one of the big challenges for her: can she raise enough money to sit at the table and play cards with the senator?

Ted Simons: Will it be a challenge for her that she supports and has been vocally supportive of the Affordable Care Act?

Bruce Merrill: Oh, I think in certain parts of the state that's the case, although the polling I've done on that act in Arizona, it's mixed. The Republicans tend to be a little bit more against it, but a lot of the Democrats are very favorable; it's done a lot of good for them.

Ted Simons: Could Ann Kirkpatrick face a Republican other than John McCain? In other words, does McCain have a primary problem?

Bruce Merrill: Well, I think not really. I mean, the right wing of the Republican Party has disliked John McCain for years and years and years. They have tried to get rid of him a couple of times. So that's a problem in a primary, but I just don't see that happening because in Arizona, you have so many older retired military people that are a big basis of support for the senator. So I would be surprised if he doesn't make it through the primary, and if he makes it through the primary he'll certainly be the favorite against Ann.

Ted Simons: Democrats have not won a US Senate seat in decades. Why?

Bruce Merrill: Well, number one, even though more and more independents are happening in Arizona - now 47% of the electorate's independent - that's a growing number, but between Republicans and Democrats, the Republicans now have a six or seven percentage point registration advantage, and Republicans frankly vote in higher percentages than Democrats do. So, you know, anything can happen. Mitt Romney found that one simple mistake when you live in a media society and social media environment can change an election. So I think we sometimes forget that we've got 18 months to go in this election. So anything can happen.

Ted Simons: What about congressional district one now? Likely Democratic, likely Republican? I mean, that's a wide open race now, isn't it?

Bruce Merrill: It's a wide open race. And that race has been, in that district, it's been almost 50/50 in terms of voting, Republican and Democrat. So that will be an important wide open race.

Ted Simons: And really, all bets in that race and where we go from here as far as all congressional - they're all off until the Supreme Court makes its decision.

Bruce Merrill: They're all off, but you can see anytime there's an opening it's very hard to defeat an incumbent. And you can see, I think there's three or four of these candidates that don't even live in that district that are talking about running, because it's so seldom that you have an open district that will have a lot of competition.

Ted Simons: Before we go, I started by asking if you were surprised by Ann Kirkpatrick's announcement. Would you be surprised if Kyrsten Sinema also announced?

Bruce Merrill: I think there will be a lot of pressure within the Democratic Party to prevent that. But you know, today in politics - and remember Ted, this is Arizona, anything can happen in the state of Joe Arpaio.

Ted Simons: Well, that's true. Alright, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Bruce Merrill: Good to see you, Ted.

Bruce Merrill:Arizona State University Pollster

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