COTTONWOOD, Ariz. ― At a Yavapai County early voting site this week, Mike Smith, a registered independent, said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) disavowing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump would actually help the lawmaker win his sixth term to the U.S. Senate.
“Because people are basically decent,” said Smith, a retired pharmacist who lives in nearby Sedona.
At a Maricopa County voting site some 120 miles to the south, a registered Republican who supports Trump and spoke on the condition of anonymity was considerably less forgiving of McCain.
“I may not vote for him,” she said. “I’m very disappointed in him.”
McCain withdrew his support for the GOP nominee after The Washington Post published leaked audio of Trump boasting in 2005 about being able to grab women by their genitals without consent. This decision could wind up being a smart move. It could also be a noble career-ender ― it just depends how many of each type of voter will cast a ballot between now and Nov. 8.
The leaked “Access Hollywood” audio and video was published last Friday. McCain was among two dozen Republican members of Congress who withdrew their support of Trump over the subsequent weekend.
“There are no excuses for Donald Trump’s offensive and demeaning comments in the just released video,” McCain said in a statement.
He followed up on that sentiment during Tuesday night’s debate with his challenger, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) from the Flagstaff area.
“When Mr. Trump attacks women,” McCain said, “that is a point where I just have to part company. It’s not pleasant for me to renounce the nominee of my party.”
According to the HuffPost Pollster average of surveys for the Arizona Senate race, McCain holds a safe 10-point lead ― however, the most recent polls are from mid-September. No numbers have been released recently enough to take into account McCain’s rejection of Trump.
The danger for McCain is that Trump, despite his decline in the polls in the aftermath of the “Access Hollywood” video, nevertheless retains a solid grip on white, lesser-educated voters angry that economic and cultural changes in the country are leaving them behind ― in other words, a large chunk of the GOP base.
Trump responded to McCain withdrawing his endorsement by publicly attacking the senator. During an appearance on Fox News, Trump said he had endorsed McCain in the days leading up to his August primary against Kelli Ward, an Arizona legislator who had frequently praised Trump.
McCain wound up winning that primary by 13 points ― but may well have lost had Trump given his backing instead to Ward.
“He was desperate to get my endorsement,” Trump said Tuesday on Bill O’Reilly’s program. “I gave him the endorsement because he needed it for the primary, and frankly, he ran against a very, very good woman. I feel very badly, I gave him the endorsement.”
In a normal election, longtime Senate incumbents who are reasonably popular can expect to do several percentage points better ― at least ― than the presidential candidate at the top of their tickets. But that maxim is based on the idea that voters who choose to split their ticket will likely do so in favor of their local senator, not the other way around.
Trump has not urged his supporters to withhold their votes from the Republican members of Congress who refuse to endorse him ― at least not yet.
Even if he does, though, some voters believe that McCain will be able to ride it out, particularly since his break from the GOP nominee came not as a result of Trump insulting McCain for being captured after his plane was shot down over Vietnam, but over Trump’s views toward women.
“I understand why he did it,” said Laurence Kaim, a 77-year-old retiree from Cottonwood who supports Trump. “I don’t agree with it, but I understand it.”
Of course, one warning sign for McCain may be that voters who appeared most supportive of his stance against Trump also happen to be Democrats who are likely to vote for Kirkpatrick anyway.
And that includes independent voter Smith, who was getting ready to walk into the Yavapai County elections office and cast his ballot for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Kirkpatrick for Senate.
“McCain’s been there past his sell date,” he said.