The effect of Donald Trump’s candidacy on down-ballot races has concerned Republicans, worried his divisive rhetoric might alienate conservative voters. But on Tuesday night, John McCain eased those fears with his victory in Arizona’s Senate primary.
Incumbents have won almost all of this year’s contested primaries. In Alaska, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski won with more than 50 percent of the vote, as did Republican Senator Richard Shelby in Alabama and Representative Todd Young in Indiana. But each such win holds extra weight in a year that’s revealed the fractures within the Republican Party. McCain defeated Kelli Ward by a significant margin on Tuesday night, according to the Associated Press.
Ward, who is aligned with the Tea Party movement, attacked McCain for his age and raised questions about his commitment to support the Republican nominee in the lead-up to the election. She resembled other outside candidates looking to oust establishment Republicans. Ward embraced Trump’s position on immigration, a point of contention with McCain, who in the past worked with Republican and Democratic senators to try to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
But even if “Trumpism” isn’t taking off, as evidenced by Ward’s loss, among others, Trump is presenting a challenge to down-ballot candidates straddling traditional conservatism and Trump’s proposals to avoid alienating his supporters. McCain, who’s running for his sixth term, is now among them. Though he secured a victory in Arizona on Tuesday, he still faces his toughest reelection battle yet against his Democratic challenger, Ann Kirkpatrick. McCain has to keep Trump at arms length to appeal to anti-Trump Republicans, but not do so in a way that alienates those supporting the nominee. It’s an awkward position for the Arizona senator, who has had a rocky relationship with Trump.