Last week Republicans in Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia went to the polls in their party’s primary.
The Senate races in Indiana and West Virginia will be two of the most watched in the nation this election cycle. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly face an uphill battle as the electorate in their states has moved further to the right.
Every race and every state is different. The outcome in the Indiana and West Virginia races do not predict what the outcome will be in Arizona. However, if these two races are the beginning of a trend this election cycle, then the future is bright for Kelli Ward.
A bad day for House Republicans
In both Indiana and West Virginia, sitting members of the US House of Representative threw their hats in the ring for the upper chamber of Congress. In both states, Republican voters opted for other candidates.
In Indiana, Mike Braun, a businessman and former state Representative, defeated his opponents with 41.2 percent of the vote. Congressmen Todd Rokita and Luke Messer received 30 and 28.8 percent, respectively.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the Republican primary with 34.7 percent, while Congressman Evan Jenkins received 29.2 percent. Don Blankenship came in third place with 19.9 percent.
Blankenship is the former chairman of Massey Energy who was sentenced to one year in prison for violating mine safety and health standards in connection to the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in which 29 miners lost their lives.
After the disastrous election in Alabama in which voters picked Roy Moore over then-Senator Luther Strange, many in the Republican party were concerned over the possibility of a Blankenship victory in West Virginia.
Like Moore, Blankenship attempted to sell himself to the voters as a candidate akin to and closely aligned with President Donald Trump. Again like Moore, many Republicans viewed Blankenship’s conviction related to the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster as a potentially insurmountable obstacle in a general election against Senator Joe Manchin.
In the Indiana and West Virginia elections, voters opted for outsiders but shied away from the fringe candidate.
If this pattern persists in Arizona, then Kelli Ward will win the GOP primary this August.
No clear leader but one clear straggler in Arizona
In Arizona the three contenders to replace outgoing Senator Jeff Flake are Kelli Ward, Martha McSally, and Joe Arpaio.
Ward is a former Arizona lawmaker and osteopathic doctor. She unsuccessfully challenged Senator John McCain in the 2016 primary.
McSally represents congressional district 2 in southeastern Arizona. Before running for Congress, McSally was an A-10 pilot and colonel in the Air Force. She was first elected to Congress in 2014 narrowly defeating Ron Barber. She easily defeated Democrat Matt Heinz in 2016 even though Hillary Clinton carried her district.
Arpaio is the former sheriff of Maricopa county. He was an early supporter of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. In his first year in office, President Trump issued a presidential pardon for Arpaio.
Two polls last month paint both a conflicting and a clear picture of the Republican primary election to replace Senator Flake. While the publically available polls show mixed results for first place, they all show Arpaio trailing.
The Magellan poll of 755 likely voters found 36 percent of Republican voters preferred McSally, while 25 percent preferred Ward and 26 percent Arpaio. Six percent said they support a generic other candidate and 7 percent were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.
The OH Predictive Insight poll of 302 likely voters found conflicting results for the frontrunner. In their poll, 36 percent supported Ward, 27 percent McSally, 22 percent Arpaio, and 15 percent undecided.
An OH Predictive Insight poll of likely voters in January found McSally with 31 percent support, Ward with 25, and Arpaio with 29.
Although it is unclear if Republican voters will nominate McSally or Ward, it appears clear that Arpaio is unlikely to win the primary. Like voters in West Virginia, voters may be wary of supporting Arpaio and potentially ceding another seat in the Senate from a red state to a moderate Democrat.
Toss up race in a red state
Senate races in Arizona have typically been slam dunks for Republicans. Senator John McCain defeated his last two opponents, Rodney Glassman in 2010 and Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick in 2016, by 24 and 13 points, respectively.
For decades, Senator Jon Kyl won election and reelection by similar margins.
For much of their career, however, both men were buoyed by personal popularity and the benefits of incumbency. Senator Jeff Flake’s election was the first sign that Republicans could not count on two safe Senate seats from Arizona.
In 2012 then-Congressman Flake defeated former-US Surgeon General Richard Carmona by a mere 3 points. The closest margin of victory for an Arizona Senator since 1980 when Barry Goldwater defeated Democrat Bill Schultz 49.5 to 48.4.
Polling data suggest that this year’s election will be just as close.
Democrats are likely to select Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema as their nominee. Sinema is a moderate Democrat representing Arizona’s 9th congressional district which covers Tempe and parts of Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler, and Phoenix.
Polling by OH Predictive Insights found that Sinema leads all three Republicans among likely voters.
Polling data from November and April show Sinema’s lead over McSally expanding from 46-45 to 48-42. During the same period, Sinema’s lead over Ward expanded even more from 46-43 to 50-40. The single head-to-head poll of Sinema and Arpaio in April found voters preferred Sinema 59-33.
After President Trump’s victory in 2016, enthusiasm among Democrats is at an all-time high. Evidence of a blue wave in Arizona was on display last month in the special election to replace former-Congressman Trent Franks. In that election, Republican Debbie Lesko won by just 5 percent in a district that Mitt Romney carried by 25 points in 2012 and 21 points by Trump in 2016.
Arizona holds its primary on August 28. In a year when control over the Senate may come down to a single election, there is a lot riding on the outcome of this Republican primary.