“I think he'll take his time, and he’ll make a conservative Republican choice,” said Chuck Coughlin, a longtime GOP consultant in Arizona who got his start in politics working for McCain’s first Senate campaign in 1986.
John McCain’s final letter to America
Potential contenders for the appointment include Ducey’s chief of staff, Kirk Adams; Karrin Taylor Robson, a member of the state Board of Regents; Eileen Klein, whom the governor appointed last year to serve as state treasurer; the businesswoman Barbara Barrett; and two former congressmen, John Shadegg and Matt Salmon.
All are likely to vote more conservatively than McCain, who occasionally broke with Republican leaders over the years and famously helped torpedo the party’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017.
The wild card in the mix is McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, whose appointment to replace her husband has been pushed behind the scenes by the late senator’s loyalists. Ducey and his wife went to visit John McCain at his Sedona ranch in May, but it is not known whether they discussed who might replace him in the Senate. (The governor’s spokesman did not return a request for comment on Monday.)
Coughlin told me he did not expect Ducey to pick Cindy McCain unless the ailing McCain had specifically asked him to. “If it was spoken, I think he would honor it,” he said. Rick Davis, McCain’s former campaign manager who is serving as a spokesman for the family, would not address a possible appointment for Cindy McCain during a briefing with reporters Monday in Arizona. Asked who McCain might have wanted to replace him, Davis said the senator likely would have picked “a Hispanic woman” if he had the opportunity to endorse a successor in retirement.
Ducey will name McCain’s replacement during a busy election season in Arizona. Primary elections are on Tuesday. The governor himself is on the ballot (with an endorsement from Trump), but the more closely watched contest is the race to replace Senator Jeff Flake, the Trump critic who decided to retire after a single term rather than align himself more closely with the president during a competitive primary. Vying to fill his seat on the Republican side are Representative Martha McSally, the establishment favorite; Kelli Ward, the Tea Party conservative who tried to oust McCain in 2016; and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the immigration hard-liner who last year received a presidential pardon from Trump for a criminal conviction for contempt of court.
It’s Joe Arpaio’s Republican Party now.
Earlier in the year, McSally was seen as a top contender to secure the governor’s appointment to McCain’s seat. But she’s now favored to win the GOP primary on Tuesday and face Democratic Representative Kyrsten Sinema in a toss-up race that could determine the Senate majority after November.