Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick announced today that she wants a promotion to the U.S. Senate.
Kirkpatrick, a Democrat serving her third term in Congress representing Northern Arizona, is seeking the seat now held by Sen. John McCain.
“I respect John McCain’s service to our nation,” Kirkpatrick said in a video announcing her plans to run for Senate. “I just believe our state is changing. I believe Arizonans should have a real choice who they send to the United States Senate.”
McCain has already announced he’s running for reelection, but the 78-year-old Republican may be vulnerable as he seeks his sixth term. A recent Public Policy Polling survey showed that his job approval rating was down at 41 percent, with half of the 600 voters surveyed saying that they disapproved of the job he was doing.
In a head-to-head matchup, McCain had the support of 42 percent of those surveyed, while Kirkpatrick had the support of 36 percent. Trailing by 6 percentage points isn’t a great place to start out, but the election more than a year away and Kirkpatrick has proven that she can win over independents in the competitive District 1, a massive and mostly rural district that includes Oro Valley and Marana as well as Flagstaff, most of eastern Arizona and the Native American reservations in northeastern Arizona.
Somewhat surprisingly, 41 percent of voters who identified as liberal in the PPP poll approved of McCain’s job performance; it was very conservative voters who were the most critical, with only 21 percent approving of McCain.
That suggests McCain might be more vulnerable in a primary than in a general election—but if he’s going to lose a primary, a credible opponent would have to emerge. The PPP poll showed McCain in tight contests with two Arizona congressmen, Matt Salmon and David Schweikert, who were both within 2 percentage points of McCain. The only Republican actively exploring a run is state Sen. Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu City, but McCain had a big lead over her in the PPP poll—44 percent to 31 percent.
While Kirkpatrick would be one of the more formidable Democratic opponents that McCain has faced, Democrats may be hoping that they’ll have better luck if—as has happened in other states—McCain were to lose the primary and she faced off against a conservative Republican who might not attract independent voters.
Kirkpatrick’s decision also puts CD1 into play. The district is competitive now, but that could change. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit filed by Republicans in the Arizona Legislature, who argue that Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission doesn’t have the authority to draw congressional districts. Although the Independent Redistricting Commission was created by Arizona voters in 2000, the GOP lawmakers make the case that the U.S. Constitution gives them sole authority to draw the maps.
A few Republicans are already eyeing the race, including former state lawmaker Andy Tobin, who lost to Kirkpatrick in 2014, and rancher Gary Kiehne, who narrowly lost to Tobin in the GOP primary.
There is no obvious Democrat heir apparent to carry the party’s banner in 2016, but Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officials said they’d fight to hang onto the competitive district.
“Democrats know what it takes to win in this district, as we have proven repeatedly,” said DCCC spokesman Matt Thornton. “We are confident we will have a strong candidate who will keep this district in the Democratic column in 2016.”