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Scalia replacement battle will help McCain, McSally

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What the Devil won't tell you

Scalia replacement battle will help McCain, McSally

If the high stakes clear heads, Az Dems face an even tougher battle in 2016

  • Scalia testifying before a congressional committee in 2010.
    Stephen Masker/FlickrScalia testifying before a congressional committee in 2010.

When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia slipped this mortal coil over the weekend, the political earthquake began before his family could digest the news — and this temblor is like a ZZ Top song: "It's bad. It's nationwide."

It will even shake up the casting of ballots out here in Arizona, and I think this is bad news for Democrats – especially for U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick's bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain.

In the Old West, they said nothing focuses the mind like a hanging. In politics today, nothing focuses the mind like a Supreme Court appointment that will swing the court from from right to left. It's one election and all three branches of government will be up for grabs.

The GOP has said it will not allow President Barack Obama to appoint a replacement. We can howl and scream about the precedent that sets about presidents suddenly having three-year terms all we want. Senate Republicans said they won't do it and so they can't do it. The Republican base will blow a head gasket and the party's motor will be knocking and coughing down the shoulder come election day. Judges are to the Republican base what snickerdoodles are to Cookie Monster.

The move carries hyoooge risks. Republicans are essentially ready to give former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (OK, OK, or Bernie Sanders), upon winning 270 electoral votes, a mandate to install whomever she (or he) chooses for the high court.

The party that has but once in the past quarter-century broken 50 percent of the vote during a presidential race is holding a gun to the party that starts with 245 electoral votes and demanding: “OK! Best five out of seven!” It's worth pointing out that without a ninth justice the Supreme Court can't break a tie like it did for one of those wins in 2000.

When both sides decide to vote, Democrats simply outnumber and outgun Republicans, who have put their heads in the sand when it comes to courting minority voters. I'm not sure that the GOP understands just how the Citizens United case has motivated the Democratic base and replacing Scalia with a progressive would almost certainly mean its end. And I haven't even gotten into Hobby Lobby and the idea that religious freedom is just discrimination rebranded.

It's even more risky considering the two front runners in mid-February are Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and whatever the hell Donald Trump is. These two guys make friends like the Rincon Mountains dance the samba.

Yeah, Republicans. You got 'em right where you want 'em.

But back to the hanging.

Red storm rising

Here in Arizona, it's a turnout election too and Republicans outnumber Democrats. The last thing you want in an underdog race is an inspired favorite. Scalia's death has just lit that fuse.

Roe v. Wade is on the line and a whole bunch of recently approved anti-abortion statutes are now in play. As are union cases along with the ability to swamp Democrats in mysterious campaign cash through “dark money.”

Let's not dismiss the legitimate ideological concern too readily. The idea that laws are what laws are and courts are there to apply them is to conservatives what social justice is to liberals. It's a bedrock principle and worth a trip to the polls, rain or shine.

Republican incumbent and national institution John McCain seems to be in trouble, and for once he has a legit challenger. Kirkpatrick is after his seat, and is within striking distance of either McCain or the margin of error. Roll Call listed him No. 6 among the most vulnerable senators.

It's just that we've heard this before. Polls showed U.S. Jon Kyl vulnerable in 2006. Conventional wisdom killed off Jan Brewer in 2010. Experts declared Fred DuVal could win in 2014. The polls show that voters aren't particularly satisfied with McCain also show them in no way yet embracing Kirkpatrick.

The cynical part of me can run this race in my head and tell you how it's going to play out: The congresswoman will run a smart, tactical, colorless, odorless campaign promising only to be a bridge builder, bringing people together to move Arizona forward. She cares about Arizona. McCain just cares about Washington.

Kirkpatrick will be vaguely sorta within reach of the margin for error the whole way but never lead. She will do well enough in surveys to coax big Democratic money looking for ways to open up the Senate map and take a shot at the guy who gave the world Sarah Palin. She'll lose by 10. Her D.C. consultants will make seven figures toward their winter home on Maui.

This was the case before the world lost Scalia, but after Saturday those Republican voters who might be willing to give Kirkpatrick a look suddenly have to ask themselves how she'll vote on the Supreme Court appointment. Then they'll ask her how she'll vote, and that's when she'll get caught between the Devil and the deep-blue base.

Also on GOP minds this fall will be whether they want to hand the Senate over to Democrats, who need to keep the White House and gain four Senate seats to take control of the world's greatest filibustering body. That's bigger, gang, than simply having more votes than the other side of the aisle (this point can get lost). The majority picks the majority leader and the majority leader decides what legislation makes it to the floor. The majority run the committees and committee chairmen and chairwomen decide what legislation gets a hearing. They don't just have an edge in voting for legislation. They decide if legislation has a prayer.

In the case of a political appointment, after the majority leader decides if the nomination moves an inch in deliberation, the chairs decide who even gets a vote.

If McCain goes down to a Democrat, then there's a far greater chance that the Senate goes back to Democrats, who look in great shape to pick up seats in Wisconsin and Illinois, with Florida, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania going down to the wire. So, Arizona Republicans and right-leaning, McCain-hating independents face a much harder time in pulling the lever for Kirkpatrick knowing they are handing the Senate over to New York's Chuck Schumer.

