The sad and pitiful case of Republican Sen. Martha McSally

The sad and pitiful case of Republican Sen. Martha McSally
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If the newest poll of the 2020 Arizona Senate race is accurate, Republican Sen. Martha McSally is set to go down in a humiliating defeat.

OH Predictive Insights found that she is trailing her opponent, Democrat Mark Kelly, by 13 points. He's up 51 percent to her 38 percent, the poll found.

And in an opinion piece for The Arizona Republic, Laurie Roberts argued the poll is even worse than the topline results look:

The bad news comes from Maricopa County, where Republicans rule.

At least, they did rule, until Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeated McSally there in 2018 -- stealing 88 mostly-suburban precincts that normally would go to the Republican nominee.

McSally's declining support lies within the 4 percent margin of error in the May tracking poll, a blend of live and automated calls made between May 9 to May 11. But her Maricopa County numbers are a disaster.

In May 2019, this same tracking poll showed Kelly up over McSally, 46%-41%, among likely voters in Maricopa County.

In May 2020, Kelly has climbed to 54% in Maricopa County while McSally has dropped to 36%.

Just think about that for a moment. Kelly has gone from a five-point advantage in Maricopa County to an 18-point cruise.

Now, this is only one poll, so you can't put too much stock in it. Polls can be off, even way off at times — especially at the state level. But McSally's problem is that all the polls are telling the same basic story.

RealClearPolitics found that an average of the last four polls has Kelly, a genuine astronaut, up 9 points. Recent polls listed by FiveThirtyEight reflect a similar edge. Almost no recent polls show McSally with an edge.

In 2016, of course, Trump won Arizona by about 4 points. Now, RealClearPolitics' polling average has Biden up 4 points in the state.

And in 2018, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema defeated McSally by a little more than 2 points.

It was an odd move, then, when the Republican Gov. Doug Ducey appointed McSally to replace the late Sen. John McCain. She had just lost a race for the Senate. The voters had said they wanted someone else instead. But the Republican Party decided to elevate her anyway — the purest version of failing upward imaginable.

Kelly is an impressive candidate, so McSally's poor prospects can't be completely placed on her own shoulders. But her weakness seems glaringly obvious; her unfavorability rating is quite high, especially compared to Kelly's. It's hard to dismiss the idea that the GOP would have been much better off just appointing someone else. Nate Silver has argued that it's actually quite hard for appointed senators to get re-elected, so the GOP really should have put its best foot forward. If that really is McSally, it doesn't speak well of the quality of the Republican Party in Arizona.

Perhaps her worst moment came during the impeachment proceedings when she tried a desperate stunt for attention by pointlessly attacking CNN reporter Manu Raju as a "hack." The insult was filmed and shared widely, and it seemed quite clearly planned in advance. And while attacking CNN can play well with the Trump base, the incident did not cast McSally in a good light. It seemed performative and needlessly rude, especially when she went on Fox News with Laura Ingraham to take a victory lap.

Only, it didn't quite go as planned. While Ingraham was happy to join in on the CNN bashing, she eventually got around to pressing McSally to actually answer the question from Raju that she had avoided. But McSally continued to dodge, looking desperate even on the home turf of Fox News.

This was not the performance of a skilled politician.

After seeing the OH Predictive Insights poll, NBC News reporter Sahil Kapur noted: "If she is defeated, Martha McSally will hold the distinction of having lost both her state's U.S. Senate seats in back-to-back cycles. Before nominating her the party hadn't lost a Senate race in Arizona for 30 years."

And Sarah Longwell, the publisher of the Bulwark, said in a tweet on Tuesday: "I did a focus group of disaffected Trump voters in AZ last week. Some were done with Trump, others on the fence. But, man, did they dislike McSally. It’s not just Trump dragging her down. Seems like she’s alienated voters in her own right."

Despite her evident weakness, it's possible, of course, that McSally could hold on to her seat. Curiously, some pollsters still call the race a toss-up, even the Kelly seems clearly favored.

But if McSally wins re-election, it will mean either one of two things: Republicans somehow manage to pull out their own blowout electoral wave in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis, or all the polling in Arizona has been extremely skewed.

As it stands, she's hanging on by the skin of her teeth.


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