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What the Devil won't tell you

Appoint, don't anoint: Let the voters grant incumbency on McCain's next successor

So the Jon Kyl experiment serving a second stint in the U.S. Senate proved to a blink-of-an-eye thing.

He literally just gave his two weeks' notice and I wouldn’t read much into it. Kyl’s now a super-lobbyist making a hell of a lot more than his $179,000 annual senatorial salary.

There’s not a lot of looking back to do on Kyl 2.0, only looking forward to whom Gov. Doug Ducey will choose to replace him. One obvious, but perhaps fading, choice would seem to be soon-to-be former Southern Arizona U.S. Rep. Martha McSally. Another mentioned is former state House Speaker and Ducey chief of staff Kirk Adams, whose resignation set off all sorts of speculation that he’s got the gig.

Up front, I don’t like appointing candidates who are anything other than caretakers. The power of incumbency should be earned, not awarded. Ducey’s instinct to hand it over to Kyl to serve out the late U.S. Sen. John McCain’s term made sense.

There’s a saying about the succession of popes relevant to the efficacies of McSally or Adams’ hopes. “He who enters a conclave a pope, leaves a cardinal.” The front-runner is always toast when the race goes into the back room.

Ducey can choose to perhaps make one political career at the risk of thwarting others’ hopes, or he can choose to punt and let voters sort it out. Another governor had a similar choice to make when U.S. Sen. Barack Obama won the White House.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich ended up doing prison time because of how he planned to dole out the seat.

"I've got this thing and it's (expletive) golden," Blagojevich said in a conversation secretly recorded by government agents. "I'm not just giving it up for (expletive) nothing."

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I’m not going to suggest Ducey will demand an outright quid pro quo. I’m more focused on the first part of the quote. He’s got a senator to pick and that seat is (expletive) golden. Or maybe it’s just pyrite.

House vs. Senate: No comparison

Let’s start with why it’s golden.

Arizona has four Republican congressmen who probably look in the mirror and see a U.S. Senator looking back at them. They also have one of the worst jobs in politics while aspiring for one of the best jobs in elected office.

Serving in the House is an awful job. The hours are crazy. Members employ schedulers to book them every second of every day in Washington. New members serve without seniority on committees and must wait hours during hearings before they get the microphone passed along through dozens of members who have been in Congress longer. Then there’s flying back and forth across the country just about every week, and all the fun with TSA. They have to run every two years and rarely get a break. More than one member lives in their office and are homeless in Washington as rents in the District soar. Then there’s up to 30 hours a week spent as a telemarketer, raising money for the party in the post-Citizens United reality.

The U.S. House of Representatives is a working class neighborhood in political Valhalla. The Senate is a gated community.

Those six-year terms allow some time to breathe in a cushier office, with a private hideaway in the Capitol building, a private dining room, private elevators and the voter's wrath only every six years.

Seniority comes easier in the Senate. Win election and a single re-election, like U.S. Sen. Bob Corker did, and chair a committee. Win a second re-election, like Kyl did, and they call you minority whip – No. 2 in the Senate.

Jim Kolbe had one of the cushier gigs in the House. He was a cardinal, meaning he chaired an Appropriations Subcommittee but it took him eight elections battles to reach that in 2001. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) is a Senate cardinal. She was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2014.

When U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake announced his retirement in 2017, Arizona’s Republican congressional delegation huddled in Washington and decided McSally should make the run. They also knew in all likelihood, McCain’s seat would come open soon.

McSally took her shot and lost. Why should she be rewarded with the other Senate seat? Sen. -elect Kyrsten Sinema is the first Democrat Arizona has elected to that body in 30 years. That means McSally could be cast as the first Republican to have lost a Senate seat in 30 years.

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If I’m U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, I’m getting getting my people to lean on Ducey to not just give her the Senate seat wrapped up like a Christmas present, bow and all. I’m arguing incumbency belongs to the voters and they alone should decide who gets to earn it.

Then again, what is to be won by this sweepstakes? It could be fool’s gold

All that glitters doesn't win a six-year term

If I’m McSally, I just saw this movie.

Let’s say she fills the McCain seat for two years — she'll have to run again in 2020.

