PHOENIX (AP) — The race to finish John McCain's last term in the U.S. Senate is one of the hottest contests in U.S. politics this November, but there's likely to be little fanfare in next week's primary.
Retired astronaut Mark Kelly has only a write-in opponent for the Democratic nomination, while a conservative firebrand has struggled to mount a vigorous challenge to Republican incumbent Martha McSally. Kelly and McSally are targeting each other with a focus on November.
It didn't always look so clear cut, though. Republicans last year got nervous that businessman Daniel McCarthy or another wealthy Republican who considered running, Blake Masters, could trip up McSally or distract her with a well-financed challenge from her right. But McCarthy has spent little money and Masters decided not to run.
On the Democratic side, two prominent officials with the ability to mount serious campaigns — U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego and former Attorney General Grant Woods — considered running but decided against it, ceding the nomination to Kelly.
McCarthy says he'll fight the restrictions put in place to contain the spread of coronavirus, including mask mandates and business closures. He says the government should immediately stop coronavirus testing, saying the virus is so widespread that there's no value in tracking it.
“The government has been completely weaponized against the American people,” McCarthy said in a phone interview. “They are now leveraging businesses to force the government on our face. They are attempting to force vaccination. We have Republican socialists and Democrat communists.”
He's also vowed to fight restrictions on gun ownership.
He says McSally is a poor standard bearer for the GOP because she was already rejected by voters two years ago, when she lost the race for Arizona's other Senate seat to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.
Through July 15, McCarthy had raised just over $500,000 and spent almost all of it. All but $70,000 was from his own fortune, which he amassed from several businesses he's founded with his wife, including a real estate brokerage and MakeUp Eraser, a cosmetics company.
McSally, by contrast, reported raising $30 million and spending two-thirds of it with a focus on the general election.
A former Air Force combat pilot, McSally was appointed to the seat after losing her race to Sinema. The winner of the November contest will finish the last two years of McCain's term and will face re-election in 2022.
McSally has touted the endorsement of President Donald Trump, who has praised her from the stage at his campaign rallies in Phoenix.
Her campaign declined to comment for this story.
Chuck Coughlin, a Republican political consultant, said McCarthy's lack of money leaves him unable to get his message in front of most voters and overcome the significant advantages McSally carries, including support from Trump, Gov. Doug Ducey and the Republican Party machinery.
While a possible McCarthy victory is a longshot, the results will provide a clue about McSally’s standing with the right flank of the GOP base, which she’s long struggled to pacify. Before winning the GOP nomination in 2018, she faced a strong challenge from former state lawmaker Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who presented themselves as more reliable champions of Trump's agenda.
Ward is now chair of the Arizona Republican Party and has backed McSally, along with the GOP’s official Senate campaign arm in Washington, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
“I would presume that people who are voting for Daniel may be so ideologically extreme that they would just skip the Senate race after voting for Trump,” Coughlin said.