Senate: Martha McSally is in even more trouble in Arizona than President Trump, and that’s saying something.
The Republican incumbent, appointed to the Senate in 2019, has struggled all cycle to gain traction with voters and trails Democratic challenger Mark Kelly by an average of 6.4 percentage points with just under 50 days to go before Election Day. McSally, a 54-year-old former Air Force fighter pilot, is no stranger to difficult campaigns and has always worked extremely hard, going back to her first race for Congress in 2012.
But after initially establishing herself as a pragmatic Republican in a swing, southern Arizona House district, McSally has had to try to reinvent herself into a Trump Republican to run for Senate — to satisfy a statewide GOP base that is extremely supportive of the president. McSally has managed to pull it off, at least enough to avoid facing a challenge from the Right in Arizona’s late summer primaries. In doing so, however, McSally has alienated voters in the state’s politically dominant suburbs around Phoenix and Tucson, especially women, who have drifted left because of opposition to Trump.
That Catch 22 has left McSally worse off in the stretch run of the campaign than Trump, who is doing 2.2 points better against Democratic nominee Joe Biden than she is against Kelly.
Republicans hope to soften support for the former astronaut by highlighting past business ties to China and casting attention on an offensive joke he made two years ago while discussing his twin brother’s return from space (his brother is an astronaut). The quip, recently surfaced by a Republican who opposes Kelly, has racial overtones, and Kelly has apologized. Kelly’s credentials are bolstered by his wife, beloved former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Once considered a future Senate candidate, Giffords resigned from the House in 2011 after surviving an assassination attempt while meeting with constituents and is now a nationally known gun control advocate. Giffords’s top aide was her immediate successor but in 2014 lost to McSally in a rematch of their 2012 campaign. Four years later, McSally retired to run for the Senate seat vacated by virulent Republican Trump critic Jeff Flake, who dropped his reelection bid after concluding he would not win his primary.
But McSally was narrowly defeated by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, then a Phoenix-area congresswoman, marking the first loss in a generation for a Republican running for Senate in Arizona. A couple of months later, GOP Gov. Doug Ducey appointed McSally to the Senate seat left vacant by the death of iconic Republican John McCain. — by David M. Drucker
Trump campaign: The president wants his indoor rallies back
After a false start in Tulsa earlier this year, President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign rallies are finally back — whether local authorities want them or not. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, said an indoor Trump event in Henderson violated the state’s emergency directives for slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
“He knew what the rules were,” Sisolak told CNN. “He chose to show callous disregard in a reckless, selfish, irresponsible way. There’s no other way to put it.” Trump called Sisolak a “hack” and said from the stage, “If the governor comes after you, which he shouldn’t be doing, I’ll be with you all the way.” The city of Henderson subsequently fined the venue $3,000.
To Democrats, the resumption of indoor campaign activities illustrates Trump’s obliviousness at best and impetuousness at worst in the face of the pandemic. One of their main election season arguments against Trump is that he has mismanaged the coronavirus. But the Democrats’ more cautious approach to campaigning during the virus may have its downsides.
“They are not knocking on doors; they are not really on the ground,” said a Republican strategist in Minnesota, a state Trump narrowly lost in 2016 and is looking to flip this time around. “They are texting, I guess.” After an unexpected election loss in which the Democrats’ relative lack of ground game in the Rust Belt and upper Midwest loomed large, this is something that bears watching. — by W. James Antle III
Biden campaign: The campaign looks to Florida to shore up Hispanic vote
Joe Biden’s trip to Florida was defined by a single viral clip of beginning a speech by playing the 2017 hit song “Despacito” into the microphone and bobbing his head. He had been introduced by the singer who recorded the song, Luis Fonsi, at a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Kissimmee.
The moment was mocked on social media as being a desperate attempt by Biden to court Latino voters. But the real risk for Biden is not that he is overtly pandering to Latino voters, but that his outreach to the critical demographic did not come soon enough.
In December, Biden’s senior Latina adviser resigned out of frustration that the campaign was not doing enough to reach that community. He finally released a plan on how to “empower the Latino community” last month.
Poll analysts say that while Biden is winning Latino voters overall, he has a slimmer lead than Hillary Clinton had in 2016, and President Trump, who got 28% Latino support in 2016, is gaining ground. One recent outlier poll from Emerson College found Trump at 37% support among Latinos nationwide.
David McCuan, professor and chairman of political science at Sonoma State University, said that a Republican getting 30% of the Latino vote “begins to threaten the Democratic candidate.” At 35%, it’s “darn difficult,” and 40% is the “magic number” to put a Republican on the path to victory.
Latinos are projected to be the largest group of eligible minority voters in 2020, surpassing black eligible voters for the first time, according to the Pew Research Center, and Biden’s path to victory is tied to increasing turnout among Latinos. But they tend to be younger and less frequent voters than other ethnic groups, posing a challenge for Biden in a coronavirus-era election in which his campaign operatives are not going door-to-door or hosting in-person activities. — by Emily Larsen
House: A Navy officer and Navy SEAL will face off again in VA-02
A pair of decorated Navy veterans are, again, competing fiercely for a coastal Virginia House seat that’s home to a swath of military installations.
Rep. Elaine Luria, who swept into office in the 2018 Democratic wave, faces former Rep. Scott Taylor, a Republican she ousted as his campaign reeled from petition scandal.
Capturing support from military voters is key in the 2nd Congressional District, which runs from Virginia Beach to Williamsburg and includes eight major military installations.
Luria is an Annapolis graduate who rose to the rank of commander and spent the majority of her career deployed on Navy ships. In the House, she’s a member of the Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees.
Taylor enlisted in the Navy after high school and made it to the SEALs. During the Iraq War, Taylor was a SEAL sniper and spent two years as a SEAL instructor, teaching marksmanship and reconnaissance, among other roles in the elite unit.
He then turned toward politics, with a three-year stint in Virginia’s House of Delegates before winning the open 2nd Congressional District seat in 2016.
But Taylor’s reelection bid against Luria got derailed when, in August 2018, a special prosecutor started investigating reports that members of his campaign staff had added fake names to ballot access petitions intended to help an independent candidate. One campaign aide was charged, though Taylor hasn’t been.
Like much of Virginia, the 2nd District in recent years has become more competitive for Democrats. President Trump beat Hillary Clinton there in 2016, 48%-45%. But Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam won the district in 2017, as did Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in his 2018 reelection bid. — by David Mark
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