So she gets to, again, run for a Senate seat with Donald J. Trump sitting on the Republican Party like a 900-pound orangutan. The Republican base will, again, rejoice in his antics, which swing voters will, again, find horrifying.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out this excerpt from a post-mortem done by McSally’s strategists:

“A significant segment of the GOP base was hostile the President. In Internal polling during the primary, President Trump neer broke 80 percent favorability among Republican voters. A certain segment of AZ Republicans was outright hostile to President Trump and was against the Kavanaugh appointment. This segment of moderate Republicans, especially women, proved very difficult to bring home to a Republican candidate that supported President Trump and the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh. These factors, coupled with an opposing candidate who portrayed herself as willing to work with President Trump and who often tweeted her respect and admiration for Senator McCain’s legacy, were significant challenges to McSally’s candidacy.”

Who could have told them that a year ahead of time? Oh, yeah. Yours truly.

Does McSally or Adams really want Trump to beat them again? No. 45 seems like he’s intent on a sequel.

Maricopa County this year moved to the left like it hasn’t before. What had been a Republican fortress guaranteeing statewide victory for conservatives is suddenly looking swingy. It’s ripe for the picking.

Do it harder, faster, more MAGA

Trump’s not the first president to lose in midterms but those losses are almost always met with course corrections. Trump is becoming Trumpier, believing he won the election because he picked up a couple Senate seats with a training wheel map of states that radically favored Republicans. The GOP lost seven governorships, 40 U.S. House seats and more than 3,000 legislative seats nationwide.

Most ominously, Trump continues to act as if his path to victory includes doing nothing to expand his message to convert the hostile. He won with 46 percent of the vote in 2016 and, dammit, he’ll do it again in 2020.

So far, the GOP is just coasting along like they are doing everything great and, at worst, defying voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida. No, it's not happening here but the sentiment behind moves to stick a thumb in the electorate's eye speaks to the party's zeitgeist: "We didn't do anything wrong. The voters did."

During the next two years, Trump will face whatever case Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has on him. He’ll face whatever the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York has on him. Whomever Ducey appoints would have to campaign with Trumpiness around her neck, and suburbia abandoning the GOP.

Tough Dems await

For years, Democrats had no obvious candidates to make a run. Years like 1998, 2000, 2004 featured Senate races where Republicans won practically unopposed. Even in 2012, Democrats had to recruit former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona to switch parties and run against Flake.

Former state attorney general Grant Woods is said to be weighing a run as a Democrat but Democrats have a couple House members who could make a run themselves.

Watch out for U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Harvard grad and U.S. Marine combat veteran, who could turn out Latino voters like they haven’t been turned out before and excite the liberal base during a second referendum on Trumpism. He's also been one of Nancy Pelosi's foils, so there's that, as far as it goes.

Then there's Tom O’Halleran in Sedona. He’ll b a two-term incumbent and former moderate Republican who switched parties because his old party radicalized (much like suburban Phoenix right now). He'd be 74 on Jan. 3, 2021, should he take office but the Senate is a veritable boarding school full of septuagenarians. 

Either O’Halleran or Gallego are formidable candidates, who will be far more willing to highlight Trump’s inadequacies than Sinema did campaigning on health care, health care and more health care.

'22 or bust

Republicans holding out hope that Democrats will save them by nominating an unelectable presidential candidate to top the ticket in 2020, I will offer the following names in retort. A former Hollywood actor and righ-winger named Reagan, a black guy with the middle name “Hussein,” and a game show host named Donald.

President Bernie Sanders may seem like an impossible nightmare today, but he could wind up with a "46" stamped on him in the history books tomorrow.

And that leads me to a final point. A Sen. Gallego or O’Halleran would simply be filling McCain’s seat until the term expires in 2022. Should Democrats win in 2020, all the dynamics I’ve discussed working against the GOP will work in their favor two years later.

Sitting out this election and this seat could give a Republican a much more clear shot in 2022.

Yes, of course, it’s dangerous to think four weeks in advance politically, let alone four years. But I pointed out the predictable laws of politics two years before the 2018 election.

Trump is predictable. Republicans are predictable. When voters send a warning shot across a torpedo in front of a party’s bow and the party says “we don’t believe you,” then voters’ next shot is at the main bulkhead.

And then voters change their minds, two years later.

It’s all pretty predictable because the voters are constantly course correcting. That’s their right. Ducey should remember that.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.


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Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Ducey and McCain at a 2014 campaign rally at the Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott, Ariz., in 2014.