So where is the race between five-term U.S. Sen. John McCain and his Democratic challenger, Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick?
Two recently released polls tell very different stories: An NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll showed McCain with a huge 19-point lead over Kirkpatrick
. The survey of 946 registered voters, taken between Sept. 6 and Sept. 8, showed that 57 percent were supporting McCain, while 38 percent were supporting Kirkpatrick.
But a Public Policy Polling survey of 837 likely voters, taken between Aug. 26-28, showed McCain and Kirkpatrick knotted up at 43 percent apiece.
Clearly they can’t both be right—but they could both be wrong. The NBC poll used live callers, while PPP used robocall technology, so the edge goes to NBC in that respect. But a 19-point lead much higher than other polls that have surveyed the race and given McCain, on average, a 13.7-point edge over Kirkpatrick, according to Real Clear Politics averaging of surveys. That’s in line with a 13-point edge that a CNN poll gave McCain in a mid-August survey.
Team McCain has generally been dismissive of PPP surveys, with spokesperson Lorna Romero discounting the firm as a left-leaning operation used by Democrats that produces “fake” and “bogus” polls.
Team Kirkpatrick, meanwhile, was critical of the NBC poll.
"This poll is a complete outlier, and its sample is in no way representative of the likely voters in this race,” Kirkpatrick spokesman D.B. Mitchell said via email. “Laughably, it has John McCain with a 5-point lead among Latino voters—despite McCain trailing that demographic by double digits. … In reality, McCain's support among Latino voters is cratering because of his unwavering support for Donald Trump and his brazen attempts to portray his immigration position differently in English and Spanish. Arizona voters want a new, principled voice in the U.S. Senate not a consummate Washington politician, and that's why McCain’s Washington backers and his Super PAC have been forced to spend millions of dollars to prop him up in a desperate attempt to save McCain’s political career.”
Team McCain swung back with a response from Romero via email saying that although Kirkpatrick "has spent her three unremarkable terms in Congress siding with her party bosses at every opportunity, Arizonans either don’t know her or don’t support her record of serving as a rubber stamp for the liberal establishment."
“In English and Spanish, John McCain has consistently championed the need for a secure border and immigration reform," Romero continued. "John McCaIn is honored to have the support of so many in Arizona’s Hispanic community, and he’s always worked to advance the priorities of growing Arizona’s economy, supporting small businesses, ensuring all children have access to a quality education, protecting our nation from terror threats, and reforming our broken immigration system.”
Whatever the numbers are, both McCain and Kirkpatrick are running full steam. In the wake of his big win the primary, McCain has adopted the narrative that he would stand as a check against President Hillary Clinton—which suggests that he isn’t counting on Donald Trump winning in November. (McCain seems increasingly irritated by questions about his endorsement of Trump; in a recent exchange with reporters, he said he hadn’t been paying attention to Trump’s weird embrace of Putin, whom McCain dismissed as a “murderer and a thug.”) He’s also hammering away at Kirkpatrick for her support of Obamacare and the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Meanwhile, Kirkpatrick has continued with her narrative that McCain’s embrace of Trump shows that McCain has changed. And she got a big of good news recently when one insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, has agreed to sell policies on the Obamacare online marketplace in Pinal County, where residents were briefly left without options after Aetna announced it was withdrawing from the Arizona market.
Kirkpatrick’s best hope is that Arizona voters turn on Donald Trump and bring down McCain in the process. Trump is struggling here: Both the NBC poll and the PPP survey show a tight race. NBC had Trump up by 1 percentage point, 42 percent to 41 percent, while PPP showed Trump up by 3 percentage points, 46 percent to 43 percent.
This post has been edited to include a statement from McCain spokeswoman Lorna Romero.