Opinion: Gear up for another fight: A new poll suggests Arizona’s U.S. Senate race could be even closer than it was in 2018.
If you liked all the political ads in 2018, you will absolutely love 2020. Arizona could become the center of the political universe by this time next year.
The most recent polling by Mike Noble (who is rapidly becoming Arizona’s pollster of record) at OH Predictive Insights suggests a very close presidential race in Arizona and the potential for an even closer U.S. Senate race than we had last year when Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won by just 55,900 votes.
Martha McSally is known but not liked
For someone like me who loves to analyze polling data, the head-to-head matchup of Martha McSally (R) and Mark Kelly (D) is fascinating. When Gov. Doug Ducey appointed McSally to fill the seat of the late Sen. John McCain, she was a logical and safe choice, albeit not an exciting one.
Tens of millions of dollars had been spent on her behalf and against her in 2018. Because of that, almost all likely Arizona voters have an opinion about her. In fact, according to Noble’s poll, only 9% of voters had no opinion.
The danger for McSally is that while she is widely known, only 45% of voters say they would vote for her. That makes her the least popular Republican to run for the U.S. Senate since, well, the last time she ran.
Mark Kelly, on the other hand, is largely unknown: 38% of voters don’t have an opinion of him, yet he trails McSally by just 1%.
Mark Kelly has raised a lot of cash
McSally reported a disappointing amount of money raised during the first three months of this year. In contrast, Kelly reported more than twice the money raised and significantly more money available. Kelly has $3.2 million; McSally has $2.1 million cash on hand.
McSally has to get her fundraising numbers up, and she needs to do it quickly. Otherwise, she will be inviting a primary challenge. That is Mark Kelly’s best-case scenario. A primary campaign would drain McSally of much-needed cash and keep her from campaigning against Kelly until September 2020.
Bad polls and bad fundraising numbers for McSally only heighten the anxiety of nervous Republicans. If McSally loses to Kelly, she will have lost both Arizona U.S. Senate seats in the span of 24 months – a nightmare scenario for Republicans nationally.
What Kelly needs do to win
The biggest asset Mark Kelly has is his personal story.
- He’s an astronaut.
- The husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
- A crusader for gun control.
His biggest priority is telling this story. The best way to tell his story is to raise a lot of money early. So far, he is off to a good start.
He needs to keep raising money at the same pace he has done so far. The more he raises early, the more likely he is to inspire Democratic national money to pour into Arizona for him and cause Republican national money to go other places.
Kelly also needs to continue pushing the narrative just like Sinema did that he isn’t a radical Democrat. He has managed to occupy the middle ground early in the campaign. Time will tell if he can hold it.
What McSally needs to do win
McSally needs to start pushing Kelly on issues like immigration and taxes. She needs to put him in a position where he has to choose between his most liberal base and 60% of the voters in the state.
Just like Kelly, the biggest asset Martha McSally has is her personal story.
- She’s an Air Force Academy graduate.
- A fighter pilot.
- A congresswoman.
- A survivor of sexual assault.
Fundamentally, she must learn from her mistakes in 2018, when she failed to connect with McCain voters. Overall, Trump is a net positive in Arizona. After all, he won it in 2016.
Unfortunately for McSally, she doesn’t have the luxury of running against someone as dislikable as Hillary Clinton. She needs to learn how to embrace Trump and still maintain an independent streak, like the legend she is succeeding.
McSally must define Kelly to the 38% of voters who don’t currently have an opinion of him. How and if she does that will determine the outcome of the campaign.
McSally has an edge, but don’t count Kelly out
If I were laying down a bet in Vegas, I’d put it on McSally because of Arizona’s tendency to vote Republican. However, there is a significant possibility that a once reliable Republican state could have two members of the U.S. Senate casting a vote for Democrat Chuck Schumer for Majority Leader.
One thing is for sure: 2020 won’t be a boring political year in Arizona.
Read the full article at AZ Central.