Ward only

This brings us to Kelli Ward. 

Ahh yes. Former state Sen. Kelli Ward is challenging McCain from the right and earlier this month, McCain was beating her by 47 to 11 in a poll by Arizona State University analyst Earl De Berge. McCain couldn't be more of a known factor to voters if he made every American breakfast in the morning and about half of Arizona Republicans don't want to give him the nomination.

Ward is stuck right now having to deny that she believes in the chemtrails conspiracy. You know chemtrails: the government is poisoning the population by flying jets overhead and dumping hazardous chemicals on the people. She's had to affirm that she does not believe in this conspiracy and that leaves us waiting for her to say, “I'm not a witch ... I'm you,” because those are our only choices. Maybe.

The McCain team is all over this to the point of … scuse me heheheheheh … they bought the domain name and it's the first result that comes up under her name with a Google search. It's complete with the link “Kelli Ward for Senate.” Except it's not a nice link. It's not a random act of kindness. It's full of some of her more love-to-take-it-back moments.

Kirkpatrick could take down Ward but I can't see the state GOP being dumb enough to give Ann that chance. Although, part of me is telling myself to mark the date and time I wrote that line.

Scalia's journey to his glory and just reward changes the math. McCain is going to have a much easier time convincing the base that his re-election is just too important to futz with because Hillary could replace Scalia with Obama. Picture that for the next 30 years.

Cruzing on the the Trump card

I think playtime is now close to being over in the Republican Primary, and that's good news for U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, who is now less likely to carry the dead weight of her party's lost-cause presidential candidate over the finish line.

The Republican Party is having a blast — as it always does — toying with the ideas of sending Donald Trump or Ted Cruz to the fall election. Yeah, yeah, we get it. Trump pisses off and confounds the media and Republicans have enjoyed that. Ted Cruz represents the GOP dream that an election can be won if war is declared on liberals, centrists, moderate Republicans and conservatives who don't toe the line. I'm guessing what's left over isn't a 50 percent coalition.

Now that the U.S. Senate is on the record telling Hillary she's free to remake the court in her image, keep an eye on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who stand a chance of winning in November.

McSally is probably in good enough shape to carry the load as she is on the record with verbal eye-rolls at the weird fringe of her party.

The former A-10 pilot has gone from being good, to very good, to flawless in how she's positioned herself in a congressional district that is used to pragmatists. She's not quite in the mold of Jim Kolbe or Gabrielle Giffords yet but she's getting there on style points at least.

What I mean by style points is simply she can explain voting against the Iran deal in a way that goes beyond “Obama is trying to destroy America.” She wanted a 360 agreement forcing Iran to correct all of its behavior and not just its nuclear weapons program. Fair or unfair, she's going to win with voters for not sounding like she's hyperventilating at the prospect of Obama getting out of bed in the morning. The vote was wrong-headed, but I give her points for explaining her position cogently because that is how far down the bar is lowered these days.

If state Democrats want their ulcers to act up, read her profile in Elle Magazine. She seems to have figured out the puzzle that turns Democratic cognition to goo: How to bend the relationship with the base while still maintaining credibility with the most full-throated Republicans. She concedes her party's faults on appearances without selling out the substance. That is how it's done, Kyrsten Sinema. McSally can be unapologetic in her McSallyness — loyal to the conservative agenda but a bit embarrassed by some of her fellow travelers.

Former state Rep. Victoria Steele has a good reputation and may be a fine candidate. I know former state Rep. Matt Heinz and he's a smart guy and a solid candidate, but this race is a serious uphill battle for both of them.

Let's not miss the fact that McSally has raised $3 million for her re-election effort, six times what Heinz has raised, and about 30 times what Steele has pulled in for her campaign. The disparity is so great that national Dems may be throwing in the towel on CD2, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leaving it off their list of targeted districts.

McSally's ability to stake out her own bit of terra firma is important if Republicans were to ticket split and more important if genuine independents and moderates vote R and D on the same ballot. So maybe she'd do OK with a Trump on top of the ticket as voters say "no" to His Yugeness, or to McCain, but "yes" to her.

Granted, it's not hard for candidates to find distance between themselves and folks demanding a microscope to define just what rape really is, eagerly looking to step hard on the poor or holding town hall meetings to discuss chemtrails.

Hey, I'm not likely to vote for the woman but this isn't an endorsement. It's an analysis from a Grijalva guy.

Her prospects could only improve for re-election if the GOP gets back on the straight and narrow and looks more like a political party and less like a bachelor party.

No, nothing focuses the attention like a hanging. I've gotta think come-to-Jesus is upon us and that will help Red State Republicans like McSally and McCain relish their McVictories in November. All they gotta do to straighten out the rank-and-file is whisper this sweet nothing in the ears of millions of Limbaugh listeners: “U.S. Associate Justice Barack Hussein Obama.” Whose neck will be in a noose should he yet again swear to preserve, protect and defend …?

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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