The Skinny

Republican Martha McSally’s Senate campaign is in a tailspin

May was a disastrous month for U.S. Sen. Martha McSally.

You don't have to take our word for it. Former Speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich said the same thing in a recent fundraising email for McSally: "This month has been a disaster, friend."

OK, OK. Gingrich probably didn't say that. More likely, it was crafted by Team McSally as they try to figure out how to raise more money without triggering a fundraising surge for her Democratic opponent, former Navy captain and NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. (McSally herself helped fill Kelly's coffers with her "liberal hack" comment to CNN's Manu Raju, which resulted in a flood of money for Kelly back in January, as reported by the Arizona Republic's Yvonne Wingett Sanchez.)

It's hard to find much good news for McSally in recent weeks. The headlines have been brutal. At the end of March, Kelly had $20 million in the bank, compared to her $10 million. Politico reported that President Donald Trump expressed concerns that McSally's unpopularity in Arizona might be bringing him down in our state. While she's made an effort to deliver supplies and otherwise get good press during the pandemic, McSally has continued to praise Trump's incompetent handing of the outbreak. On top of that, McSally dismissed the real economic concerns of Arizona towns and cities by suggesting that further federal aid was just a way of bailing out corrupt Democratic cities like Chicago—and when those comments, made in an online town hall with Surprise Mayor Skip Rimsza, made headlines, McSally's spokesperson suggested the statement wasn't meant to be made public, as if that's somehow helpful.

Is it any surprise that two recent polls have shown McSally falling further behind Kelly, the husband of beloved former Southern Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords? First, there was the OH Predictive survey that showed Kelly with a 13-percentage-point lead. That was followed by a poll showing Kelly with a 10-percentage-point lead over McSally by one of the state's most respected political consulting firms, HighGround Public Affairs Consultants. More than half of the voters surveyed, 51.3 percent, supported Kelly in the HighGround poll, while McSally had the support of just 41.3 percent.

Those double-digit leads were wider than most of the earlier polling in the race, which suggested Kelly was leading by 4 to 6 percentage points. But one thing has been consistent: Kelly has led the race for months. At this point, the Real Clear Politics polling average shows Kelly's lead at 9 percentage points.

Given that HighGround's poll showed Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by just 2 percentage points, maybe there's something to Trump's worry that McSally is dragging him down, contrary to conventional wisdom that McSally has damaged herself by slipping into Trump's pocket.

"Clearly, for the Arizona voter, Kelly is presenting himself as a better option than Biden, adopting the similar strategy which won Kyrsten Sinema her United States Senate seat in 2018 of avoiding the progressive partisan label that the Democratic Party's nominee must shoulder," said Coughlin, a onetime advisor to former Arizona governors Fife Symington and Jan Brewer.

But polls are just snapshots in time. Sure, if the election were held today, Kelly would topple McSally, whose political career has hit a serious tailspin. But the election is still five months and tens of millions of dollars in campaign spending away.

Speaking of that campaign spending: A few months back, McSally said she was praying for independent campaigns to come into Arizona to start muddying up the landscape—and it appears someone upstairs was listening. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign launched a $5.7 million campaign in support of McSally this week with a TV ad accusing Kelly of being too close to China.

As The Skinny reported a few weeks back, a GOP strategy memo warned candidates to avoid defending Trump and shift the blame to China. McSally has fully embraced the "blame China" approach, which is particularly useful in her campaign, as Kelly has had business dealings with Chinese companies in the past. (Of course, so has Trump and his family, but we're sure McSally will be ignoring that little fact.)

Coughlin warned that even though she's trailing now, nobody should count McSally out.

"Our survey released yesterday indicated that 20 percent of the electorate is blaming China for COVID-19 and 25 percent still doesn't know or is blaming no one," Coughlin said. "Given the recent attacks on Kelly's business dealings, you can expect the Republican narrative to focus sharply on this issue in an attempt to link Kelly to China and undermine his performance in the dominant media markets of Maricopa and Pima County. McSally will clearly have to up her game with Republican and swing voters in Maricopa and greater Arizona in order to be successful, but as long as Trump is running a competitive race, you cannot count Senator McSally out."

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