PHOENIX — John McCain is hoping for a blowout in his Senate primary on Tuesday. He’s bracing for a squeaker.
McCain says people in his state are angry, the economic recovery is uneven and the atmosphere is volatile. He expects to prevail over conservative challenger Kelli Ward, but the margin of victory will decide whether he barrels or limps into the toughest general election fight of his 34-year political career, against Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.
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“It’s not so much I think it’s close. I just don’t think you should heighten expectations,” McCain said in an interview. “The one thing you never want to do in politics is heighten expectations. You always want to lowball it. That’s just the best way to handle it. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Six years ago, McCain blew out insurgent rival J.D. Hayworth by 24 points with a $20 million show of force that demonstrated how long-serving Republicans could fend off the party’s tea party wing. Ward is seen as a significantly smaller threat, and McCain has spent far more judiciously against her, spending $6 million but stashing $5 million in his war chest for the general election, as of the latest campaign filings in mid-August.
Barring a stunning upset, he will face off against Kirkpatrick, a centrist Democrat backed by the national party. Democrats would love nothing more than to upset a fixture of Republican politics — in a longtime GOP stronghold that’s been gradually trending left thanks to the state’s skyrocketing Latino population.
Though polls have shown a sizable lead for McCain over Ward, Republicans are bracing for the possibility that McCain wins by single digits on Tuesday given the volatile political atmosphere in Arizona and the nation. The presidential primary process gave the GOP Donald Trump, so McCain allies …