Arizona Republican Senate primary approaches a modest conclusion

By Shawna Muckle

Jesuit High School (Portland, Oregon)

From left to right: former state Sen. Kelli Ward, Rep. Martha McSally, former sheriff Joe Arpaio

Once a lightning rod of national controversy and intrigue, the Arizona Republican Senate primary has spent its last few days on an implacable march towards victory for the Republican establishment.

The candidates span a wide gamut of experience, temperament, and political extremity, particularly with the presence of recently pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  President Trump has spoken favorably of each and recently issued a triple-endorsement.

Holding a 20-point lead in recent polling, Rep. Martha McSally has run a traditional Republican campaign as she casts herself as a standard bearer of the Republican Party’s platform.  She boasts a noncontroversial, oftentimes bipartisan voting record from her six-year tenure in the House of Representatives, representing Arizona’s 2nd District.

While generally perceived as a reasonable and compelling moderate, McSally has also voted with President Trump 96.7% of the time during this session of Congress and has refrained from expressing criticism or outrage towards the president. McSally’s refusal to combat Trump stands in stark contrast to the current holder of the Arizona Senate seat, Sen. Jeff Flake. Flake has gained a reputation as Trump’s most vociferous Republican critic, often taking to the Senate floor to denounce Trump’s presidential blunders and incivility.

In second place, former state Sen. Kelli Ward campaigns on a hardline conservative platform that, much like President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, promises an aggressive stance against illegal immigration, support for an expansive wall on the Southern border, and unequivocal support of President Trump’s agenda. While popular with Trump voters, Ward has alienated herself from the party establishment as well as many white, politically moderate suburban voters who have soured on President Trump.

During a July 25 interview with CNN, Ward obfuscated on whether she would endorse Rep. McSally in the event of her own loss.

“It would seem pretty disingenuous of me to be campaigning in a primary, stating that I am the one who has the principles, who shares the values of faith, family and freedom with the people of Arizona and then to hypocritically go in and say that my opponent is the be-all, end-all, and because [McSally] has an R behind her name we should get behind her,” said Ward.

Many pundits expected greater prospects for Ward, who faces a daunting 20-point margin between her and McSally, due to the GOP’s overwhelming shift towards bombastic, controversial, Trump-style candidates. The Republican primary for the Kansas gubernatorial seat, for example, saw anti-immigration blowhard and voting rights adversary Kris Kobach scrape a win over incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer.

However, Arizona presents a unique landscape for the GOP. While the state went for Trump in 2016 by a margin of 4.1%, a notable portion of those votes came from suburban independents, a demographic that has largely turned against Trump and allied Republicans in 2018.

Moreover, due to Arizona’s sizable Hispanic population, Republicans remain weary of electing a candidate that strikes a controversial stance on immigration, fearing that it will invigorate Democratic and Hispanic voters.

Trailing in last place and hovering at around 13% in the polls, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio touts a recent pardon from President Trump. However, he suffers from a barrage of attacks and scrutiny by the national media and is immensely outraised by McSally, the GOP’s endorsed candidate. Arpaio attracted widespread reproach for his practices as sheriff of Maricopa County, which included racial profiling against Latinos and subjecting overwhelming numbers of Hispanic detainees to substandard living conditions in a county prison.

Arpaio was recently held in criminal contempt of court for ignoring a court order to cease racial profiling during his tenure as sheriff. Despite Arpaio’s efforts to use President Trump’s pardoning as ammunition in his campaign, Arpaio has struggled from a chronic lack of funding and mainstream acceptance that will likely trap him in a distant third place.


This story was produced by student reporters as part of the WANT Summer Journalism Fellowship, an annual collaboration among aspiring journalists. For more information go to

Featured Image: Us News and World Report

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