Phoenix — “Senator McCain, what do you make of Arizonans who think that for the last ten years you’ve been America’s senator, and not Arizona’s senator?”
That, from a local reporter here in Phoenix, was one of the opening questions last week when John McCain held his first press conference since losing the presidential race on November 4. McCain’s purpose was to announce that he will run for reelection in 2010 and to say, in effect, “Remember me? I’m your senator.” The reporter’s question was to remind McCain that a number of people in this state aren’t entirely happy about that.
“I’m very proud to have served, and I’m proud during that period to have been elected and reelected,” McCain answered. “I will be glad to point to my record as chairman of the Indian Affairs committee, and Armed Services, and all the other issues and legislative accomplishments, ranging from protecting the Grand Canyon to issues affecting our border and our economy. I’m very proud of my record.”
What a difference a month makes. Off the presidential campaign trail, with the media world focused on the Obama transition office in Chicago, McCain was standing, in front of a small background of American and Arizona flags, before perhaps 15 or 20 reporters, nearly all of them local. And he was talking about Indian affairs and the Grand Canyon. For the next two years, at least, John McCain is again the senator from Arizona.
But now that he has lost the presidency, there are some Republicans in Arizona who would like to see him lose his Senate office, too. “I’ll do anything I can to support his Republican opponent, whoever that might be,” Rob Haney – who until last week was chairman of the Republican party in Arizona’s District 11 – told me recently. Haney has been a loud and vocal critic of McCain for years, arguing that McCain is “not a conservative in any way, shape, or form.”
Haney understands that ousting McCain, who first won a House seat in 1982 and has never lost an election here, would be very, very tough. “It would be a long shot,” Haney admitted. But Haney and other anti-McCain types see some reason for hope. In the Arizona Republican primary this year — which, as part of the Super Tuesday contests, came after McCain had essentially wrapped up the nomination — McCain won just 47 percent of the vote. (Second-place finisher Mitt Romney got 35 percent.) And in the general election, McCain beat Barack Obama by a 54-45 margin — a relatively small margin in McCain’s home state.
Even McCain’s partisans concede it wasn’t exactly a show of strength. “We would have certainly preferred [the win] to be in double digits,” one member of the McCain Arizona team told me this week. “But Arizona was impacted by national issues, just like the rest of the country.”