Republican Sen. Martha McSally expressed concern to GOP activists that some supporters of President Donald Trump may not vote for her, an indication of her struggles to avoid the defection of Republicans whose support she’ll need to keep her seat.
Answering a question from a supporter at a campaign event last week, McSally said there are voters who like Trump but haven’t paid attention to other races on the ballot, according to a recording of her remarks obtained by The Associated Press. They may be convinced by ads positioning her Democratic rival, Mark Kelly, as an independent, she said, and they might not even realize he’s a Democrat.
“So they could keep a generally positive feeling while they keep hammering me,” McSally said of Kelly’s campaign. “Then somebody actually could vote Trump-Kelly.”
Republicans who backed Democrat Kyrsten Sinema were pivotal in her victory over McSally in the 2018 race for Arizona’s other Senate seat. McSally received 140,000 fewer votes than Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who was comfortably reelected on the same ballot.
McSally can’t afford to lose GOP voters again as she faces a tough battle against Kelly to hold onto John McCain’s former Senate seat, to which she was appointed after her 2018 loss.
McSally has been endorsed by Trump, who has given her strong support during his trips to Arizona, but public polls have consistently showed her running behind the president in Arizona.
She also faces a fundraising disadvantage that makes it a challenge for her to combat the barrage of ads being aired by Kelly and independent groups backing the former astronaut.
Caroline Anderegg, a spokeswoman for McSally’s campaign, said 2020 is a different election. She said the campaign is not worried about losing Republicans but will continue working to remind them that Kelly is a Democrat.
“She’s been delivering results for the last year and a half,” Anderegg said of McSally. “That is really going to turn people out and motivate people. The more we tell people about all the things we’ve done the more they respond to it.”
During a question-and-answer period at campaign event in Goodyear last Wednesday, a supporter asked McSally how to succinctly make the case for her when talking to neighbors about the race. That’s when she brought up the potential for Trump-Kelly voters.
“I know that seems weird to all of you, like you think: ‘Of course they’re going to vote Republican,’” McSally said. “But we’re just talking about people who are focused on finding a job and the kids are out of school and all sorts of distractions going on. And they’re not activists, and they may like Trump, but they’re not thinking down ballot.”
She went on to suggest telling Trump supporters that voting for Kelly would undermine the president’s priorities, saying with Democrats controlling the Senate, “the radical left will ram through their agenda.”
That’s a message McSally has turned to consistently in the closing months of the campaign, which is one of about a half-dozen races that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate
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